A “small car” is one that has 100-109 cubic feet of passenger/cargo volume and is between 161 and 167 inches long.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
We may also understand small cars as having engines of 2.0L or less, and that we can otherwise describe as “compact.”
This article answers the question “Are Small Cars Good Enough In Snow?”…
Are Small Cars Good Enough In Snow?
They are, as long as the snow isn’t any higher than the car’s bumper height, and as long as the car is equipped with some additional features to improve traction and control in harsh weather conditions. Smaller cars struggle in deep and heavy snow, of course, but then so would medium-sized cars.
What Features To Look For That Improves Winter Driving?
Several decades ago, it would have been fair to say that driving in the snow in a small car would have been a bad idea.
They had worse traction and few features to help drivers remain safe.
The same can’t be said of modern small cars. There are many features that one can now look for to make driving much safer overall.
Below are some examples:
Vehicle Stability Control
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) is a system that is able to detect when individual wheels are slipping on the road.
When it senses this, the VSC reduces engine power and applies braking force to that wheel to slow it down and maintain traction on the road.
It also helps ensure the steering wheel and wheel axles are always in the right direction.
Losing traction is a scary thing on the road. If your wheels lose traction and you try to accelerate, the wheels will spin and the engine will rev up but you may lose control.
Traction control works in a similar way to ABS.
Wheel speed sensors send data to the car’s ECU, and so the ECU will pick up quickly on any wheel that is spinning too fast.
When it does so, it takes over the hydraulic system and applies braking force to the wheel to slow it down and restore balance.
Anti-Lock Brake System
Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) are standard on just about all vehicles nowadays, including motorcycles in markets where they are demanded.
An ABS system can sense when a wheel has “locked up” or stopped moving and is starting to skid.
The system pumps the brakes against the wheel in quick succession, hundreds of times a second, to allow the wheel to be restored to motion and bring back traction.
Electronic Brake Distribution
Electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), also known as electronic brakeforce limitation (EBL), works together with ABS to regulate the amount of braking power that is applied to wheels that are detected to be locking up.
The EBD system ensures that neither too much nor too little power is distributed to the brake.
It helps guarantee enough braking force to stop the vehicle, but not so much as to make the vehicle lose control.
When a small car is fitted with an AWD system, it means that torque from the engine is sent to all four of the wheels, and not just the front or rear 2 on FWD and RWD drivetrains respectively.
The torque working on four wheels simultaneously brings a lot more grip and helps to reduce the risk of tire slip because all wheels are receiving that crucial torque turning power.
In other words, the chance of wheels locking up is much smaller, so AWD is beneficial to a smaller car driving in snow.
Do Small Cars Have Snow Mode?
While smaller cars don’t typically come with a drive mode selector with “snow” mode, they do have viable alternatives.
Snow mode and similar drive selector options are typically reserved for larger SUV models, as well as off-road vehicles.
For small cars, however, you can count having AWD as an equivalent to snow mode.
Since snow mode typically strengthens AWD and traction control, having an adequate AWD system is very similar to having snow mode.
The best brand for this is Subaru, and in particular the Subaru Impreza.
This small car comes with Subaru’s much-lauded symmetrical AWD system as standard on nearly all models. This system is considered by seasoned winter drivers as the best.
In Canada, for instance, where just about every winter is harsh and snow-filled, the Subaru Impreza is the go-to vehicle for affordable snow-friendly traction.
Other smaller cars with standard AWD drivetrains include the Toyota Prius, Infiniti Q50 Hybrid and Audi A4.
Can You Install Additional Snow Gear On A Small Car?
The first thing you can install is a set of winter tires.
These high-traction tires may be perceived as being for larger vehicles, but actually, the most effective ones are smaller and so they fit perfectly well on small cars.
Winter tires will help give better traction and contact with the road and will prevent slippage and aquaplaning in winter conditions.
Another tool you can make use of is tire chains. Small cars can accept tire chains as well as larger ones, and these also provide you with additional traction without having to change your tires.
Some don’t have a place to store their regular tires after switching to winter tires. The chains are a great alternative since they are easier to store.
How Do Small Cars Handle Low Temperatures?
The fact is that smaller cars handle low temperatures as well as larger cars of the same mechanical type.
Electric cars, including smaller electric cars, suffer the most, often losing a good deal of their battery range when temperatures drop dramatically.
Smaller EVs are badly hit because they often have an inherently lower range in the first place.
For gasoline and diesel engines, the size of the car doesn’t dramatically alter the outcomes of low temperatures.
The cars just need to be warmed up before heading out on the road.
Low temperatures can reduce fuel economy in all cars by anywhere from 10 to 20 percent.
With an already smaller gas tank and shorter range, drivers of smaller cars need to be more careful, but the change is proportional for cars of all sizes.
Can Small Cars Drive On Ice?
They can, but it’s always safer to do so only when the small car has been fitted with those features that boost traction.
The first great feature is an AWD drivetrain.
Though some people think these are reserved only for trucks and SUVs, the fact is that many smaller cars also have an AWD system.
It helps maintain torque and traction and keeps small cars safe on snow and ice.
Drivers of small cars with 2WD drivetrains will need to be careful on ice, however, especially black ice because it’s easier to lose traction even when you have ABS and ESC and other features installed on the vehicle.
Do Small Cars Need Snow Tires?
If the small car is being driven in a place where the winter brings frequent heavy snows, but not so heavy as to stop the car from driving altogether, then winter tires are a great addition.
The truth is that no car “needs” winter tires per se.
They are only an advisable addition for those places where winter temperatures frequently go below 40 degrees, and where snowfall is commonplace.
Can I Install Snow Chains On Small Car Tires?
You can, but you just have to be careful about the clearance height between your tires and the other internal components of your car.
Some vehicles, and not only small vehicles, feature very small gaps between the tires and other components.
This being the case, it can be dangerous to install chains because there’s a risk of the chain impacting and damaging other components.
In general, however, there’s nothing inherent in small cars that means snow chains cannot be installed.
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