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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I took delivery of my '04 Prius in November '03. Living in Boston I had a chance to drive it in snow and and ice and was sorely disappointed. Specifically, the traction control system prevents the car from digging itself out of snow because the brakes are automatically applied as soon as a wheel begins to spin. For example, if you are plowed in while parked and need power to spin your tires to pull youself out, forgrt it! Though you may press the accelerator to the floor, all you get is a brief elctrically driven spin of the wheel before traction control cuts in and brakes the spin. And there is no way to disable traction control. I consider this a severe design flaw that makes the Prius unreliable and even unsafe in winter driving. Though I love the car in most every other respect, I can't recommend it for driving in regions with snow and ice. Toyota needs to allow the driver to turn off traction control.

I'm curious about other Prius owner's experience in snow. Is Toyota aware of the problem and contemplating a fix?
 

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Thanks for the input. Guess I'll have to drag out that twenty yr old plastic sno shovel I used to keep in the trunk of my old cars. We are learning of a lot of things which would possibly have kept us from going Hybrid. I personally would have "passed" if I had realized there was no mechanical instrumentation. I knew there was no tach or coolant temp guages but thought they would be available "aftermarket" Not so and Toyota has no idea how they could be made available. No "J.C. Whitney" out there for these cars.
 

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I respectfully disagree.

I live in Fargo, ND. My experience with previous cars is that spinning your wheels to try to dig out of snow is far more likely to just dig you deeper into the snow. And you cannot "rock" an automatic transmission car out of snow.

On the other hand, driving on ice, the traction control, ABS, and VSC combine to make the Prius rock-solid stable. At icy intersections, where other cars just spin their wheels and swerve without moving forward, I can floor the accelerator and the electronics give just the right amount of power to the wheels to get me moving as fast as the conditions allow. And the VSC (not included in all options packages) can save your life.

Losing control on ice is far more dangerous than having to shovel out after the snowplow comes through (unless you have a bad heart, in which case you need to hire someone to shovel your snow anyway). So in sum, I'd never again want to drive a car without the Prius' electronic safety features.

I won't say this is the safest car on the road, because some luxury cars have VSC, trac, and ABS. But this is definitely the safest car in its price range. And it's the best car for winter driving I've ever driven. A momentary-disable switch for the trac & VSC might be useful under very limited circumstances, but I would consider this a very minor issue.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Daniel said:
I respectfully disagree.

I live in Fargo, ND. My experience with previous cars is that spinning your wheels to try to dig out of snow is far more likely to just dig you deeper into the snow. And you cannot "rock" an automatic transmission car out of snow.

On the other hand, driving on ice, the traction control, ABS, and VSC combine to make the Prius rock-solid stable. At icy intersections, where other cars just spin their wheels and swerve without moving forward, I can floor the accelerator and the electronics give just the right amount of power to the wheels to get me moving as fast as the conditions allow. And the VSC (not included in all options packages) can save your life.

Losing control on ice is far more dangerous than having to shovel out after the snowplow comes through (unless you have a bad heart, in which case you need to hire someone to shovel your snow anyway). So in sum, I'd never again want to drive a car without the Prius' electronic safety features.

I won't say this is the safest car on the road, because some luxury cars have VSC, trac, and ABS. But this is definitely the safest car in its price range. And it's the best car for winter driving I've ever driven. A momentary-disable switch for the trac & VSC might be useful under very limited circumstances, but I would consider this a very minor issue.
I'll give you that living in Fargo, ND has it all over Boston in terms of snow. However, having driven in New England winters my entire life, I can say that the '04 Prius is the worst car in snow I've ever owned. In addition to it's traction control impairment, it has amazingly little ground clearance which means it gets bogged down by plowing the snow before virtually every other car on the road. More important, your point that you don't want to spin your wheels in snow for fear of getting dug in is true only in limited circumstances - such as when you are in very deep snow which is also under the entire car. However, a driver should be ABLE TO CHOOSE to spin his/her wheels when needed. How far can someone get driving in snow if your car came to a halt - or would not move forward from a dead stop - unless you had such good traction that your wheels would not slip at all when pulling you forward. In most cars you can power your way through 6" burms of piled snow (wheels spinning the whole time) - but not on the Prius! And though automatics are less able to rock you out of a snow rut than manuals, I've been saved by that limited rocking ability many times before - but not with the Prius! Not only does traction control prevent it from rocking, since I'm starting from a stop, all I get is puny electric power. Just when you push the accelerator down to give yourself the power to pull you through a snow berm - all you get is mush - an anemic little battery-driven half turn of the front wheels and then they shut off.

As for safety, how safe is it to get disabled in the snow at night due to Prius' traction control quirk when you judge that virtually any other car would would have been able to pull you out of that trouble? Likewise, I bet most Prius drivers have had the experience in rain (or snow or ice) of trying to pull out in front of traffic to cross a street only to have the traction control kick in while accellerating and suddenly slowing you down in the face of oncoming traffic. Yikes!

I asked the dealer about disabling the traction control and was told that it's all integrated into the ABS braking software (and VSC which I have) and therefore can't be singled out for disabling. I believe there is something seriusly wrong with the traffic control feature on this car. In any situation other than dry pavement, I find the car unpredictable and nerve wracking to drive. At least give the driver a switch to disable the feature when needed. Likewise, allow the drive to choose engine only power when more horsepower is needed. I know a lot of folks ask Toyota to put an EV (electric only) switch in, but I think winter driving sometimes requires the driver's ability to insist that the engine's greater power be available.

Anybody else had these experiences?

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This isn't a Prius, thing, but rather a traction control thing. As most systems work essentially the same way. Almost all cars that offer it, have no turn off switch, the exception being performance orriented cars that offer an out for track days or other spirited driving. Over all you are far better off with it, than without it. If only one tire is slipping, that is the only one that will get the brake - and only while it slips. So you shouldn't run into any issues during regular driving. Normally it will be quite seemless.
And rocking your car in a snow bank may be fun, but it is horrible for the car -- both the engine and tranny. Try going out at an angle, so one tire is on the ground while the other is on the snow, then they switch. Or usually it is quicker to get rid of the snow to the front and drive out. Or back up a little, so the front tires on on the ground, and then go forward with enough speed to put you on the roadway.

I would think Toyota isn't coming out with a 'fix' as it isn't a fault, more of a limitation of one activity, and not specific to either the Prius or Toyata even.

Spike << so glad I moved out of New England
 

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I had an E420 Mercedes with an override switch for the traction control.

Living here in So. Cal. I of course never had to power out of snow so only used the switch on a couple of accasions, but I believe an override switch is useful, and not every all-automatic feature is good.

My old Nissan 300ZX had a computer-controlled-all-automatic climate control system that was really bad, I could never get air to circulate, as in vent, without having the A/C blowing cold air, and the whole thing (not just A/C) would switch off when the set temperature is reached. Other times it refused to blow when temperature outside was in the 90's. I would have to open the window to get air circulation. Give me a manual-control fan switch anytime.

Computer-controlled features are only as good as the guy (or girl) who programmed it in the first place, and they have to anticipate all the possible scenarios. Toyota programmers are relatively good, Nissan programmers suck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Spike said:
This isn't a Prius, thing, but rather a traction control thing. As most systems work essentially the same way. Almost all cars that offer it, have no turn off switch, the exception being performance orriented cars that offer an out for track days or other spirited driving. Over all you are far better off with it, than without it. If only one tire is slipping, that is the only one that will get the brake - and only while it slips. So you shouldn't run into any issues during regular driving. Normally it will be quite seemless.
And rocking your car in a snow bank may be fun, but it is horrible for the car -- both the engine and tranny. Try going out at an angle, so one tire is on the ground while the other is on the snow, then they switch. Or usually it is quicker to get rid of the snow to the front and drive out. Or back up a little, so the front tires on on the ground, and then go forward with enough speed to put you on the roadway.

I would think Toyota isn't coming out with a 'fix' as it isn't a fault, more of a limitation of one activity, and not specific to either the Prius or Toyata even.

Spike << so glad I moved out of New England
I understand that all traction control systems have their limitations, and in fact this is the first car I've owned with that feature, so I'm no expert. But I have driven non-hybrid cars with traction control in snow and there is something different about the Prius. Namely, isn't it true that regulqar cars with traction control will continue to try to spin one wheel or the other - switching to whichever one has most traction? My Prius, on the other hand, simply stops trying after one or 2 half spins with only battery power for oomph. I literally stay stuck in a very minor snow rut and no amount of accelerator pushing makes the slightest difference in terms of powering the front wheels. I don't recall such complete drivetrain paralysis in other traction controlled cars I've driven in snow.

In my case I have underground parking with a fairly steep entrance and exit ramp. I have gotten quite stuck on both ramps (blocking other cars trying to exit or enter) if the snow plows have left the slightest pile of snow in front of the ramp. Everyone who has helped me push my Prius out of the way or onto dryer pavement (many of whom have traction control) have expressed amazement at the gutless performance of the Prius traction control system. So I'm finding it hard to believe this is just typical of all traction control systems. But in any event, it would be easily cured by an off switch for traction control that, for example, the Saab 9000s and many other non-performance cars used to have.
 

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I thought a traction control disable switch was required as it is needed if you need to run the car on a dynamometer (car treadmill). Ontario's DriveClean program requires you to disable the traction control so the car will can speed up to 40km/h. I thought all cars have them since my brother's car (2004 Grand Prix) has a nice big one right next to the shifter.
 

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Traction Control Shut-off on Sienna

Our '04 Sienna has a shut-off button, located just below and right of the steering wheel, just for this purpose. It temporarily disables the traction control to make it easier to work your way out of snow/mud. We live in Minnesota and I haven't had to use the button yet (despite several decent-sized storms last year).

We get our Prius in a month, so I don't have winter experience with it. I can't say I am too worried about this, given the consistently strong reviews this car gets from people who live in extreme winter climates...
 

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I have never been in a situation where spinning tires has helped me out of a stuck situation. Sure its dramatic and oh so masculine... but of little consequence.

I have to agree... being able to stop/control the car when skidding on ice far outweighs the alleged VSC issue.
 

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For any vehicle, if traction-control kicks in on a regular basis, you obviously need snow tires.

I didn't have a lick of trouble with my 2004 Prius last year here in Minnesota. But I am now 5,000 miles into researching high-traction all-season tires, since I know I'll get asked for tire recommendations many many times once the snow & ice season begins.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Saruman said:
I have never been in a situation where spinning tires has helped me out of a stuck situation. Sure its dramatic and oh so masculine... but of little consequence.

I have to agree... being able to stop/control the car when skidding on ice far outweighs the alleged VSC issue.
Given that you live in Richnmond, Virginia, I don't imagine there's a whole lot of snow-induced wheel spinning going on down there. Trust me, everyone in New England has to occasionally spin their wheels to pull themselves out of a snow rut. Your suggestion that spinning wheels is "masculine" is, well, spinning your wheels.
 

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Have you ever looked at the condition of your tires and surrounding snow after wildly spinning them to dig your way loose?

A layer of rubber gets grinded off from that minor contact with the pavement.

Carrying sand and a shovel is a better choice. (A plastic tire grip works well in desperate situations too.)
 

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Living in the Lake Erie snow belt, I can attest that my Prius was the BEST snow car I have owned so far, and I've had quite a few in 37 years of driving. I do follow Toyota's specific advice to run all four wheels with snow tires. All-season tires are not close to being good enough in any depth of snow. I will agree that getting used to the VSC and traction control took a little time, but I believe it allowed me to get across traffic lanes faster than if I was spinning my wheels. I had several experiences of pulling around larger vehicles that could not get up ice-covered hills because they were spinning their wheels.

A good set of snow tires is a lot cheaper than getting your car fixed after an accident. If you live where it snows, get them for your own safety and that of other drivers.
 

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john1701a said:
I am now 5,000 miles into researching high-traction all-season tires, since I know I'll get asked for tire recommendations many many times once the snow & ice season begins.
Yep. I'm one of the people who are going to be asking you. Actually, I won't be asking. I know you're going to be putting your findings on your web page and I'm checking for it there from time to time.

AIP: All I can say is that you and I have very different experiences. But given your driving conditions, it sounds like a good set of snow tires would be a good investment. Or maybe you are one of those relatively few people who do so much driving in really deep snow that you need a 4WD vehicle.
 

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I have 97 Toyota Camry V6 with traction control option purchase specifically for snow driving in Minnesota.
I am very familliar with how the Camry traction control work. In theory (Toyota) the traction control will
attemp to distribute power to the other wheel via a thingy inside the transmission. You can hear it
testing everytime power turn on. When traction control kick in it will "try" to stop the spinning via transmission
control thingy. If you persist by floor the engine then, it will cut power by retarted timing and your engine will
slow down like it being starve of fuel or something. That happen to me many time. My parent drive way is
very steep, I am not sure but may be 10 degree or so. In winter time you need to have a run and launch yourself
up the driveway. For a first few time I thought traction control would get me up from dead stop. But no, the wheel
keep spinning, not fast but the whole car shake because traction control kicking and trying to gain traction.

When you deep in snow, the best thing to do is let traction control work it way out rather than spin your wheel.
And if you live in a snowy area, you should know that spining you wheel isn't the best way to trying to get your selfout
of a deep snow or try to jump on the road. Give yourself and your car enough time to get on the road rather
than floor the engine and trying to power your car through a slipery snow. If you not sitting on the road in
the winter time then you are sitting on ice and snow and you are going no where fast on ice and snow with your wheel spinning fast or slow.

The Camry have a switch to turn off traction control and I have never turn it off.
 

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My experience with my 2001 Prius vs. my previous 1990 Honda Civic is that the Prius can get places the Civic could not, but when it gives up, it gives up completely, whereas the Civic would spin the wheels like crazy, eventually melting a little snow (and a lot of tire), allowing it to get a bit further. It allowed me to eventually get beyond some slick spots, but my Prius would not have stopped in them in the first place.

Both cars are front wheel drive only. Both had about the same clearance. The Civic had no traction control, the 2001 Prius had VERY rudimentary traction control. But the Prius had a huge advantage over the Civic, namely very fine tuned control over the amount of torque delivered to the wheels. Give me an electric motor with a rheostat control over a gas engine with a clutch any day!

But my wife's AWD Subaru wagon beats both cars by a mile in slippery snow and ice. That's traction control the way it should be. Hopefully, Toyota will get some hybrid AWD vehicles over here soon. Electric drive on the rear wheels -- heaven.
 

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Knguyen said:
And if you live in a snowy area, you should know that spining you wheel isn't the best way to trying to get your selfout
of a deep snow or try to jump on the road.
You can say that again!

If you live in Minnesota where it can get horribly cold, the spinning of tires actually melts the snow and it freezes into ice within just seconds! So what could have been just a minor problem quickly becomes a nightmare.
 

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As a person who spends a lot of time on mountain roads in the winter and who had been driving AWD Subarus for several years prior to getting the Prius, I feel that the car handles very well in snow, ice and rain--even on the OEM tires. I've not been plowed in, or needed to jump any berms, so I can't say how it would handle those situations.
The traction control does feel odd the first couple of times you experience it, but I've yet to have a close call. Of course this could be attributed to my being a generally cautious driver.
Simply put--I'm happy with the way the Prius handles in all road conditions.
Drive happy,
Moo :)
 
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