Is Rear-Wheel Drive Safe to Use in Snow?

Using rear-wheel drive in the snow can be risky, all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive are safer options.
Written by Claire Beaney
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Rear-wheel drive is not the best choice for snowy roads because rear-wheel drive vehicles tend to oversteer or fishtail, both of which are very dangerous.
The majority of cars sold in the United States are either all- or front-wheel drive, both of which are safe driving options for snowy conditions. And while accidents can happen no matter what you’re driving, you’re more likely to have a mishap in the snow using rear-wheel drive.
If you live in snow country, it’s a good idea to have a roadside assistance membership with
. At only $6.99 per car, Jerry’s roadside assistance can offer you a tow, tire change, refueling, and so much more. While you’re at it, make sure that you are getting the best deal on your
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Continue reading to learn more about rear-wheel drive and why you’ll want to avoid using it in the snow.
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Front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive in the snow

Front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive vehicles operate differently under wintery conditions. This is because the weight distribution of the vehicles is different.

Weight distribution

With rear-wheel drive, the lack of weight at the back of the car means that tires will struggle for traction and have a higher chance of spinning out.
In most cars, the engine sits in the front, so that’s where the overall weight of the vehicle is concentrated. With the weight of the engine keeping the wheels planted firmly on the ground, front-wheel drive cars are able to push through snowy roads without too much tire spinning.
Many of the rear-wheel drive vehicles sold in the U.S. are often performance models, sports cars, or pickups with little weight over the rear tires—which impacts vehicles’ winter driving abilities.

What happens if a front-wheel drive car spins out?

When front-wheel drive vehicles experience wheel spin, they tend to understeer. If you try to turn the wheel, the car will just continue to go forward. This is usually the result of excessive acceleration while cornering.
If this happens, the vehicle may end up going off the road—and while this can still be dangerous, staying off the brake and slowing down can help you come to a safe stop.

What happens if a rear-wheel drive car spins out?

With rear-wheel drive vehicles, wheel spin can result in oversteering and fishtailing. And on busy winter roads, this can be especially dangerous.
This tends to occur as a result of losing grip on the rear tires when rounding a corner, where the side force pulls the back of the car to the outside of the turn.
Key Takeaway Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles are safer in snowy conditions.

How can you improve rear-wheel drive in the snow?

With the right precautions, it’s definitely possible to stay safe during the winter months with a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

Purchase winter tires

Made of special rubber compounds that can stay flexible and grip well in cold weather, winter tires can generally stop 66% faster than other tires.
They can also be useful for rainy conditions and sub-freezing dry roads thanks to their vastly improved traction.

Place extra weight in the back of your pickup

To help provide more traction for your pickup, securing extra weight in your truck bed can be useful. Just make sure that all items are tied down firmly so they don’t move around if you brake hard, round a corner, or are involved in a collision.
The added weight can also end up increasing stopping distance, so placing weight directly over the driver axle can help balance out your car’s handling.

Check if your vehicle comes with a snow mode

Some vehicles are built with a snow or winter mode that adjusts the engine throttle and transmission to launch your car with reduced torque and power, which helps manage wheelspin.
This button can typically be found on your dashboard with either a snowflake icon or the word "snow."

Practice makes perfect

The more practice you get in these conditions, the better you’ll be able to deal with any real-life snowy mishaps or accidents. One way to practice is to take a class at a driving school.
Many driving schools teach car control techniques using specially equipped vehicles that simulate skidding. Others use low-friction surfaces covered with water to imitate winter driving conditions, or they simply offer classes during the winter months.
Key Takeaway Taking the necessary precautions to prep your rear-wheel drive vehicle for winter can help prevent major accidents on the road.

Invest in roadside assistance

Even if you follow all the safety measures listed above, you might still end up spinning out or getting stuck in the snow. The best way to prepare for this is to invest in roadside assistance before winter comes so you’re not left stranded!
That’s why it’s a good idea to check out Jerry’s
roadside assistance program
. It can help you with any emergency services you may need during the winter months, like vehicle towing, fuel delivery, or rental vehicle roadside reimbursement—and it’s only $6.99 per month for one car!
blew my mind, honestly. From start to finish, using the app took me 10 minutes and I ended up with $100 of savings a month. Best of all, customer service even answered all my questions about roadside assistance!"—Savanna R.


Is rear-wheel drive good in the snow?

On its own, no. You’re more likely to spin out, get stuck, or even drive off the road.
If you live in an area that sees a lot of snow and ice in the winter, then purchasing a car with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive is the simplest way to ensure a safer winter driving experience.

Is front- or all-wheel drive better?

As it provides the most traction amongst the available options, all-wheel drive is the best choice. It’s especially helpful for getting out of snowed-in parking spots or getting through unplowed roads.
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