BMW Snow Performace
July 19, 2005 7:26 PM   Subscribe

I've always heard that BMWs are terrible in snow...

I have a chance to purchase a 1997 328i at a great price but I would have to drive it during the snowy Pittsburgh winters. Anyone have any experience with 3 series snow driving. (It's a stick, if that makes a difference.)
posted by sexymofo to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
My '95 M3 wasn't very happy with the slick conditions. It was rock solid, but it *felt* like it was all over the place. The suspension is really tuned for dry asphalt.

The '93 325i, though, was a tank. I drove it from New York to Montreal one snowy December and I'd do it again in a minute - it was fun.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:29 PM on July 19, 2005

It depends on if you live on Mount Washington or in a reclusive 'burb, or in a metropolitan area like Squirrel Hill or Highland Park. It also depends on your commute to work.

I drive a rear wheel drive car and switched cars in the winter because it tends to slip out all the time (even in the rain; the rear part of the car is extremely light).

BMWs are built better, have better handling, and have better weight distribution than other luxury cars. If you are getting a great deal, take it. Because those cars are a whole lotta fun to drive. OTOH, if you're an apprehensive driver, try to find a 325xi. They kick ass.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:48 PM on July 19, 2005

I would personally shy away from any rear-wheel drive vehicle in a snowy area, esp. the hills in Pittsburgh.
posted by SpecialK at 7:49 PM on July 19, 2005

When I lived in Scotland my neighbor had a Beamer, and he got rid of it with a year because when it snowed he just couldn't get it up our hill and had to stay home. Whether though that was specifically to do with it being a Beamer or rear-wheel drive, I'm none too sure.
posted by forallmankind at 7:52 PM on July 19, 2005

BMWs are very torquey, and take getting used to. They are quick to spin the tires, but once you get used to that kind of torquey power, you will find it very capable in most conditions.
posted by snsranch at 7:52 PM on July 19, 2005

Best answer: If you put snow tires on it, it'll be better--and safer--in snow than anything with all-season tires. If you get a second set of wheels (steel ones are cheap), it's easy to swap them between seasons, too.
posted by trevyn at 8:00 PM on July 19, 2005

I don't have much experience in snow (Memphis is the furthest north I've ever lived as a driver) but I have owned 4 BMWs. I haven't noticed that they are any worse in slippery conditions than any other rear wheel drive auto with comparable torque . The 325ix SeizeTheDay is recommending is 4 wheel drive. No doubt it would be great in snow.
posted by Carbolic at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2005

In retrospect; few will be doing any better than the BMW in those conditions, unless they have full blown 4X4s. Don't be afraid of driving the beemer for that reason. If it has been well maintained, it should serve you well.
posted by snsranch at 8:08 PM on July 19, 2005

Best answer: Trevyn is totally right.

If you are concerned about snow, buy snow tires. You won't believe how great they are and what a difference they make until, you actually use them. As a for instance a friend of mine said that his mid-90s BMW 3 w/ traction control and snow tires performed better in the snow than his wife's A4 Quattro w/ all seasons.

The improvement of snow tires in snow is _substantial_. I recommend getting Dunlop M3s (they should fit) or Bridgestone LM22. Pretty much any snow tire however will whomp any all season in snow.

A low end winter tire is better than the best all season. Likewise a low end summer tire is better than most all seasons (if you end up going that route eventually). Expect a sport winter tire (like the ones that I recommended) to last up to 3 seasons (no more).

Also note - if possible get new wheels (steel whatever you want). The reason is you don't want to fit your snow tires on your OEM wheels if possible you want to have the thinnest wheels you can get for snow tires.

Also make sure you take them off as soon as you can (when season is over) the tires are pretty great in non-snow as well (sticky) but they wear _very_ fast on pavement.

It all has to do with contact surface of the tire.
posted by gnash at 8:58 PM on July 19, 2005

The snow tire advice is right on, first off.

Secondly, the right answer to the question is how good a driver are you, and how able are you to adjust and adapt to new conditions? You can probably do better with a rear-wheel in truly sketchy conditions than in a front wheel (though nothing compares with a decent quattro) IF you can learn from the car as you drive and feel the road and the conditions in the pedals and in your steering wheel. If you're just not that person, then a front wheel is greatly preferable, because it is more forgiving.
posted by mikel at 9:06 PM on July 19, 2005

Mine handles okay in the snow, but I can't get it up my driveway, ever, when it snows. Not a huge deal as I live on a quiet street, but a bit of an annoyance. My 328 is not 4WD for whatever it's worth.
posted by wakko at 9:24 PM on July 19, 2005

Rear wheel drive cars are generally ok in the snow, but they take more skill to operate in these conditions. I find that having RWD gives me more control in cornering in slippery conditions. FWD cars tend to just plow when they lose traction, and it's generally unrecoverable. RWD cars tend to spin or at least have the tail end step out, and if you practice, this condition is correctable. Therefore I generally feel safer driving a RWD car than FWD in the winter (although all wheel drive is really the best of both worlds).

The only downside to RWD is getting started. If the engine is in the front, the drive wheels have very little weight over them, generally, and it's hard to get enough traction to get moving. If the car has a limited slip differential, it helps tremendously. If it has a normal open diff, expect to get stuck now and then. You can mitigate these problems by putting extra weight in the trunk, but that will promote the spinning behavior I mentioned earlier.

It's always a trade-off when you look at situations like this. In my case, I prefer RWD (with limited slip) to FWD, but there are many, many people who prefer the other way around.
posted by knave at 9:34 PM on July 19, 2005

Oh, I'm going to second (or fifth or whatever) the snow tires recommendation. The second set of cheapo wheels with snow tires is the ideal way to handle the winter on any car, regardless of drivetrain. You will find yourself competently outhandling Subarus and other SUVs if they only have all seasons.
posted by knave at 9:36 PM on July 19, 2005

Snow tires, for sure. I used to get frustrated following all-season-clad Saabs in my snow-tire-equipped '57 Chevy. Those Swedes were so slow in the snow. The worst car I ever drove in the snow was an old-style VW Beetle. It got going OK, but then it didn't steer.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:57 AM on July 20, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers, each one was helpful! (And I think I'll go ahead and get the car and some snow tires.)
posted by sexymofo at 6:06 AM on July 20, 2005

If you aren't used to RWD in the snow, finding an empty parking lot and doing some controlled skids after snowfall might be very useful. My mother did that with both my brother and I, and the reflexes she trained into us saved me more than once.

With some RWD cars (*cough* original Beetle *cough*), controlled skids are the only safe way to corner in snow. This is also great fun.

Incidentally, Mom drove a 1972 BWM 2002 tii which she sold 6 months before I got my permit. I have not forgiven her.
posted by QIbHom at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2005

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