Ask the experts: What features are best for driving through snow?
A large chunk of the U.S. has started to see snow. That’s a gentle hint that it’s time to begin thinking about whether your fleet vehicles are equipped to handle it, along with ice and slush.
Sure, heated seats can make aggravating cold-weather drives a bit more bearable, but what are the most important features to have to stay safe in icy conditions?
Here's what experts have to say:
"There are a lot of these new crossovers and car-based SUVs that are probably your best bet for driving in the snow because they use on-demand four-wheel-drive," said Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor at Kelley Blue Book.
When they sense it is needed, these four-wheel-drive vehicles spring into action sending power to the rear as well as the front wheels to give the car added traction.
All-wheel-drive works the same way, keeping the vehicle continuously in four-wheel drive no matter what the conditions, DeLorenzo said.
Another advantage to choosing an SUV or crossover is the added ground clearance.
"It doesn't help to have all-wheel-drive in a low-to-the-ground sports car,” said Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor at Cars.com. “It’s not going to have the ground clearance to get through what it needs to get through even if all four wheels are operable.”
Ground clearance refers to the distance between the undercarriage of the vehicle and the ground. Mays said the amount of ground clearance motorists need varies depending on the depth of snow they encounter.
“If you live in an area that gets a ton of snow like Alaska, 10 inches of ground clearance wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Mays said.
Sometimes it can be hard to find ground clearance in poring over specifications on new cars, he said. As a general rule, cars have clearance from 4 to 6 inches and SUVs often have 6 to 8 inches of clearance with height-adjustable suspension.
“More ground clearance is always better in most cases,” Mays said.
But there are trade-offs. SUVs with four-wheel-drive can reduce fuel economy.
"All-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive cars require extra energy," said DeLorenzo. Since engines have to work harder, they burn more fuel.
Some of the more popular compact SUVs are the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Chevy Equinox.
Still, hope is not lost for motorists who prefer cars over SUVs. For them, the most important feature for wintry driving is snow tires, according to the experts.
"For the person like a nurse or firefighter who has to be out there in snow and ice very often, you can't beat the snow traction of winter tires or snow tires,” said Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports.
They handle ice and snow in ways that the car’s built-in safety feature can’t.
“Features like stability control and brakes only work if you have the proper grip on your tires. All bets are off if you have no grip," Stockburger said.
Winter tires are made from rubber compounds to aid with pliability in cold temperatures. They also have edges that bite into snow and restore grip.
Stockburger also said that a new subset of all-season tires called “all-weather tires” can be used year-round. She said all-weather tires are most effective in low to moderate snow conditions.
Advanced driver assistance systems also are handy for icy weather. Often a toggle or button that says “Snow,” these systems assist with transitioning between driving conditions.
"The whole point of some of these driving modes is to help relax your inputs and create a situation where your vehicle moves more gradually," said Mays.
Kelley Blue Book said while such systems add an extra layer of safety, drivers still need to take their time when tackling slippery roads .
"Most importantly, you need to have patience to get you to your destination safely,” DeLorenzo said. “No matter how much traction you have, you can still overdrive in slippery conditions very easily. You can still end up in a ditch.”
Source: USA Today