Winter Weather Driving Guide For The 5th Gen 4Runner – Vehicle Preparation, Tire Selection, Equipment Checklist, & More!
Winter weather driving can be unpredictable and unforgiving. Preparing both yourself and your vehicle prior to driving in adverse weather conditions could mean the difference between being stranded and getting home.
This guide is meant to help you understand the risks of winter weather driving as well as prepare you for a variety of situations that you may encounter.
Pre-Season Vehicle Preparation
The best time to start preparing for the winter driving season is in the fall. As the weather is starting to change, take the time to have your vehicle serviced. This should include replacing fluids, rotating or swapping tires, and checking the overall functionality of the vehicle (brakes, lights, wiper blades, etc).
The fluids used in your vehicle have the potential to freeze if they are not properly rated for low temperatures. Something as simple as the window washing fluid freezing could render the vehicle inoperable due to poor visibility. This is also the time to install your snow tires or purchase a set of chains for the rear tires.
A detailed guide on how to perform this vehicle preparation yourself can be found in the owner’s manual. However, you may want to consider taking a trip to your local Toyota Dealer to have this performed professionally. Your vehicle should have a clean bill of health prior to being driven in adverse conditions.
Not all tires perform the same in winter conditions. Even with proper tread depth, sub-freezing temperatures reduce the effectiveness of tires that aren’t designed to operate in those conditions.
Snow-rated tires will have different tread compounds and patterns than standard all-season tires. Winter tire tread compounds allow the tire to remain softer and more flexible in freezing temperatures, providing greater traction. The tread pattern is often flatter with a generous amount of siping. Sipes are small slits that run across the surface of the tire to provide more traction.
While snow tires are designed to provide the most traction in winter conditions, it comes at the cost of efficiency and longevity. The softer compound means less tread life and it may not be cost-effective for most to have a dedicated set for one season.
Snow-rated tires have different ratings that designate their capability. The standard M+S stamp on a tire means that the tire met the minimum traction safety standards for driving in mud and snow per the manufacturer. The next step up is the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) symbol pictured above. Tires with this rating will provide better traction than a standard M+S tire on snow and ice. However, they are generally more expensive and wear faster.
It is worth noting that the testing standards for these ratings are not standardized across manufacturers. When using snow tires, Toyota recommends inflating them to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI levels and not exceeding 75mph.
Snow Chain Selection
Snow chains should be used when you require more traction than what the tires alone can provide. An unplowed trail with deeper snow and uneven terrain are likely where you will need chains.
Snow chains come in a wide variety of sizes and types. Toyota recommends using snow chains rather than cables or tire socks. The size and model of your chains are determined by your tire size. Toyota also recommends a chain link size no less than 5mm thick and installing the chains as tight as possible. The chains should be installed on the rear wheels only.
In general, chains should also be adjusted and retightened after the first 1/4 mile of driving to ensure proper fitment. When installing the chains, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, make sure to choose a safe and level place – i.e. not the side of the highway. A parking lot or a neighborhood is generally going to be a safer option. Keep in mind that sometimes neighborhoods aren’t plowed and the snow in these areas might be deeper.
Toyota also states that the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) may not work properly when chains are installed. If your tire pressure is in question, check it manually prior to driving.
Successfully traveling in the winter time requires preparation. Be prepared with the proper attire and gear. Below is a list of essential equipment to keep with you while driving:
- 265/70R17 (Stock Size) Chains: Check Price
- 285/70R17 (Common Upgrade Size) Chains: Check Price
- Snow Clothing (boots, pants, jackets, gloves, hats)
- Boot Gaiters
- Everyday Travel Blanket
- Snow Brush
- Windshield Ice Scrapper
- Small Snow Shovel
- Tow Strap w/ Soft Shackles
Preferably, you should keep all of this in a “snow bag” just like you would your ski or snowboard gear. In the offroad snow bag, you would have the items linked above, and likely more items that apply to your specific needs.
Keeping a set of snow boots, pants, a jacket, and gloves in your vehicle is a great way to keep warm if you end up stuck somewhere. Snow clothing will also be necessary if you attempt to get your vehicle unstuck or if you have to go find help. Only get out of the vehicle if it is safe to do so.
The blankets and flashlights will be necessary if you end up spending the night in the vehicle. The windshield ice scrapper and snow brush are used to clear snow and ice from the vehicle prior to driving. It is unsafe and in some areas, illegal to drive with large amounts of snow on top of the vehicle. That’s especially true if the snow is limiting visibility through windows or lights.
A very common way to get stuck in the snow is to get high-centered on compacted snow. This is when the center of your vehicle is on a mound of snow and both the front and rear tires have no traction. If that happens, a foldable metal snow shovel can be used to clear this obstruction freeing the vehicle.
A tow strap can also be used to help recover the vehicle from an embankment or ditch. Using a tow strap can be very dangerous and should only be attempted if you know how to safely use one. Lastly, you could end up stuck until the weather clears which could take days, so always carry some extra food and water.
Pre-Trip Vehicle Inspection
Unless your vehicle is stored in a garage, you will likely need to remove the snow and ice from the lights and windshield prior to your trip. Using a brush, remove the snow from all windows, lights, and doors. Then, attempt to open the doors. If the doors are frozen shut, Toyota recommends a small amount of warm water to melt the ice. Dry the water once complete to prevent ice from reforming.
Start the vehicle and turn on the front and rear defrosters. This will help to clear any residual snow or ice from the windows. Check all lights to make sure they are free from snow and ice as well. Prior to getting into your vehicle, make sure to clear any mud or snow from your shoes. Everyone appreciates a clean interior and the water could make your pedals slippery, which is a safety concern.
Tip: Lift up your windshield wipers if you have to park outside in freezing temperatures. This will prevent the windshield wiper blades from freezing to the wet windshield which can tear the rubber blade.
Driving In Winter Weather Conditions
The most important thing to know when it comes to winter weather driving is your limitations. If the weather is really severe, visibility is low, and the national weather service is issuing warnings, then you probably need to consider if the drive is necessary.
If the drive is necessary, then know the actual weather conditions you will be facing. You could find yourself up against rain, freezing rain, hail, and snow all in the same drive. The 4Runner performs very well in the rain but as the temperature starts to dip below freezing that starts to change.
The 4Runner is a heavy, rear-wheel drive utility vehicle. As a result, the rear end of the 4Runner has a tendency to lose traction relatively quickly if the road is slippery. The best way to mitigate this is to avoid sudden movements. The smoother you accelerate, brake, and turn, the less likely you will be to lose traction. The Traction Control System in the 4Runner will assist you with this by reducing power to certain wheels as needed.
Once you start to see snow or ice on the road or the moment you feel the vehicle slipping, you should slow down and switch to four-wheel drive (4WD). You require significantly more time to stop on snow and ice. If 4WD is necessary, you should reduce your speed to match the chain control speed limit which is typically 30 mph.
For more information on how to engage 4WD, see your owner’s manual. In 4WD, you will notice that the vehicle is much more stable when starting from a complete stop. It will also be more stable when going up inclines. This is because all four wheels are receiving power instead of just the two rear wheels. It is important to engage and disengage 4WD as conditions change. Using 4WD on dry pavement will cause strain to your drivetrain and could damage it.
The 4WD drive system will not assist you much with braking or turning. To brake effectively in slippery conditions, you have to apply pressure to the brake gently and much earlier than you would normally. Anticipating stops will prevent you from having to brake suddenly.
It takes very little to start sliding uncontrollably down a snowy hill or through an intersection. There is also very little that can be done once the vehicle starts to slide. Go slower than normal, give yourself extra space between cars, and drive defensively.
4WD also reduces its ability to make tight turns. If the vehicle feels like it is binding and unable to make the turn, don’t force it as this could cause damage. For example, turning into a parking space or driveway may require you to disengage 4WD.
If you have to park on an incline, consider using tire chocks instead of your parking brake. Toyota advises that the parking brake can freeze in place under certain circumstances.
Winter weather driving is a skill that’s built upon with time and experience. It takes a lot of practice to truly master.
Snow comes in many different varieties depending on the climate (powder, compacted snow, ice, slush, etc). Learning how to operate your vehicle effectively in all the different types of conditions requires real-world experience. Find a parking lot or open area to practice driving in these adverse conditions.
Familiarize yourself with the feeling of losing traction and what it takes to regain traction. Learn your limitations, prepare for the worst, then get out there and enjoy yourself! The 4Runner is extremely capable in the hands of an experienced driver and some of the most amazing scenery can be found in the wintertime. Drive Safe!