How to Drive a Toyota Prius in the Snowby William Zane
The Toyota Prius is a front wheel drive, gas and electric powered hybrid. Like all front wheel drive cars, the Prius moves fairly well in the snow since the power pulls the car through the snow rather than pushing it like a rear wheel drive car. Overall, Prius owners have reported success driving their vehicles in the snow, though snow tires are recommended. There have been some complaints about the Prius’ traction control killing the power to the front wheels in slippery conditions.
Drive slowly and smoothly and feather the gas pedal by pressing it in incremental amounts rather than just pressing the pedal all the way to the floor. Luckily, the Prius does not have a huge amount of horsepower, so it’s not like driving a sports car in the snow. However, even the Prius can lose traction if it’s given too much throttle. When taking off from a stop, ease into the throttle. If the tires start to spin, lift off the gas until the tires stop spinning.
Accelerate out of corners. Unlike a rear wheel drive car in the snow, where accelerating too soon in a corner can cause the rear end to slide out when the tires lose traction, the Prius’ front wheel drive system will help pull you out of corners. Accelerate gently out of corners, lifting only if the car begins to slide to the outside of the turn or if the tires start to spin.
Look ahead and brake gently and as little as possible. This will prevent you from having to apply the brake at the last minute and potentially lose control if they lock up. Also, when slowing, particularly on downhills, use the Prius’ B setting, which emphasizes braking (but negatively impacts fuel economy) and allow the automatic gearbox to help slow the car instead of using the brakes. While lightly braking, downshift the automatic from D into 3, 2 then 1 as you come to a stop.
Avoid driving your Prius if the snow is very deep. While the Prius’ front wheel drive platform may provide decent traction in the snow, the Prius also has a very low ride height to improve its aerodynamics so it only has about 5 inches of ground clearance. This can be a problem in deep snow, where the lower part of the car can become completely buried.
Use winter tires, such as Bridgestone Blizzaks, available from the Tire Rack or your local retailer if you will be driving in snow for several months at a time. If you live in an area that gets a consistent amount of snow, have a set of winter tires installed on your Prius. The Prius comes stock with tires that are geared towards maximum fuel economy and also towards warm weather driving. You can also buy an extra set of Prius wheels and have the winter tires mounted on them. That way, you can pick and choose when you want to use the snow tires.
Take a snow driving course. There are a lot of subtle intricacies to successfully driving a car in the snow that may be best explained by a professional driver.
William Zane has been a freelance writer and photographer for over six years and specializes primarily in automotive-related subject matter among many other topics. He has attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he studied automotive design, and the University of New Mexico, where he studied journalism.