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How is rear wheel drive in the snow if the car has traction control?(10 posts)

How is rear wheel drive in the snow if the car has traction control?js5280
Jun 5, 2003 9:42 AM
Looking casually at vehicles and I like some autos out there that have rear wheel drive but have traction control. I live in CO and do go through the mountains during snow season often for snowboarding, so I'm concerned about driving in the snow. Front wheel definitely has the advantage, but I am wondering if traction control might help offset that. Would it help with starts/accelerating or is it more for loss of braking loss of traction situations? Any comments from people in snowy locations?
ultimately, physics takes overDougSloan
Jun 5, 2003 10:06 AM
Traction control cannot transfer weight to the driven wheels. All it can do is back off power, either via throttle or braking. Ultimately, traction control can vastly improve a rear wheel drive car, particularly a front engine rear drive, but it will never equal front drive or all drive.

I have driven an NSX with traction control in light snow (in Missouri), and have driven a Mercedes C320 in snow with traction control (in California mountains). I have also driven about every other engine/drive wheel configuration in snow (mid-engine/rear drive, front engine/rear drive, front drive, AWD/4WD). AWD/4WD beats anything else, hands down, even without traction control on those cars (Jeep Wrangler, Suburban). I could not get my Jeep stuck if I tried. The NSX pulled smoothly away in snow, but that's partially because it's mid-engine, similar in configuration to front drive, really. The Mercedes had to back way off the power in snow, but traction was still improved. Note, however, I knew it was not up to real snow conditions, particularly without chains or real snow tires, so I didn't put it in the same conditions as I would have AWD. I have also driven AWD with traction control, where I think traction control is worse than without it. I find that with AWD/4WD, I can actually accellerate faster spinning the tires; traction control is overly aggressive in backing off power.

So, traction control in front engine/rear drive is better than without it, but still not the same as front drive or all drive. If you want serious snow ability, don't go that route.

Also, tires make a huge difference. When I had rear drive cars without traction control, I made darn sure to have real snow tires, not all season, installed each winter.

yaw control, tooDougSloan
Jun 5, 2003 10:21 AM
There are also anti-lock brakes and various types of what amounts to yaw control. I refer to "traction control" as simply keeping the drive wheels from spinning under accelleration.

Anti-lock brakes can help in just about any situation, particularly when you need to steer as you brake on slippery surfaces. You definitely want that.

Yaw control works with anti-lock brakes to brake one or more wheels to control direction. It sort of fool-proof's the car a little. It makes the car go where you point it, essentially, reducing the risk of spinning (yaw). I've had it in 3 cars, and it's amazing. I've taken cars to snow covered parking lots, and tried to spin out. The car makes some funky noises, slows, and generally keeps the heading correct. This, combined with traction control, would improve the handling (and therefore safety) of rear wheel drive cars on snow. Look into that, too.

Ahem, Tires, suspension and weight distrib collectivelyFez
Jun 6, 2003 10:46 AM
play just as much of a role as AWD/4WD does.

Jeeps have all terrain tires, coil spring suspensions and a host of other features that aid in winter driving.

Although the Acura would probably always be a bad winter driver no matter what tires you put on it, garden variety rear wheel drive sports sedans can be vastly improved just by changing out the tires.

I had one 3 series BMW w/ sports package and high performace tires and traction control. It sucked in the snow. Even though the traction control helped, the rear end would still break out if you weren't gentle with the throttle and once it breaks loose, the traction control will not stop the fishtailing.

I had another 3 series BMW, also with sports package and traction control. But I replaced the Z rated performance tires with H rated true snow tires. The difference was night and day. As long as the snow wasn't deep, that car could navigate pretty much any slippery or slushy road.

AWD Mercedes and BMWs do help things, but are kind of a compromise in dry weather. They add weight and in BMWs case make the car a little further from the optimal 50-50 weight distribution. Don't underestimate the difference winter tires can make.
Depends on many factors......Alexx
Jun 5, 2003 10:15 AM
.....weight distribution, for one. Rear wheel drive generally results in a better-balanced car, but, even with traction control, you can still provoke some tail-slide in the worst of conditions.
FWD, while giving good traction under most circumstances, is not good for climbing steep hills. Also, the nose-heavy nature of FWD cars usually resultas in excessive understeer, sometimes leading to cars going off the road, nose-first.
I've lived in Colorado, then later in the northeast snowbelt. Any traction deficiency from RWD can be solved by adding sandbags ("tube sand" around here), but you need to practice sliding the rear-end of the car a few times, or else you'll end up spinning on the road at the worst time.
FWIW, I've actually raced on snowy roads, and if you practice you'll be able to get around fine with either.
I'm w/Alexx. Both have good points, but...cory
Jun 5, 2003 3:59 PM
Overall, I prefer rear-wheel drive--I've owned both, as well as 4WD, and in all but the worst conditions (which I never see where I live), I get along fine with rear-wheel drive.
As for trac control: About three years ago, I went through the BMW Winter Driving School in Quebec, four days of sliding around on ice. We did a lot of experimenting with the TC on and off, learning to control the car in oversteer. Once you get a feel for it, it's quite easy to do--it even feels natural to point the car by sliding the back deliberately, rather than turning the front.
What really showed the advantage of the trac control, though, was making two passes on the same iced-up road, one with the control on, one with it off. I (and my son, who was barely 16 then) drove down the first time like we were headed for Starbuck's, no drama at all. Then we turned it off and could barely keep the car between the trees. It was genuinely amazing.
Winter tiresFez
Jun 6, 2003 10:51 AM
I hope BMW driver school had one of the cars equipped with winter tires.

But maybe not - it wouldn't have made traction control seem so special. When I was at one of their events, they had standard tires over an oil and water slicked tarp to demonstrate the difference traction control made.

If I had to choose only one for winter driving, I would choose winter tires. Having both is obviously better. Even more so would be adding AWD to the mix.
It's fineColnagoFE
Jun 5, 2003 11:39 AM
If you are out driving in something that requires 4WD then you really have no business being out driving at all. That said...4WD and front wheel are a bit safer in heavy snow, but a rear wheel is just fine assuming you know how to drive. Clearance usually is more of an issue than traction anyway.
And one more thing:Alexx
Jun 5, 2003 5:31 PM
regardless of whether you have FWD, RWD, or AWD, the single most important thing for driving in snow is your choice of tires! Ground clearance is second most important when heavy snow is involved. I've been through several bad NY winters with a simple RWD pickup, with nothing more than a set of 4 snows, and 3 tube sands in the back.
When the snow gets really bad, you need either 4 snow tires, or a full set of chains. The chains weigh a ton, limit you to 25 mph, and rip the h3ll out of your car when they break free. So buy snowtires.
For Colorado, a set of Nokia Hakkepellitta's or Bridgestone Blizzaks would be what you need. Studs are overkill. Carry a pair of chains for the truly horrendous mountain snows...
Thanks for the all the replies. . .js5280
Jun 6, 2003 6:53 AM
Thanks for all the good advice. I used to drive old RWD Toyota Corollas in UT and CO, and they were fun in the snow. I used to deliver pizza in them and on snow days it was fun to kick the tail end around, no need for using reverse on those days! Now I spend a fair amount of time on snowy highways at speeds where you don't want that sort of excitement. Sounds like the traction controls does significantly improve handling, also I always have good snow tires for the winter time and swap them out in the summer. This make me more confident now looking at RWD vehicles. Thanks!