Reader Question: Lack of Traction Action….?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Matt asks: I’ve already run a few searches about winter driving but I can’t quite find what I’m looking for, so here goes!

I have a 2017 Nissan Pathfinder SL that I bought when I lived in Phoenix, AZ. Recently I was transferred from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, where it snows. So far this winter I’ve been through three storms. The first storm was very light, fluffy, dry snow and I didn’t have any problems despite getting about 9 inches.

The second storm was a little bit hairy because I was in Flagstaff (70 miles away) when it hit. I was on the highway doing 40 in a 65; the snow looked like I was flying at hyper-speed in Star Wars and there was 3-4 inches of dense, but not too wet, show. I made it home fine. I was pretty impressed by the Pathfinder’s ability to keep a good course despite a mildly challenging snow. However, once we got home and had to go up the hill on the dirt road I slipped and slid all over the place but I eventually made it.

My wife got stuck in this snow the next morning. I had to shovel her out and spread sand to get her enough traction to get unstuck – in a perfectly flat parking lot.

Yesterday we got about 6 inches of heavy wet snow like I remember from growing up in Syracuse, NY. Then it rained. And then it snowed a couple more inches. I got stuck once in the parking lot in only about 4 inches. I rocked my way out. When I got home it took me five tries to get up the hill. The FWD couldn’t handle the snowy soup. I’d make it about 20 meters, then have to back down the hill, get a running start and make it about 40 meters, and do this process until I could build up enough momentum to get me over the crest and park at home.

Since I would take a bath if I traded it in for an AWD or 4WD, getting a different car is not an option. I’m not going to urinate away $10,000-15,000 on phantom payments just to have a fancy new car. Plus, I just like the Pathfinder. Except for the snow, it’s done me right. Everyone at work says I should get snow chains. I agree, but I obviously can’t drive around with them on all the time.

Question: Should I invest in true snow tires vs. all-season radials on the Pathfinder during the winter months? Or should I stick with all-season radials and just slap on the chains before the snow storm so I can get up and down my dirt hill safely? I can handle spending money on snow tires. I just wonder if it’s worth the investment. If I’m going to spend money I want to make sure they work. If they won’t improve my ability to get up Slush Hill, then I’ll stick with radials and chains. Finally, and just out of curiosity, if money were not an object what 4WD/AWD family-oriented SUV or crossover would you choose? My mind keeps going back to Subaru Forester or Toyota 4 Runner. I’m not brand-loyal. I just want to get whatever is the best value. Thank you!

My reply: Switching over to snow tires will make a yuge difference; you’d be (and will be) surprised how tenacious a FWD vehicle can be  . . . with the right tires. The weight of most of the drivetrain is over the front wheels and the drive wheels are pulling rather than pushing. It’s the tires that are the weakest link. That – and ground clearance – but your Pathfinder has that already.

Given where you live (similar to where I live, in terms of snowfall) the minor hassle of switching to snow tires in fall and then back to all-season tires come spring is well worth avoiding months of hassle worrying about (and actually getting) stuck in poor weather. You might even consider studded tires (check legality).

Forget the chains – unless it’s snowpocalypse – and in that case, stay home!

On the rest: Lots of people here in rural SW Virginia are Subaru people, including several friends of mine. They offer the winning combination of standard AWD (and a more sophisticated type of AWD) than most of the competition and for less than the competition often charges for the FWD versions of their cars. Models like the Outback and Crosstrek also have tremendous ground clearance – nearly 9 inches – as much or even more than many 4×4 SUVs.

If a Subaru can’t make it through, not much else will  . . .that isn’t on tracks!

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Awesome reply, Eric. THANK YOU very much. I will get snow tires so that I will be better off for the rest of the winter.
    Duly noted about Subaru. They are very popular around here in northern AZ. When I’m ready to replace my 2014 Camry—boring but ultra reliable—I will seriously consider a Subaru.
    Thanks again for your help.


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