Author Topic: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)  (Read 7311 times)

PencilMustache

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Hello MMM community,

After accepting a job yesterday, I am forced to buy a car to commute to work. My wife and I had wanted a Toyota Yaris for both it's small size and good MPG, but when we mentioned this to one of her coworkers (she walks to work, but some of her coworkers drive) she said that we would need 4WD to deal with the combination of snow and hills in Pittsburgh. I only pretty much plan to use the car to commute to work, and the first part of the commute will be through some hilly parts of the city (the second part is just on the highway). I read some posts on the forums here and I have heard that in some circumstances you can use snow tires (or chains?) to travel safely in snowy conditions (I admit that I am a noob to driving or car ownership at all). What is the community's thoughts on this predicament? Should we look at a different car?

For some more information on what the car will be used for, we don't plan on ever doing anything like driving on trails (or other activities that traditionally would require 4WD), just using it to drive on normal roads to work and maybe highway on trips, and we don't plan on ever towing anything.

If anyone needs any more information, I will be happy to provide it. Thanks so much in advance for helping us to make a smart first car purchase!

ketchup

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2014, 10:55:28 AM »
4WD makes you accelerate faster in snow and ice, but not stop any faster in snow and ice.  Tread lightly.

neo von retorch

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2014, 10:59:09 AM »
I live in a much less hilly part of Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, but I had a Honda Fit for 4 years, with all season tires on it. I had no trouble driving around when it was snowy or even icy on the ground. I also had a Tahoe for a while, and it was just fine on the snow. But the tires really do make a big difference. A nice light car doesn't need a ton of traction to move and steer. 4WD cars are heavy and slow to turn. You're more likely to drive off the road in the first place.

gecko10x

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2014, 11:06:10 AM »
I think it depends on the flexibility of your employer, your driving skills, and your particular route. If you MUST make it to work every day, or you suck at snow/ice driving (or are just afraid of it), or your route sucks (stop lights on up-hills, poor plowing/salting, etc.), I certainly wouldn't fault you for choosing an AWD/4WD vehicle (and I would do the same). This is likely not a popular opinion on this forum.

BUT, as ketchup said above, AWD won't make you stop any better. However, snow tires will. And not driving like an over-confident ass will help also.

PencilMustache

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2014, 11:08:30 AM »
4WD makes you accelerate faster in snow and ice, but not stop any faster in snow and ice.  Tread lightly.
I live in a much less hilly part of Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, but I had a Honda Fit for 4 years, with all season tires on it. I had no trouble driving around when it was snowy or even icy on the ground. I also had a Tahoe for a while, and it was just fine on the snow. But the tires really do make a big difference. A nice light car doesn't need a ton of traction to move and steer. 4WD cars are heavy and slow to turn. You're more likely to drive off the road in the first place.

Is the Fit comparable for these purposes to the Yaris (sorry, again I have no idea about anything relating to cars)? From your post and the one before it, it seems like 4WD gives you the ability to accelerate hard in bad conditions, but not the control necessary once you are up to speed. Is that about right?

I think it depends on the flexibility of your employer, your driving skills, and your particular route. If you MUST make it to work every day, or you suck at snow/ice driving (or are just afraid of it), or your route sucks (stop lights on up-hills, poor plowing/salting, etc.), I certainly wouldn't fault you for choosing an AWD/4WD vehicle (and I would do the same). This is likely not a popular opinion on this forum.

BUT, as ketchup said above, AWD won't make you stop any better. However, snow tires will. And not driving like an over-confident ass will help also.

My employer has expressed that he his very flexible in terms of inclement weather. I'm not sure about the route (apart from knowing that it probably is hilly), but I did drive a Honda Odyssey in Ohio for a year (including in the snow), but I'm not sure how much that experience counts, as the roads there are perfectly flat.

begood

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2014, 11:29:59 AM »
The Subaru Impreza hatchback has AWD standard. You could add snow tires to feel even more confident.

In PA, the road crews are pretty darn good about getting the roads passable after storms. Unless you had to commute *in* a storm, I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

megamomo

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2014, 11:39:01 AM »
4WD makes you accelerate faster in snow and ice, but not stop any faster in snow and ice.  Tread lightly.
I live in a much less hilly part of Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, but I had a Honda Fit for 4 years, with all season tires on it. I had no trouble driving around when it was snowy or even icy on the ground. I also had a Tahoe for a while, and it was just fine on the snow. But the tires really do make a big difference. A nice light car doesn't need a ton of traction to move and steer. 4WD cars are heavy and slow to turn. You're more likely to drive off the road in the first place.

Is the Fit comparable for these purposes to the Yaris (sorry, again I have no idea about anything relating to cars)? From your post and the one before it, it seems like 4WD gives you the ability to accelerate hard in bad conditions, but not the control necessary once you are up to speed. Is that about right?

I think it depends on the flexibility of your employer, your driving skills, and your particular route. If you MUST make it to work every day, or you suck at snow/ice driving (or are just afraid of it), or your route sucks (stop lights on up-hills, poor plowing/salting, etc.), I certainly wouldn't fault you for choosing an AWD/4WD vehicle (and I would do the same). This is likely not a popular opinion on this forum.

BUT, as ketchup said above, AWD won't make you stop any better. However, snow tires will. And not driving like an over-confident ass will help also.

My employer has expressed that he his very flexible in terms of inclement weather. I'm not sure about the route (apart from knowing that it probably is hilly), but I did drive a Honda Odyssey in Ohio for a year (including in the snow), but I'm not sure how much that experience counts, as the roads there are perfectly flat.

I too live in a hilly part of Pittsburgh.  Most of these comments are spot on.  I would not be able to make it back up my hill to my house on snowy days without the 4WD.  The good news is that at the end of the day, the roads tend to be cleaned up pretty well unless it is actively snowing.  Of course this varies significantly across different Pittsburgh neighborhoods.  If your roads are plowed by city crews, do not expect them to be cleaned quickly unless you are on a snow emergency route.

As indicated, stopping is the bigger problem.  I have learned to downshift my automatic to "L" when driving down a steep hill in the worst weather.  The engine brake keeps me coasting at no faster than 10mph in this gear.  Of course the brakes still need to get me from 10mph to 0mph.

I do disagree about having a "nice light car".  Many front wheel drives with little weight over the front wheels cannot go up a snowy/icy hill.  I know people who can't get out of their driveway on snowy days because of this.

The best advice is simply to telecommute if possible on the worst days.  The typical winter here has many snowy days, but only a handful where the roads are bad enough that I question whether I should be driving.

4alpacas

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2014, 11:47:29 AM »
4WD makes you accelerate faster in snow and ice, but not stop any faster in snow and ice.  Tread lightly.
I live in a much less hilly part of Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, but I had a Honda Fit for 4 years, with all season tires on it. I had no trouble driving around when it was snowy or even icy on the ground. I also had a Tahoe for a while, and it was just fine on the snow. But the tires really do make a big difference. A nice light car doesn't need a ton of traction to move and steer. 4WD cars are heavy and slow to turn. You're more likely to drive off the road in the first place.

Is the Fit comparable for these purposes to the Yaris (sorry, again I have no idea about anything relating to cars)? From your post and the one before it, it seems like 4WD gives you the ability to accelerate hard in bad conditions, but not the control necessary once you are up to speed. Is that about right?

Please do not accelerate 'hard' in bad conditions even if the car allows it. 

As someone that had to get to work in all kinds of weather (and with a few hills on my way to work), I had no problem without AWD.  I drove slow and stopped VERY gradually. 

I think you'll be fine in whatever car you choose to have. BUT you do need to learn to drive your car in snow and on ice.  My recommendation is donuts in an empty parking lot.  So much fun, but also very helpful to work on properly handling a car on ice.  Handling a car on ice wasn't innate for me. 

lizzzi

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2014, 11:49:30 AM »
My daughter and s-i-l are long-time Pittsburgh residents. She drove an old Toyota Corolla there for years, but is much happier with her four-year-old Mazda 9 AWD. S-i-l drove an older Ford Escape for years--loved it--it became unreliable and he bought a gently-used Honda Crosstour AWD, which he loves. As far as I know, they never did snow tires.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2014, 11:58:52 AM »
I went to college in the Pittsburgh area with two POS FWD cars and never had any issue. The only times driving was impossible, it was impossible for everyone else. (Ice storms, flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Katrina, etc).

If you're really that concerned, get snow tires. The Canadians on here swear by them. The cost for a set of snow tires and steel rims is less than the fuel savings you will get in the first year or two with a more efficient vehicle, particularly if you swap them yourself.

megamomo

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2014, 12:30:15 PM »
I went to college in the Pittsburgh area with two POS FWD cars and never had any issue. The only times driving was impossible, it was impossible for everyone else. (Ice storms, flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Katrina, etc).
This certainly can be true but it completely depends where you live (directly on a hill or not) and what terrain is between your house and your work.  People that live two streets apart may have completely different experiences in this city. 

This is from 3 years ago.  Didn't matter what kind of car you had if you lived on this street on this day.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6249iHSJsKo
« Last Edit: July 24, 2014, 12:32:54 PM by megamomo »

neo von retorch

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2014, 12:46:27 PM »
Hmm - yes it depends on the tires and weight distribution. The Fit is generally an agile car, and the FR weight distribution is around 62/38. But I also had a Nissan 240SX which was only slightly heavier, but it had a heavier front end... with RWD. It was terrible in the snow, whether it was just trying to go up small hills or trying to go around corners. Of course, the tires were not the same. Anyway, it's not so much the overall weight of the car that helps you go in the snow - but rather the weight over the drive tires. A Camaro is a very heavy car... but I wouldn't want to drive it around with summer tires and icy roads. The Fit is very light, and I never got it stuck going up hills. My sister lives down in a valley between two relatively steep hills, and I would visit her when it was snowing like crazy. Her roads are the last to get plowed (in the middle of nowhere) but the hills in her fields are good for sledding...

lizzzi

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2014, 01:31:34 PM »
My college-age niece in Pittsburgh drives a Honda Fit. So I guess they are OK there. Regarding the Youtube video--no car or tires on God's green earth are going to save you on ice.

gimp

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #13 on: July 24, 2014, 01:44:06 PM »
You definitely don't need 4WD in Pittsburgh. Snow tires are a good idea, but not necessary - all-weather tires will do fine. I'd be more worried about the shitty traction control POS cars have, than the actual traction you'll get with any tires you didn't get from the junkyard.

megamomo

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2014, 01:53:23 PM »
Regarding the Youtube video--no car or tires on God's green earth are going to save you on ice.
That was mostly for entertainment value.  I do recall driving to work on that day and having no issues.  It's just an example of how much the difficulty can vary from place to place even within the same city.  I would say that the location factor might be the biggest item impacting the best option for PencilMustache.

frugaliknowit

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2014, 02:10:05 PM »
It is more the driver than the car.  Nothing helps you on black ice, nothing. 

Practice driving in the snow in large empty parking lots doing all kinds of skids and spins.  If possible, when conditions are less than horrible, there is good light and roads are uncrowded, find hills to practice on.  See what happens when you lose momentum while climbing...see what happens when you slam the brake on going downhill...

Basically, the technique for hills is keep momentum uphill and keep your gearing on the low side (somewhat higher rpm's/slightly lower gear than typically).  Downhill, go as slowly as you need to maintain control.  Carefully test with the brake to see if you can stop without skidding much and to determine if you are going too fast.  Adjust as needed.  With very steep hills, you may want to lower your gear so your engine helps with the breaking. 

poorboyrichman

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Re: First car purchase, worried about snow and hills (Pittsburgh)
« Reply #16 on: July 24, 2014, 02:18:43 PM »
I had a 2005 disel toyota yaris which was FWD and never had any problems with hills. Take is slow and steady and you will be fine.