What to Look For in a Good Winter Car

Buying the Right Winter Car

Whether you live in Indianapolis or Elkhart, there is sure to be some snow and ice during an Indiana winter. If you are thinking about buying a car in the fall or winter, it’s important to look for one that will keep you safe even in the worst conditions. You can always browse our selection at instantautofinance.net/find-a-vehicle but here are some of the things you should think about when buying the right winter car.


The most important thing to look for is winter tires! Most vehicles leave the dealer with all-season road tires. Although they claim to be all-season, in temperatures below 45℉ the rubber will start to harden. When your tires are hard they are more likely to pop when you hit a chunk of ice or a pothole. Letting some air out of your tires in the winter can help a bit, but to really avoid getting a flat tire you should have winter or snow tires. They are made of a softer, more pliable rubber that doesn’t harden in below-freezing temperatures. They also have bigger treads for better traction in the snow. 

Drive System

There are 4 different types of drive systems; rear-wheel drive (RWD), front-wheel drive (FWD), all-wheel drive (AWD), and four-wheel drive (4WD). Every type has its advantages and disadvantages. 

  • Pickup trucks and muscle/sports cars usually have RWD. RWD is great for fast acceleration, highly-responsive handling, braking, and heavy towing. However, RWD is the worst option for winter driving. Since the rear wheels are accelerating and pushing the vehicle while the front wheels are steering, it can be extremely difficult to control a RWD car in slippery conditions. Spinning out is common as the rear wheels overpower the front. 
  • FWD is the most common drive system and can be found in any type of vehicle from sedans to vans. FWD cars do not have as much power or handle quite as well as RWD since the front wheels handle both steering and pulling the car. For the same reasons, they also do not do well off-road. But, FWD cars can handle snowy, slippery conditions relatively well.  
  • SUVs and crossovers most commonly have AWD. Safety is the biggest advantage of an AWD vehicle. An AWD system senses the traction of all four wheels and will adjust the power to each wheel accordingly. This means that the tire with the least amount of grip will get the most amount of power. This system works great to prevent slipping and sliding in poor conditions. However, if you are stuck on ice or in the snow in an AWD vehicle you might be out of luck until help arrives. The system works automatically with the main focus being safety, an AWD is the best option for inattentive drivers, inexperienced winter drivers, and families. 
  • Apart from rugged SUVs and pickup trucks, 4WD vehicles can be hard to come by. With 4WD vehicles, every wheel gets equal power. This doubles your traction! While 4WD definitely offers the best traction and control for winter driving, 4WD vehicles require a lot of attention. Unlike AWD vehicles which adjust automatically, 4WD vehicles rely on you to switch 4WD on and off. Keeping 4WD engaged when it isn’t needed not only guzzles gas but will cause damage to your engine. 


The height or ground clearance is another thing to look out for. You don’t see many sports cars out in the winter because to go fast and keep control, they hug the road. Most sports cars have around 3 inches of ground clearance, making it very easy to get stuck in the snow. Sedans, on the other hand, generally have 4-6 inches of ground clearance and SUVs fall around 6-8 inches. To put into perspective how important ground clearance is, Elkhart County averages 44 inches, and Mishawaka averages 60 inches of snowfall per year! While this is less important if you live in an area that rarely gets much snow, for drivers that live up north and are used to the lake-effect snowstorms ground clearance is something you should absolutely check into when purchasing a car. No matter where you live, we should have a vehicle with the right amount of clearance for you. You can find an Instant Auto Finance location near you at instantautofinance.net/our-locations.


Weight distribution is expressed as the percentage of weight in the front over the percentage in the back. If a car has a 60/40 distribution, 60% of the car’s weight is on the front tires and 40% is on the rear tires. The weight distribution of a car depends a lot on what drive system it has. For the best traction, you want more of the vehicle’s weight centered over the wheels that are driving the car. For RWD and some 4WD vehicles, you should add weight to the trunk of the car or the truck bed to prevent sliding in the winter. FWD cars already have the weight of the engine on the wheels with power, so you should not add more weight. It is also not necessary to add any weight to AWD and electric vehicles. They tend to have a good, balanced, 50/50 weight distribution already. 

Ask the Dealer About…

  • Winter Tires. They won’t be free, but many dealerships do offer packages or financing options for replacing tires. It is worth asking your car dealer.

  • The Drive System. For the safest option, try to find a vehicle with AWD. If you are an experienced and very attentive driver, a 4WD vehicle will give you the best traction. This is great not only for winter but also for any off-road adventures. If you can’t find an AWD or 4WD car that meets your needs, a FWD car will do. You might slide a bit in the winter, but you’ll still have more control than a RWD car. 

  • Ground Clearance. If you are in Indianapolis, 4 inches of clearance should do just fine. But, up in the Michiana area lake effect snowstorms hit hard! The higher the ground clearance you can find, the better! 8-10 inches of clearance is recommended for driving in heavy snow, but if your winter roads are typically plowed 6-8 inches of clearance will do. 

  • Weight Distribution. Look for a weight distribution of 50/50 for an AWD or 60/40 for FWD. If you do get a RWD or 4WD vehicle, you might want to add some weight to the back to try to make the weight distribution closer to 40/60. 50/50 is usually ideal, but for the best traction in the winter, you will want more weight over your wheels with power. 

You can ask us online at instantautofinance.net/contact-us or come to the nearest Instant Auto Finance dealership to talk with a dealer!