Even when the cold nips at our heels (or even our wheels!), that does not make snow more likely. However, winter rain and the occasional snow fall do put a crimp on a lot of family travel plans and even driving the kids to school. If you do live in a potentially snow-driven environment, does every family need 4×4 vehicles?
Some families have the money for the big off-roader, or the added perceived safety of optional all-wheel drive systems in smaller vehicles that seemingly can make short work of bad weather. For multi-car families in areas with frequent inclement weather, buying a 4×4 vehicle makes sense.
At the same time, the expense may make a front-wheel drive car a valid second choice. Many families do not own 4×4 vehicles at all, however, and there are products available that can ensure winter trips go off without a hitch, whether it is the school run, journey to work or over longer distances at the weekend.
Short-Term Driving Safety Options
There are several single-journey alternatives when the white stuff falls and threatens to bring the country to a standstill. In the same way that a pair of gloves helps to grip, car snow socks provide a similar option for tyres. They are made of nylon-like material and are usable in light snow conditions with installation taking just a few minutes. They can get ripped up when driving over clear road surfaces, so motorists should consider conditions before applying this option.
The more involved alternatives are snow chains, which provide slightly more grip. However, they do take longer to install and require a certain level of snow to work properly. Some councils require that police assess a fine if motorists use them when there is not enough snow as it can rip up the road and add to the pot-hole hazard. In addition, drivers who are considering snow chains should recognise that the weather required maybe indicates that the journey itself be avoided if at all possible.
Snow Tyres on your 2wd
In mixed conditions, winter tyres may provide a similar benefit to a 4×4 vehicle. These tyres have a different tread pattern and material which facilitate the snow and slush exiting from under the tyre much more effectively. In recent back-to-back tests, it was found that these alternatives on an identical 2-wheel drive car provided some surprising results. The winter tyres allowed better braking performance (i.e. stopping distance) and also cornering grip (in terms of the g-force able to be sustained). The only dynamic test in which the 4×4 vehicle fared better was the perhaps less useful acceleration test.
The cost of the tyres themselves and inconvenience of putting them on every winter versus the 4×4 vehicles seems also to be a big plus in their favour. Also, winter tyres can last for perhaps three times as long as regular ones thanks to the low amount of usage each year, something to remember when doing the maths. You may need somewhere to store them, though – if you still have a garage.
The downside can be road noise and differences in fuel consumption and even inaccuracies in speedometer readings.
It does seem that there are real advantages in terms of safety in the fitment of winter tyres on a standard 2WD family vehicle even in comparison to a four wheel drive alternative. Whether the weather is bad enough on a long term basis in the country of residence is one consideration, certainly in the UK, but for a small outlay compared to buying a new vehicle, it’s worthy of consideration.