By Matt Schmitz on December 24, 2013
The Christmas travel season is again upon us, and while the weather across much of the nation is expected to be relatively tame for the holiday itself, much of the country has experienced freezing rain, sleet, ice and snow in advance of the big day. That is, of course, when a majority of travelers hit the interstates in their cars — many of which may possess an aspect of their powertrains that counts snow and ice as a traction-reducing, fishtail-inducing mortal enemy: rear-wheel drive.
For owners of newer vehicles, Cars.com Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder said, rear-drive isn't nearly the median magnet it used to be, thanks to increasingly sophisticated traction-control systems as well as electronic stability control systems, required on all U.S. cars starting with the 2012 model year. ESC monitors where the driver is pointing the car versus what the car is actually doing and can apply the brakes to any of the wheels to help steer a fishtailing vehicle back on course, Wiesenfelder explained.
Traction control, meanwhile, is exclusively intended to prevent wheel spin at the drive wheels and assists acceleration on low-traction surfaces by limiting throttle and braking the drive wheels, which as a side effect also helps prevent fishtailing and spinouts. Earlier traction-control systems were too conservative and hindered forward movement, but today's improved systems can read the conditions and allow some wheel spin, or "paddling," which is more effective at getting going in loose snow.
"Rear-wheel-drive cars aren't unusable in winter, especially nowadays," Wiesenfelder said. "All cars were once rear-wheel drive, riding on unsophisticated bias-ply tires, and we survived — as do law-enforcement officers and cab drivers, most of whom have been in rear-drive sedans for decades.
"You just have to combine the right equipment with appropriate driving practices."
To that end, Cars.com editors have offered their personal tips developed over their years of extensive driving experience to help you survive the winter with rear-wheel drive.Robby DeGraff, associate editor
I drove a rear-wheel-drive Camaro in the snow every day back in high school. A few tips I have:
Kelsey Mays, consumer affairs editor
Mike Hanley, research editor
I'd say the single most important thing would be to get a set of dedicated winter tires and swap them on the car before it gets cold and snowy out. In addition to helping prevent fishtailing when accelerating by offering more traction, they'll also help you stop better. The cost could be $800 or so, depending on the car, but if they save you once that's probably less than an insurance deductible/rate hike would be for a wrecked car.
Jennifer Geiger, news editor
A few common sense tips go a long way here (and managed to save my bacon!):
Evan Sears, photo editor
Jennifer Burklow, copy editor
Aaron D. Bragman, Detroit bureau chief
Truthfully, now that every modern car has traction control and stability programs, rear-wheel drive isn't much of a challenge. Just slow down. SLOW. DOWN.
Seriously, slow down.
News Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt