Winter Wheels: The Best Cars for Driving in the Snow
Winter may slow you down, but life can’t be put on hold for a whole season. We’re all guilty of canceling plans when the first snowflake lands (no judgment). But when you do need to get out there, whether to stock up on comfort foods or embark on a ski weekend, it helps to be prepared for safe winter driving.
Which wheels are best for driving in the snow? Naturally, we consulted the best car experts we know: the Zipcar fleet team.
From Seattle to Boston, our fleet managers agreed that all-wheel drive (AWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD) models are best. These cars can handle tougher conditions to keep you grounded. Never fear, Zipsters: you’re prepared for the season. New York has hundreds of AWD Zipcars alone.
Handle snow-day errands with the sturdy, yet navigable Honda CR-V AWD or Ford Escape 4WD. Photos courtesy of Honda and Ford.
STEER TOWARDS THESE PICKS
When you’re looking to hit the road before, during, or after snowfall, these car models are safe bets.
For city driving:
For city streets and highways alike, the Honda CR-V AWD offers Vehicle Stability Assist, which can help correct under- and oversteering. It’s spacious without feeling unwieldy, giving you firm weight on the road along with easy driving.
If the snow is deep, look for a Ford Escape 4WD. Its height gives you more clearance over more inches. That should also help if you’re parking along a street that hasn’t been fully cleared. (Of course, Zipcar spots are shoveled out for you. We got your back.)
Ready to shred? Bring your gear with Yakima-rack-equipped Subaru Impreza AWD and Subaru Crosstrek AWD models. Photos courtesy of Subaru.
For road trips:
Going to the slopes? Many of our Subaru Impreza AWD and Subaru Crosstrek AWD models now come equipped with Yakima ski and snowboard racks, making them perfect for a ski trip. Their advanced AWD system also gives you more security in icy conditions.
Both the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot have extra roomy interiors, leaving plenty of space for your gear. Low temps call for more layers, so you can pack freely knowing that the trunk has space for your entire winter wardrobe, plus a few emergency supplies, just in case.
The heavy-duty list isn’t complete without a pickup truck, and we recommend the Nissan Frontier Pickup. These wheels hold up to four people, including the driver, and offer a spacious bed in the back. Snowy roads call for rugged wheels.
When you need serious space with a rugged edge, look for Jeeps and Nissan Frontier Pickups. Photos courtesy of Jeep and Nissan.
First dates and important meetings don’t reschedule themselves just because of weather. If you’re in the market for a luxury vehicle, the BMW X3 is your go-to. Sturdy enough to navigate snow, but studly enough to impress your passenger.
If the snow hasn’t piled up too high, the Volvo S60 offers a more sleek design for those looking for a comfortable drive. Heated seats keep you toasty and Volvo’s Intellisafe technology lets you breathe easy. It’s a cozy set-up for chilly days.
The Volvo S60 and BMW X3 keep you comfortable and stylish on chilly days. Photos courtesy of Volvo and BMW.
FLEET ADVICE ON FLEEK
As important as they are, your wheels are just the beginning. Ready to drive? We asked our fleet pros for some practical insight about being savvy on the road, even for inexperienced winter drivers.
When to drive:
“[The best time to drive] is a few hours after a storm has stopped, to stay out of the way of plows and give them time to clear major roadways. Avoid driving during snowfall and at night when visibility is low.” – Luke Beato, Fleet Operations Manager, Boston
“The best times to drive really depend on the temperature. When it is right around freezing, the snow can really be dangerous, as it turns to ice when compacted.” – Robert LoMonaco, Senior Manager, Fleet & Logistics, New York
After a storm, wait a few hours to head out so the plows have time to clear the road.
Driving in the snow:
“#1 rule: drive slowly! Just because a vehicle accelerates in the snow, doesn’t mean it will turn or stop in the snow as easily.” – Michael Simmons, Fleet Operations Manager, Seattle
“Avoid side streets that might not be well-maintained or plowed. Give adequate time for the city to plow/salt before you go out.” – Candice Susak, Market Fleet Supervisor, Michigan & Ohio
“AWD vehicles may be able to get traction while accelerating, but AWD doesn’t help while stopping. Snow, ice, or even slush can increase stopping distances by double, triple, or more over the dry stopping distance.” – Joshua Hughes, Market Fleet Supervisor, Denver
“Don’t feel pressured by the speed of other drivers. Turn on your headlights to make sure you’re as visible as possible to the drivers around you!” – Maxwell Bulger, Market Fleet Supervisor, Pittsburgh
“Be careful of black ice. If it’s below freezing and recently precipitated, drive slow and avoid slamming on the brakes.” – Luke Beato, Fleet Operations Manager, Boston
“If you do get stuck [in snow], you need to turn off the traction control on the car. This is a feature that adjusts breaking and tire speeds when driving to prevent the car from skidding or spinning. However, when you are already stuck, it will impede your ability to get out of the snow.” – Robert LoMonaco, Senior Manager, Fleet & Logistics, New York
(Hint: the traction control button has an icon of a car with squiggly lines below it.)
“If you are stuck in a space, digging snow out from under the sides of the car can help, especially in front of and behind the wheels. Clearing room around the wheels can allow you to rock the car back and forth and build momentum to get unstuck.” – Joshua Hughes, Market Fleet Supervisor, Denver
“If you can, place some grit (dirt, sand, kitty litter) around the tires to help gain traction for the vehicle.” – Carl Di Laura, Market Fleet Supervisor, Minneapolis
(Hint: Zipcars in winter-affected markets have shovels in the cars—and we clear away the snow for you.)
Our #1 tip? Drive slowly to stay safe—and enjoy the view.
Of course, some road conditions are tough for any car. If a storm hits or you just don’t feel safe behind the wheel, hold off on driving until the weather improves and streets are ready. When in doubt, call us at 1-866-4ZIPCAR. We'll work with you to find the best plan of action.