How to Drive a Prius in Ice or Snow

Three Methods:Preparing the Prius for Snow and IceKnowing What to Expect in Snow and IceImproving Your Control of the Prius

Driving in the winter can be more challenging with all cars, including hybrids like the Prius. However, the Prius is not as difficult to drive in the snow and ice as you may think.

Method 1
Preparing the Prius for Snow and Ice

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    Get better snow tires. Although the Prius navigates better in the snow and ice than some people think, upgrading to stronger snow tires is a good idea.
    • Make sure to have snow or ice tires on all four wheels too. If you only have them on the front of the car, the Prius might drive better, but it will still have issues with stopping in the snow and ice and with maintaining control in those conditions.
    • The Prius comes with low rolling resistance tires. That means they won’t have great traction, especially in snow, which is why it’s important to buy winter tires.[1]
    • Replace your winter tires in the summer. The dry pavement will cause them to wear more quickly because their rubber has softer composition than summer tires.
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    Keep your tires inflated. That will make them work at maximum efficiency. Not only is that good for your pocketbook and the environment, but it’s also better for controlling the car in the snow and ice.
    • Cold air will cause your tires to deflate by making air molecules contract If your tires are not properly inflated, and this will make it harder for the car to move by increasing rolling resistance.
    • Snow tires might cost you some fuel efficiency, but they will make the car more stable, and that’s important when driving in snow or ice. Inflating the tires can help you regain some of that fuel efficiency.
    • Adequate snow traction requires tires with at least 6/32 inch deep tread.[2] Inflate your tires (this applies in all seasons) to the maximum on the side of the tire -- ignore what it says in the manual or on the driver's-door post.
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    Pack an emergency kit. It’s important that you’re prepared for anything when it’s icy and snowy outside, especially in a smaller car like a Prius.
    • You should keep a snow and ice scraper, a flashlight, and flares in your car. Make sure that you’re dressed properly for the conditions, including bringing a hat, boots, and gloves.[3]
    • You should make sure your rear window defogger and defroster work too. You also might want to include a small shovel in the car. Top off your car’s levels. It’s really important in winter conditions to keep your car’s fluids full.
    • Buy premium heavy duty snow and ice windshield wipers. It’s worth the extra money to make sure that you don’t have windshield wipers so flimsy they can’t move heavy snow off your windshield.

Method 2
Knowing What to Expect in Snow and Ice

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    Expect less fuel efficiency. It’s just a fact that most vehicles tend to have reduced efficiency in the winter months. The Prius is no different.
    • The problem is that the climate control system in the car must run constantly in order to heat and defrost the inside of the car. This keeps your engine in constant motion[4]
    • That in turn reduces fuel economy for the Prius in winter, usually to the 34 to 42 miles per gallon range for the Gen. II Prius and 38 to 46 miles per gallon for the Gen III model. Sometimes Prius drivers notice the reduced winter efficiency more than other drivers because they’re more focused on the multi-display screen on their dashboard that provides such data.[5]
    • Some people say gas mileage falls to between 33 and 40 miles per gallon down from 50 average in the summer. Battery capacity also goes down in cold weather.
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    Embrace the winter. Some people worry that a Prius can’t handle ice and snow at all, so they avoid buying one if they live in colder climates. However, that’s not true.
    • The Prius is a front-wheel drive car. This means that the car’s heaviest portion is on the drive wheels, which will give the Prius better grip on snow and ice than a back-wheel drive car.
    • Furthermore, electric motors provide an advantage in the snow because of how they distribute torque. The car has a traction control system that will brake a spinning wheel.
    • Some people think the Prius won’t be good in snow because it has 5.25 inches of clearance above the ground. However, that’s usually enough clearance for roads, especially plowed roads. Non plowed roads in severe snowstorms will be a challenge for all cars, not just hybrids.
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    Keep your gas tank at least half full. Simple tips like not letting your tank go almost empty can make it easier to drive a Prius in the winter.
    • If you have more gas in your car, it should get better traction. That is because the gas will add weight to the car, which makes it drive better in snow and ice.
    • The other problem with almost empty gas tanks is that they are susceptible to condensation. This can then form in the tank, and it freezes the fuel lines. That in turn could stop your car from starting.
    • Never run your vehicle in an enclosed area like a garage.[6]

Method 3
Improving Your Control of the Prius

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    Turn on the brake mode. If you put the car in drive first, you will change the driving dynamics. This will make the Prius navigate better in packed snow.
    • There is no way to turn off the anti-skid feature in a Prius while driving. Instead, turn on the brake mode. To do this: Turn off traction control temporarily. In 60 seconds, set the ignition switch to on.
    • Put the transmission in park, and then press the gas pedal twice before applying the parking brake. Now push down on the brake pedal. Put the transmission into neutral by surpassing drive.
    • Press the gas pedal two times. Press the gas pedal two times with the transmission back in park. You will see a car warning flash on the LCD screen. Now press the brake pedal again. Turn the ignition switch to start. Start the engine. The warning symbol on the LCD screen will likely disappear.
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    Clear snow off the car. Make sure that you remove snow from the lights, the license plates, and the radiator, where it may accumulate.
    • It takes more energy for the car to move extra weight. One thing that it’s worth carrying though is a small bag of sand or cat litter, so that you can get out if you get stuck in the snow.
    • If you clean out the interior of the Prius, you will also improve its efficiency. The lighter the better.
    • The only extra weight you should carry is the emergency kit.[7]
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    Drive better. Give yourself more space. Driving a Prius in snow and ice isn’t only about the car itself. It’s also about the driver.
    • In the winter, give yourself more space between the car in front of you. Basically you should double the space you would leave in the summer.
    • For every 10 miles per hour (16 kph) you drive, you should give yourself four car lengths of space. So if you are driving 30 miles per hour, leave 12 car lengths between your Prius and the car ahead of you.
    • Be very observant so you can navigate slippery curves and spot stop signs and stoplights. If your brakes start to lock up, don’t slam on your brakes. Instead ease your foot off the accelerator and allow the car to slow down by itself. Don’t drive too fast for conditions! Don’t drive at your normal speed.
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    Don’t use cruise control on an icy surface. Use your seat belt at all times. If you become stuck, stay with your vehicle so people can find you and you have shelter. Don’t walk in a severe storm.
    • Use small, slow motions and go easy on the brakes. Apply steady and gentle pressure on the gas. [8]
    • Slow down. Drive defensively. Make sure the battery is good. Warm up your engine to improve efficiency. All of these tips can help the Prius navigate ice and snow more safely.
    • Make sure that you have enough anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid. You have to come prepared when it’s winter.


  • If you are driving the car in the snow, clear off any snow or anything that may be impeding the lights of the car.
  • Also make sure that there is no snow covering the license plates on both the front and back of the car.
  • Some people believe the Prius traction control system is a design flaw that makes it operate less in slippery conditions, but Toyota has denied it’s a safety problem while saying it could impact performance in show. [9]

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Categories: Driving Techniques | Toyota Prius