Which car should we drive to Mammoth?
December 27, 2010 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Which car should we drive to Mammoth? 2001 Honda Civic @ 109,000mi vs 2007 Honda Fit Sport @ 32,000mi? Everything is stock. What should we watch out for?

We will be getting snow chains, as they will be required. But we have never driven either car in a snowy, mountainous area before. Has anyone had any experience in a similar situation with either car? We're concerned about maneuverability, having enough power (braking, starting)... honestly we're not super attuned to what we SHOULD be concerned about.

I have a suspicion that it'll all be about the same, and if that's the case, we'll just take the car with more storage space.

Any tips or insights would be greatly appreciated!
posted by wuMeFi to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I've driven a Fit with snow tires in heavy snow, and I was not impressed. There's just not enough clearance under the axle.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:32 PM on December 27, 2010

I'm pretty sure the Civic is going to have more ground clearance loaded than the Fit does. I drive my 99 civic in the winters here in Maine and do ok without chains or snow tires, but it's a different situation of course.

Drive slowly, avoid sudden acceleration, try to avoid slowing down when going up a hill. That's what works for me.
posted by selfnoise at 3:51 PM on December 27, 2010

I'm assuming that both cars are front wheel drive? In which case, whichever one you like.

1. Monitor road conditions, don't be afraid to pull off and wait conditions out if they get bad.
2. Practice putting the chains on.
3. Remember that chains in general will help you get moving more than they will help you stop. Even snow tires and 4wd are more about starting than stopping, which is why you should not be afraid to be cautious.
4. Don't take your cues from other drivers, its my experience of that drive (LA to Mammoth) that other drivers are idiots, with absolutely no idea how to drive cautiously in snowy conditions. Don't follow their lead, follow your common sense. I've been overtaken by SUVs with no chains driving at high speed in virtual white-out conditions.
5. If the roads up are clear of snow, then watch out for cops with radar detectors, there are several small towns on the way up that appear to get a significant amount of income from ticketing speeding tourists, watch out for the speed limit to suddenly drop to 25mph as you approach said small towns. Watch out for cops hiding around corners and over the crests of hills.
posted by Joh at 3:52 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the reasons stated above take the civic, and keep a calm head. drive slow and don't take chances.
posted by zombieApoc at 4:13 PM on December 27, 2010

The only time its going to matter is getting in and out of the driveway at your condo. Shovel and bag of kitty litter for that. Otherwise stick to plowed roads and you'll be perfectly fine in either car. Front wheel drive does great in the snow as long as you don't try to drive through more than a couple inches of it.
posted by fshgrl at 5:12 PM on December 27, 2010

To clarify- you should be concerned about high centering either car on poorly plowed side roads and driveways. The main roads will be the same in your cars as any other vehicle on the road
posted by fshgrl at 5:15 PM on December 27, 2010

Does the Fit have traction or stability control? If so, driving it would be the obvious choice. Otherwise they are going to be about the same -- low to the ground, stable, safe, reliable -- and you should drive whichever is more comfortable.
posted by Forktine at 5:33 PM on December 27, 2010

Is the maintenance up to date on the Civic? The timing belt is a big deal item that needs to be replaced around 109,000 miles (it was 8 years or 112,000 on my Honda) and you do not want that to go while you are on vacation. Check your owners manual rather than any information from a dealer to be sure.
posted by mlis at 7:03 PM on December 27, 2010

I used to drive Limos from Vancouver to Whistler 4 times a day ( twice each way). A 30 foot long, front-heavy, rear-wheel drive is just about the worst tool possible for this task. Yet we did it as a matter of course every day. Preparation for the change in weather is critical here. What people seem to forget is that they are going to a Mountain, and drastic weather changes are the norm. The things I've seen people do beggar belief. The absolute lack of preparation is the most noticeable shared trait of those I've had to rescue.

Reduce the air pressure in your tires by 3 or 4 pounds to provide better traction. You've already mentioned chains, and others have advised practice with them. Absolutely important. Do this until you and your partner are completely comfortable putting them on and off. In the dark, while cold.

On that note, don't forget to provide easy access to the 3 layers of gloves and clothes you should have while driving up there. Typically, you'll install the chains just using your poly or silk glove-liners, but if it's quite cold, you might need to be wearing your thicker full-finger ones. The outer water-and-wind-proof layer is for insurance in blizzard conditions. You'll have a bag of kitty litter for traction, and a collapsible snow shovel for digging out in the trunk with you, naturally. I also like to carry a rechargeable portable LED trouble/ flashlight in case of a night-time problem.

Having safely and comfortably installed your chains, you are ready to set off. The key here is to never do anything suddenly. Easy does it is the rule. As others have said, ignore the dipsticks whipping along, your goal is to get there safely and stress free. Drive your car in a gear and speed range lower than you normally would. You'll need to do this with chains on anyway. Typically 30MPH is the top sped with chains. Make no erratic adjustments. Ease that throttle and gently steer.

You already habitually leave three seconds following space in front of you, I assume. Double this, at least. Give yourself the room to respond slowly and surely. Is your car an automatic? If so, you still want to use the transmission for accelerating and slowing down. If you don't do this normally (you should) practice this a bit, so you get a feel for how your automatic transmission shifts. Now when the idiot in front of you slams on his brakes going into a corner, you can simply shift down from 3rd into second without touching your brakes. The engine compression slows you without giving up traction. If at all possible, absolutely avoid using your brakes. If you've screwed up, or some bonehead pulls an idiot move requiring you to do so, you want to gently apply those puppies, and get off of them as quick as you can.

Follow these rules, make sure you a good survival kit with you in case of an unforeseen disaster, such as an accident or massive blizzard, take it easy, and enjoy yourself. You'll arrive there an hour later, but relaxed and happy.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

@PareidoliaticBoy: your comment is the best summary I've seen anywhere about how to drive under bad winter conditions.

I second that.
posted by cool breeze at 3:02 PM on December 28, 2010

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