Say it ain't so -- Minivan Snow Tires?

I’ve just come home from a four month job in Catskill, NY (great local creek) and my wife tells me that we need snow tires on our new two wheel drive Toyota Sienna. Apparently, it is settled suburban opinion that minivans slip and slide all over and are basically helpless without them. Right now I’m thinking that these are a bunch of soft, suburban, On-Star subscribers who can be sold anything under the banner of safety or security. My wife isn’t happy that I’m holding out to see for myself before rushing out to buy some for her before the first snow fall. Anyone in snow country have experience here?

I work for a car maker so have been in lots of vehicles with different tires. I’d say that you are right in that a front wheel drive minivan already is much better than average in snow…because it has plenty of weight on the front driving wheels (weight distribution probably 60/40 towards front) plus skinny tires which help a lot plus nice all purpose tires instead of “high performance” tires - which also helps a lot. But tires make a huge difference so true snow tires will take your vehicle to a much higher and clearly noticeable performance level in snow and add a ton of confidence so as always your wife is right.

She’s right. Happy to say that I’ve progressed past the minivan stage now that my daughter is older and we no longer have the need to haul we did before. (Downsizing the family dog helps here too.) The difference in handling, braking, etc., is amazing. Tires will make the single biggest performance difference in whatever the vehicle. I’ve been using four Blizzaks on each vehicle, mounted on separate rims, and the minivan in particular, was transformed. The CR-V and especially, our Outback, feel virtually unstoppable with the all wheel drive and these tires mounted. They do wear extremely quickly though, and having additional wheel/tires gets pricey.

I second Trilobite…
We have had a few vans…4 snow tires made a WORLD of a difference in performance/safety…

Cold weather requires drysuits…hoods…and gloves right?

Good luck…


snow tires
Check out They have a very good article on snow tires. They’ve done a lot of testing (some of it on an ice rink!)and have a lot of feedback from customers all over the US. I live about 35 miles from their South Bend, Indiana facility and they have a test track at the facility. I have a set of Bridgestone WS-50 on my front wheel drive car (also a Toyota) and they are a world of difference from the high performance all seasons that came on it. I previously lived in northern Idaho and had used studded tires there. I really think the Bridgestones are superior to the studs.

Native Utahn here

– Last Updated: Dec-01-04 10:18 PM EST –

we drive home to visit our family in the mountains every year on snowy roads with our Sienna with all weather tires now we live in California. (I pack tire chains along since they are required by law on most passes in Utah if you don't have adequate snow tires.) All weather tires work sort of on a Sienna, but do not provide the traction you need if you are in a snowy climate. I would certainly spend the bucks to buy my wife snow tires if she is driving on snowy icy roads even though the front-wheel drive does better than regular two wheel drive. When I lived on the east coast I could not believe the idiots who tried to drive on bad roads without adequate traction.

NH driver

– Last Updated: Dec-02-04 4:10 PM EST –

In my experience, real snow tires on all 4 corners makes a huge difference in snow. Car & Driver ran a test a couple of years ago and concluded that going from all-season to snow tires improved snow performance more than going from 2wd to 4wd on all-season tires.

Found it!

Here's the conclusion:
"So What's the Bottom Line?
Four-wheel drive helps get cars going. When it comes time to brake or change direction on low-traction surfaces, the extra mass of the driveline becomes more of a detriment. Folks who live in hilly places that get snow may need the climbing capability of four-wheel drive. If it snows a lot in those hilly places, they should probably invest in winter tires, too. Even flat-landers who happen to have steep driveways may wish to consider a four-wheel-driver.

Almost everyone else will most likely be better served by using winter tires. Acceleration takes longer, but in an emergency, the handling behavior and improved lateral grip of two-wheel drive and winter tires -- in the slippery stuff -- are the safer bets.

Winter tires boosted the rwd Benz's acceleration times more than they did the fwd Audi's, but in almost every other test, the inherently front-heavy Audis derived more benefit from the winter rubber than did the more evenly balanced Benzes. This finding certainly suggests that front-drive cars benefit from winter tires as much or more than rear-drivers do.

And finally, unless snow or ice covers your roads many times in a winter, the snow benefits of winter tires may not outweigh their drawbacks on dry pavement.

There, Nevin. And don't ask which came first, the chicken or the egg. "

Having the tires on their own rims will pay for itself if you're planning to keep the vehicle for at least a couple of years. Changing to/from snows runs about $16/wheel here, so that's roughly $130/year just to have them swapped.

The packages from Tire Rack are a pretty good deal if your local dealer isn't helpful.

I haven't found a bad snow tire from any of the major manufacturers, but it's worth reading some reviews. Some are better at deep snow vs. ice, etc.:

Right now I'm running Dunlop Graspics on my Civic. Great snow traction and reasonably priced, but they're a long way from crisp on dry pavement. Everything's a tradeoff.

Agreed. Regardless of the vehicle or intent, tires make the single biggest difference - whether you want more dry grip, wet grip, snow traction, etc. I drove a rear wheel sports car thru the snow all winter a few years ago on low profile Blizzaks and it did better than some front wheel drives i’ve had.

For a Cheap fix
Go get for “Doughnut” spares and put Chains on them…

Get the snows
Snow tire make a huge difference! Until you try it, it’s hard to appreciate how much better they are. “All season” tires are not especially good at anything. Having dedicated summer and winter wheels/tires is the best way to go.

It’s customary - though not mandatory - to go with slightly narrower snow tires than the stock size for the vehicle. Most snows only come in higher aspect ratios (70, 75 and 80 series), so if you get the same overall diameter and wheel size, you’ll probably end up with slightly narrower tires.

Snow tires will change the handling of your vehicle somewhat, so it’s a good idea to put them on early to give yourself some time to get used to them before the snow flies.

As for brands, I’ve been very happy with Nokian. The Finns know a lot about making snow tires.

Snows vs. Dedicated Ice/Snows
Then the subcategorization begins. In our area, we get less major accumulation than we do slush and ice. The Blizzaks are a superior ice tire, but again, the wear is horrible on dry roads. After the first two seasons, the microcellular outer compound is all but gone, leaving a standard snow tread. They are, as the Tire Rack noted, phenomenal on ice, even black ice (deadly stuff).

Also, as noted, ultimate grip is significantly lower and the tire carcasses of snows ‘squirm’ much more, breaking away more easily at the limits of adhesion, due to taller lugs, softer compounds, etc. I’ve found that once you get used to a particular snow tire’s behavior, they’re actually very predictable where the limits of adhesion are, and they give you more feedback than a standard all season when they do break away.

As for wheels, Tire Rack has some very affordable alloy wheels. The OZ ones I bought for my CRV look so much better than the factory alloys, that I switched the snows to the factory wheels and run the spring/summer/fall wheels on the new ones. On their website, they have a ‘virtual tireshop’ where you can try different wheels and sizes on a picture of your vehicle. Very, very helpful, and extremely entertaining besides!

Nokians are superb dedicated snows, as are Hakkapelitas, Gislaveds, etc. Again, a call to the Tire Rack gives you a live person who can recommend the best choice for your needs. I’ve found them to be a great company to deal with; extremely fast shipping and knowledgeable about what they sell.

Central Pennsylvania…
pretty much always gets a hard winter and since I’ve been driving front wheel drives I have never owned a set of winter tires. As long the tires are good quality and at least half tread, I don’t worry about them. Of course, central PA also has a poor economy and my bank account has never been something to brag about. So, if it ain’t gonna break you get the wife some snow tires. Better safe than sorry.

its all about the tires
Driving in snow and on ice is all about the tires.

Real snow tires make an unbelivable difference. Adding studs make even more of a difference if you live someplace where they are legal and necessary (packed snow on the roads is more common than pavement)

The best snow tires in the world are made in Finland by Nokia/Hakkapeliita. Nothing else comes close. They are available in the states, and are no more expensive than other brands. I have some past experience with winter rallying and ice racing, so my opinion on this comes with some standing.

snow tires
Must be an east coast thing… I don’t know (and haven’t noticed) anyone who uses dedicated snow tires here in the midwest (WI).

From the central part of the state north most backroads are snow covered for at least 2-3 months.


No Its a MINI-VAN/Soccer MOM thing L

no, but
A good all-season or a blizzak that develops into a dry tire after some wear makes sense. I haven’t seen dedicated snows here in quite some time. But you know marketers.

All-season tires
All-season tires are adequate for most people in most places. They are what I use these days, but I don’t drive very much, and I do not mind sliding or skidding because I know how to drive in slippery conditions.

However, all-season tires make compromises year round. They are not as good as real snow tires in the winter. They are not as good as a “high performance” tire in the summer.

It’a another one of those personel choice/risk management issues.

All-season tires are ok in the winter. Real snow tires are better. The difference is significant enough that it could be the difference between having an accident or not under some conditions.

Your choice.

I’m getting them!
I live in Wisconsin (Appleton) and after seeing at least one accident every day on the way to work last winter, I decided I needed some snow tires. I’m leaning toward picking up some Michelin X-Ice tires. If anyone has experience with these tires I’d love to hear about it. The Blizzaks had some undesirable reviews which scared me away from them.

If it’s a matter of cost
look at the possibilities. Most people probably carry a $500 deductable on their insurance. A set of all terrain “tall” tires for my 4x4 pick-up cost about that mounted and balanced. Pick up some used rims at the local junk yard and some new snow tires, all 4, and you still probably spent less than that for a mini-van. If wife or you crash what are the additional costs, injuries, time off work, tow truck, citation and/or court cost. You get the drift. Darn cheap insurance if you ask me.


My brother lives about 30 miles form you and they love studded tires