Winter weather can affect the way you interact with both your vehicle and the road. Freezing temperatures can negatively impact how comfortable you are in your vehicle's cabin, while snow and ice on the road can seriously compromise your ability to drive safely.
Fortunately, there are many features available that can make your car safer and more accommodating when the temperature plunges. The 10 listed below are some of the most essential car features for winter driving. Our picks are shown in alphabetical order.
Note that our list focuses on new cars. Electronic stability control — a winter-driving must-have — is not included, since it is now mandatory for manufacturers to include this feature on all new passenger vehicles. The law requires that all vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2011 be equipped with stability control. If you're looking at a used model made before this date, you'll want to make sure it's equipped with this potentially life-saving feature.
1. All-Wheel Drive
All-wheel drive works to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. This feature can help improve acceleration when there's snow, rain or ice on the ground, and it's available on models like the 2014 Toyota Sienna and 2014 Volkswagen CC. For more information on this topic, see our article "Do You Need an All-Wheel-Drive or Four-Wheel-Drive Car?"
2. Engine Block Heater
Severely cold weather can make your vehicle slow to start and may even prevent it from starting altogether. An engine block heater helps your car start and warm up faster in frigid temperatures. This kind of pre-heating can also reduce cold-weather stress on the engine. The engine is comprised of metal parts that are designed to expand during operation. If cold weather prevents this expansion from occurring, damage can result; pre-heating makes this damage less likely to occur. Engine block heaters are available on models like the 2014 Acura MDX and 2014 Ford Fusion.
3. Headlight Washer/Wipers
Snow, ice and road salt can accumulate on your headlights and dim their illumination. A headlight washer or wipers can work to clear blockage, so your lights can shine without obstruction. The 2014 Audi A4 and 2014 Volvo S60 are two models that offer this feature.
4. Heated Front Seats
Once available only on high-dollar luxury models, heated front seats are now a common feature . You'll find this amenity in everything from the plush 2014 Mercedes-Benz S Class to the modest 2014 Ford Fiesta. On the chilliest days this feature may work to get you warmed up more quickly than your car's heater. People with pain or stiffness in the back, neck, arms or shoulders will find this feature to be especially beneficial, since it can work to soothe soreness.
5. Heated Rear Seats
First-row travelers aren't the only ones who appreciate a toasty seat. Some models offer heated rear seats that can help those sitting in back travel in warmth and comfort. This feature is available in models like the 2014 Kia Cadenza and 2014 Ford Taurus.
6. Heated Side Mirrors
Heated side mirrors ensure that the glass on these mirrors is always free from fog and ice. They work much like a defroster does to keep the windshield clear in that heat is introduced to the mirror's surface via electrical elements. Fortunately, this feature is available on most modern cars; it's absent only in a handful of economy models. Examples of vehicles with this feature include the 2014 GMC Acadia and 2014 Honda Accord.
7. Heated Steering Wheel
You can't drive a car without gripping the steering wheel, and in winter weather, this experience can be made a lot more pleasant with the help of a heated steering wheel. This feature works to keep the steering wheel at a comfortably warm temperature regardless of how frigid the weather is outside. You'll find this amenity in vehicles like the 2014 BMW X5 and 2014 Kia Optima.
8. Remote Vehicle Starting System
With a remote vehicle starting system, you can get your car started before you even enter the cabin. This system helps make sure the engine is warmed up before you start driving, and it can also be used to cozy up the cabin before you slide behind the wheel. This feature is available in models like the 2014 Scion xD and 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage.
9. Windshield Wiper De-Icers
Icy weather can cause your wipers to become frozen and immobile. A windshield wiper de-icer works to thaw your wipers so they don't remain stuck to the glass when the wipers are activated. This feature is offered in models like the 2014 Subaru Forester and 2014 Toyota 4Runner.
10. Winter Tires
When there's snow on the ground, winter tires can make the difference between an uneventful journey and one marred by a mishap. These tires are designed to improve your vehicle's acceleration, braking and handling across a host of cold-weather conditions. For more information, see our story "Edmunds.com Asks, "Who Needs Winter Tires?"""