It seems like the biggest vehicles on the road are generally going the fastest on a snowy day. I see a ton of trucks and SUVs flying across roads in the northeast during a January snowstorm. If you’re anything like me, you wonder which of these two beasts is better in the snow.
The short answer is that SUVs are generally better in the snow. Trucks are still great candidates for driving across snowy roads, but there are some major weaknesses as you compare them to an equivalent SUV.
To answer your question, I did a little homework. I put together this piece to explore if trucks are better than SUVs in the snow. I’ll look at some key parameters of driving in the snow then see how both of these vehicles do within the category. By the end, we’ll have a definite winner.
What Is a Truck?
A truck, or pickup truck, is a vehicle that has an open bed at the rear for hauling goods. A common example is a Ford F-150.
What Is an SUV?
An SUV looks like a compact car that grew a ton. It’s big, seats more people, and it’s typically heavier than a truck.
Sometimes, trucks and SUVs use the same framework, but the body is much different. The key difference is the lack of weight at the rear of a truck as compared to an SUV. This will come in handy later.
If you want a full comparison of trucks and SUVs from a buyer’s perspective, check out my in-depth guide here.
Why Driving in the Snow Is Different
I also have an in-depth guide all about driving in the snow which you can read here. It’s so much different than driving on a dry strip of asphalt. The biggest differences are as follows.
The Lack of Friction
This is the biggest and most dangerous difference between a snowy road and a dry road. Friction is a huge deal. Friction determines:
- How fast you can go
- How quickly you can stop
- How your car moves
- Your reaction time
- Whether or not you stick on the road
Without friction, driving becomes exponentially harder and more dangerous. Snow will add a slippery top layer to the otherwise-grippy road.
Something that people don’t usually talk about is the worsened visibility that comes with snow. As it’s falling down, you’ll be hard-pressed to see what’s going on around you.
At least with rain, you can see through the droplets and still drive.
With snow, you don’t get that luxury.
As you already know, visibility is the name of the game when it comes to driving. It’s why we open our eyes while behind the wheel.
Another part of snow is the required temperatures for it to happen. When things drop below freezing, car components start to act a little funny.
Your car might struggle to start in the cold. You might also be much more uncomfortable in a car that doesn’t have a strong heater.
A lot of accidents happen on snowy roads because other drivers are overconfident and don’t know how to correctly drive in the snow. Sure, other drivers are always a risk on the road, but they become even bigger risks on snowy roads.
Features to Look for in Snow Vehicles
So, how should these snow-driving differences factor into your vehicle choice? There are a few key features to look for in a snow vehicle to make sure you stay healthy and comfortable on a snowy road.
Your car’s drivetrain will determine how the wheels drive the vehicle. The four different drivetrains are FWD, RWD, AWD, and 4WD.
An FWD (Front Wheel Drive) vehicle is powered from the front two wheels. If they’re lifted off the ground, the car won’t move at all.
Why does this matter? Well, if the front two tires run out of grip on a snowy road, your car will react chaotically. It typically entails spinning out, getting stuck, or losing control.
With AWD and 4WD vehicles, the results are more favorable. The 4WD vehicle is the best possible option. Even if the front two wheels lose power, the rear two wheels can keep pushing the vehicle.
But keep in mind: AWD or 4WD doesn’t make you invincible on the road. You can still spin out, so don’t gun it on the highway and get overconfident.
In general, RWD cars are the worst cars to drive on the road. Since the driving wheels are behind the center of mass of the vehicle, fishtailing and losing control becomes really easy.
With FWD cars, you have the weight of the engine and transmission right over the wheels. This helps them stay planted on the road underneath them and deliver more reliable power.
Speaking of power, let’s dive into how power will affect how your vehicle drives on snow.
Having too much power is actually a bad thing when it comes to driving on a snowy road. It can cause your tires to spin out and can lead to a crash.
At the same time, it’s not a good thing if your vehicle is underpowered. Trying to make it up a hill with an underpowered vehicle can lead to you sliding back down the hill.
ABS, Traction, and Stability Control
Three important controls in your vehicle have to do with traction, brakes, and stability.
ABS (anti-lock braking system) controls how your brakes operate. If you push your brakes too hard on a road that doesn’t have enough traction, the brakes will lock up, your wheels will stop spinning, and your car will simply slide away. ABS prevents this by quickly pumping your brakes if it notices that your brakes start to lock.
Cars built in the last 8 years or so come standard with ABS, and higher-end cars before that date might also have ABS.
Your traction control will monitor your wheels. If the sensors notice that your wheels are slipping, they’ll start applying the brakes and transfer the power to a different wheel.
Stability control is the third piece of the puzzle. It takes traction control to the next level.
It will either cut power or apply the brakes depending on your situation. The goal is to make your vehicle drive in the direction that your steering wheel is pointed.
For example, if your car starts skidding on ice and you stomp on the gas pedal, nothing will happen if your car has stability control. Instead, the skidding wheel will have the brakes applied while the other three wheels try to get some grip.
This is a cool feature because it stops things from getting worse. If your vehicle keeps delivering power while you’re spinning out, things will get 10 times worse.
While you or I might want to shed a few pounds, a snow vehicle wants to pack on the weight.
The heavier the vehicle, the more traction it will have on the road under it. The weight pushes the vehicle into the ground with more force.
At the same time, heavier vehicles are more disastrous when they lose control. Your vehicle’s inertia depends on how fast you’re going and how heavy your vehicle is. Higher inertias require more force to correct.
To simplify things: heavier vehicles are less likely to lose control. If they do lose control, heavier vehicles are harder to correct and will slide uncontrollably further. The preference is still to pick a heavier vehicle for snowy driving.
Another consideration is how the weight is balanced. This is where physics really comes into play.
Having too much weight in the front of your RWD vehicle means that your driving wheels can lose traction and slip easily.
Ideally, the center of mass of your vehicle will be in the geometric center of it as well.
Here’s something else to think about: the ground clearance of your vehicle.
If your car rides 4” above the road, that means that 4” of snow can jam you up.
Once the underside of your vehicle scrapes along with the snow on the road, you’re fighting a losing war. The added friction will slow you down and ultimately get you stuck. Not to mention, things can get knocked loose while you’re driving along.
You want a vehicle with a ton of ground clearance when it comes to sailing across snowy roads. This is where monster trucks really come in handy.
I mentioned earlier that grip is a huge deal when it comes to snowy drives. The snow is trying its hardest to get rid of all the grip on the road, leading your vehicle to slide out of control.
A way to combat this is with extra-grippy tires. Going back to my monster truck example, those tires are perfect for a snowy road.
Special “winter tires” are designed specifically for driving on slicker roads. Maybe you should grab winter tires and install them on your vehicle.
They have a different tread pattern, thicker rubber, and metal or plastic studs to ensure your car has a better chance on slippery snow.
Since snow limits how much you can see, it’s important to get a vehicle that has a ton of visibility. Driving in a lowered Mustang with those rear window louvers is a worst-case scenario here.
You want something that’s high up and has a ton of window coverage within the cabin. This will help you see what’s going on around you so you can correct how you’re driving. One of the big tips to snowy driving is to be three steps ahead of nearby drivers. A great vantage point is paramount for that.
Warm Creature Comforts like Heated Seats
There is also a reasonable desire to pick up some added creature comforts to help you during cold, snowy days.
Things like heated seats, heated steering wheels, and mirrors that defrost themselves make life a little sweeter on cold days.
Maybe that also means fixing your broken car heater. The last thing you want is to shiver on your way to work each morning.
While these added features won’t necessarily help you drive safer on the road, they’re great luxuries to think about when choosing between an SUV and a truck.
Are Trucks Better Than SUVs in the Snow?
So now it’s time for the million-dollar question: are trucks better than SUVs in the snow? To answer this question, I want to compare the two vehicles and see how they match up in the categories I just talked about.
For the sake of argument, whenever a direct comparison of vehicles is being done, I’ll use the top-selling truck vs the top-selling SUV. In this case, it’s a Honda CR-V vs a Ford F-150.
I said earlier that 4WD vehicles are the best possible option when it comes to driving in the snow. In this category, you’ll find a pretty similar match-up between trucks and SUVs.
Regardless of the vehicle style, you’ll wind up paying extra for this upgraded drivetrain.
However, you’ll find cheaper SUVs with 4WD than you will trucks. I know that I’m not comparing price here, but it’s an interesting caveat to this tie.
Winner: Tie (but SUVs are cheaper)
Next up is the power of the vehicle. Remember, more powerful vehicles are less favorable in the snow. Pushing the pedal too hard will result in an impulse that could cause you to lose control.
A CR-V has 190 to 212 horsepower while an F-150 offers between 290 and 450. Yeah… that’s a huge difference.
While this might be great news on the drag strip, it’s bad news on a snowy, windy road.
ABS, Traction, and Stability Control
The added safety features are also going to vary between options. In general, you can find plenty of SUVs and trucks that come standard with all these features and more.
In fact, almost every modern vehicle has all three as a standard option.
If you want to expand this and look at options with even more safety features, then you’ll see the same story. It’s a tie in this category.
The weight is where things start to separate even further.
An F-150 weighs between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds. A CR-V weighs between 3300 and 3600.
All this extra weight is good news for the truck. Remember, the heavier option will have more force pushing it into the ground and maximizing the vehicle’s grip.
While the truck is much heavier, it also has a super skewed weight balance. This becomes pretty obvious if you look at the side profile of a truck.
There’s a ton of weight on the front half of the truck, but nothing at the rear half. This will put the truck in an awkward driving position on snow, resulting in skidding more often than the more-balanced SUV.
Another very noticeable difference between SUVs and trucks comes up when you look at the ground clearance. This is the distance between the road and the bottom of the underside of the vehicle.
This dimension typically refers to some sort of body trim along the sides or front of the vehicle. Here’s how the ground clearance compares:
CR-V: 7.8 inches
F-150: 9.4 inches
That’s a pretty notable difference. It can mean the difference between getting stuck on your way home and powering through the snow.
With trucks, it’s also more common (and easier) to lift the vehicle even higher. This leads to a whole world of potential problems, but it might be a good idea if you’re constantly finding yourself driving through a ton of snow.
Tire grip is another category where I can’t call a clear winner. Truthfully, it’s all a matter of finding the right snow tires and throwing them on your ride.
Sure, I could compare the standard tire for the two vehicles, but it wouldn’t be a fair comparison. Neither of these vehicles is designed to drive across slick roads on their standard wheels.
To me, visibility is a combination of riding height and how much glass is in the cabin.
The benefit of a truck is that the whole rear face of the cabin is a massive window. SUVs have a similar setup, but it’s not as extreme.
The simple way to determine this is to sit in an F-150 then sit in a CR-V (which I’ve done). The difference is pretty immediately noticeable. Trucks have more visibility.
Warm Creature Comforts like Heated Seats
This is where things get a little tricky. If you just want to compare the F-150 and the CR-V, then I’d call it a tie.
However, there are plenty of luxury SUVs on the market. There aren’t any luxury trucks on the market.
Just to clarify, I don’t consider any expensive vehicle “luxury” by default. I’m talking about whether or not the vehicle designers went the extra mile to make P Diddy feel comfortable in the back seat.
For that reason, I would have to pick the SUV over the truck. If you need some luxurious SUV examples, take a look at Bentley, Porsche, the Range Rover, or even Tesla. There’s not a single truck on the market that can hold a candle to these few examples.
Truck vs. SUV in the Snow: What Do the Pros Say?
Surprisingly, the top-rated snow-driving vehicles are either cars or SUVs — there are no trucks in the category. There is a sub-category all about the best trucks to drive in the snow, but I wouldn’t count that as a win.
The thing I didn’t get into is the huge price difference between the trucks and SUVs compared here. An F-150 starts at $29,640 and goes way up to over $80,000. A CR-V’s price ranges from $25,000 up to $33,500.
The same story is true when you start comparing other SUVs and trucks.
You’ll notice on my list, there are a lot of ties. SUVs win three of the match-ups and trucks win two of them.
You might think that this is a pretty close comparison, but I disagree.
I think if you look at the weight of the different wins like the weight balance and available power, the SUV becomes a more clear winner. Add in the fact that SUVs are much more affordable and they run away with this match-up.
So, are trucks better than SUVs in the snow? This car fanatic says no. Does that mean that trucks suck in the snow? Also no.
Both options are viable, it’s really up to you. After all, you still have to drive the vehicle of your choice when it’s not snowing.
In this match-up, the SUV came away victorious. I am still really impressed with how trucks handle on a snowy road and they’re a great vehicle during the other 9 months when it’s not snowing. If you want to see more car comparisons, check out the rest of my site. Also, check out some winter gear that will help you survive the cold months ahead.