FWD car okay for chasing?

Discussion in 'Equipment' started by Doug Russell, Feb 8, 2017.

  1. Doug Russell

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    Hi everyone :) I've never chased before but I'm looking to begin doing so this season. My vehicle is a 4 cylinder FWD Honda and I am a little concerned about it for two reasons. First, the lack of AWD/4x4 seems concerning to me given the road conditions that storms can produce. Second, a car is at a huge disadvantage against an SUV or a truck during a crash. There is, however, one great advantage in that I get 39 mpg on the highway. Anyone feel alright chasing in a FWD car? I live in SW Iowa and will only be using paved roads.
     
  2. Todd Lemery

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    If you are going to stay on paved roads, you'll be perfectly fine. Intentions to stay on paved roads can melt away pretty quick though when the only road that doesn't take you twenty miles out of your way while chasing a storm isn't paved.....
     
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  3. David Williams

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    I got stuck in the mud during a chase about 2 years ago. Fortunately, I didn't get hit with hail or a tornado because the storm was still maturing. However, sitting there and watching the storm move away and develop was frustrating. I chased last year and avoided unpaved roads, but I missed some good opportunities to get close. I like to get close to tornadoes... within reason. I'm no Reed Timmer, but I prefer being within half a mile. Further out just doesn't do it for me. So, I reasoned that I'm driving thousands of miles for a few tornado encounters and I'm severely limiting myself by sticking to paved roads. That doesn't make sense. I should go all in. So, I decided to buy a 4x4 vehicle to get off paved roads, and I'm happy and confident in my choice. Therefore, you have to know what you want when chasing. If you want to get close, sticking to paved roads will get frustrating and sooner or later you're going to take a chance and go off road. And there's just no getting around it. If you see an opportunity and you just assume the road will be good, you'll be inclined to take it. However, if you're not concerned with getting close and you don't mind for shots and structure and having to drive around a bit , then sticking to paved roads won't be an issue. Good luck

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  4. Marc R. O'Leary

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    You'll be fine. A FWD Honda still has a better chance than a RWD car for navigating questionable roads. Good tires should be considered though, as that makes a huge difference.

    As for your worries about crash safety, figure modern cars are safe in general. But think about what you're getting into (rain, wind, slick conditions), and consider that an SUV or truck inherently wants to roll over in an emergency situation due to high center of gravity. All of this is neither here nor there though, just be aware of your surroundings and other traffic, and don't drive like an idiot.
     
  5. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    Any car is OK for chasing as long as you don't drive on the muddy roads. Even 4WD is not enough for some of those mud roads, seems like every year I hear of a chaser with a big truck getting stuck and needing a farmer's tractor to get out.
     
  6. James Hammett

    James Hammett Member

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    Getting stuck is a risk no matter what you drive if you leave paved roads. I chase in a AWD Subaru but chased in a FWD Honda for years. The FWD got me in and out of sticky situations just fine. AWD does provide a bit more margin for overestimating road quality. When you do get stuck chances are you're stuck worse though. Most of chasing is long drives on paved roads and driving a small FWD is a big advantage there with the better gas mileage.
     
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  7. Doug Russell

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    Thank you everyone for sharing your experience! I feel better and am going to give it a go once the season starts :). My wife just picked up a new wide angle lens and a new tripod and I've been glued to RadarScope learning how it works.
     
  8. ericjkelly

    ericjkelly Member

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    Have an AWD Subaru Outback and twice ended up in the ditch last year (was able to get out both times with minimal help).

    Staying on dry roads is key, but the reality is we dont always have that option. The right tires on a FWD car will work.

    Side note....I will NOT get stuck this year. Going with more of a AT tire than a passenger highway tire.
     
  9. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    I think it was David Drummond who pointed out in a previous thread that the problem with Plains mud is that it "cakes" onto the tires and in the wheel wells, meaning any tire tread is going to end up the same way - a wheel made of mud spinning helplessly in a mud rut. All of the big trucks/vehicles in chasing have gotten stuck at one time or another - the DOWs, the TIV and the Scout, Dominators, etc. Plains mud is an equal-opportunity vehicle eater.
     
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  10. Michael Hook

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    I've been chasing in a 2010 Honda Fit since 2012 and it's done just fine, but since the ground clearance is low, it don't venture onto dirt roads often. I've had a few occasions where I had to bail on potential tornadoes because of having to stay on pavement including what would eventually become an EF-4 in Kansas. We had the initial tornado but could not continue the chase due to the Kansas mud. It's great on gas and it has sufficient room but at times I wish I had an SUV or truck. But to counter that, if I'm going on a week long chase, I resorted to renting a truck for the off roading requirements. I agree with others, I've seen cars, trucks, SUVs, and specialty vehicles stuck so it's not always a bad thing hanging to the pavement. It's an added bonus getting great gas mileage but to me that's only a factor when gas was 4 bucks a gallon.

    My motto... I chase BIG storms in a really little car.




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  11. James Hammett

    James Hammett Member

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    I have a set of Grabber AT2's on my Impreza. They're inexpensive, perform great, and resist hydroplaning very well. Only trouble I get into now with AWD and those is on the "cake batter" mud. Any sloping of the road grade is enough to pull you into the ditch on that stuff...slick as ice.
     
  12. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Arbitrarily calls almost every setup a bust
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    I have only ever chased in a FWD vehicle and have many excellent tornado experiences (including large and strong tornadoes as well as close calls). IMO, if you think the difference between you and decidedly better tornadoes is a 4WD vehicle, then you're doing something wrong. It's rare for me to feel like I have to leave paved roads to get a satisfactory shot of a tornado. Even so, I duck off onto dirt roads all the time, but only when they're dry or only marginally wet. Usually if you put yourself in the inflow region to the tornado you're mostly out and ahead of any precip, so the roads should stay dry until the tornado is very close. In HP situations, is it really worth it to get into the bear's cage on a muddy road?
     
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  13. James Hammett

    James Hammett Member

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    Indeed. Combine that with approaching from the east so you can backtrack over known-good roads to escape and you're golden.

    That was me on June 4, 2008 down by Creston, IA after dark. Almost got mowed by a tornado I couldn't see after getting high-centered on a muddy road. The damage path cut through the field right next to where I was stuck. Never again.
    024357.png

    FYI this was the event that had me looking for a more capable vehicle. Other options would include keeping your distance after dark ;)
    Also - the roads were already muddy from earlier storms out ahead of this one. In situations like that with unmaintained roads all you can do is stay on the pavement really.
     
    #13 James Hammett, Feb 14, 2017
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  14. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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  15. Randy Jennings

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    For the new chasers out there, one should point out that you don't have to use dirt roads to get stuck. Many of the two lane country roads that you will chase on have no shoulder, so be careful when you pull off the road to look (and yes please pull off so others can get by) or use a farmer's "driveway" to turn around in. Lots of chasers have gotten stuck on the side of paved roads.
     
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  16. Ben Holcomb

    Ben Holcomb Digital Janitor
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    So I've been wanting to post on this thread for awhile, but got distracted multiple times before finding the video.

    I'm proud of this video, shot in the Oklahoma panhandle near Eva, OK last year on April 15th. I'm on about as muddy of a road as you can get in my FWD 2011 Ford Taurus SEL. I managed to keep 'er between the ditches, although at one point I really thought we were goners.

    Video shot by @Tony Laubach

    Starting at 0:36

     
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  17. Taylor Wright

    Taylor Wright Member

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    That's one of the better videos I've seen of that tornado.

    We were a mile or two west, in a 4WD vehicle, and got stuck for 4 hours on this day. Slid off the road due to it being covered in hail. These situations happen more often than not with northward moving supercells if you don't have good road options. So it's more about driving capabilities than whether or not the car is 4WD. That being said, 4WD is a nice peace of mind when you are barreling down those muddy roads, or if you end up in a situation where your escape route is a completely sopped, rutted out muddy road. This happened to us on May 16, 2016 in the TX panhandle with a hail core barreling down on us, and we barely made it out. I don't think we would've made it down those roads without 4WD.

    There's no way to anticipate the conditions of roads you're looking at on maps, so it's always nice IMO to have 4WD as a backup. The only downside is the higher center of gravity for 4WD SUVs make it much easier to slide off into a ditch. If you put All Terrains on a FWD coupe you'll probably be fine on most roads you encounter while chasing.
     
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  18. Brian Brachel

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    lol I would add Don't Crash!


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  19. Travis Cruz

    Travis Cruz Member

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    Tires are easily the most important thing you can add, but of course it does help to have 4wd. So far we haven't found a mud road that we couldn't conquer, and we've been in some extremely sticky/slippery situations, but I can't count on that forever. I'll link just one of the muddy chases that we happened to get on camera, and a picture of the truck afterwards.

    A lot of it also comes down to knowing how your vehicle handles and knowing how to react when you start to slip or spin tires as well.


    7809dab2cd786f1b45878c0d0c176280.jpg





    These are the tires we run as well. They're an agressive all terrain tire that actually ride extremely well and wear very slowly. The four on the rear of the truck have 55k miles on them and still easily have another 20-30k.

    a054ee6d2c9d5f45fbec8d768958a73d.jpg
     
  20. Matt Hunt

    Matt Hunt Member

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    I love my Honda Accord. I avoid mud roads like the plague. Even if your vehicle can handle it, you're going to be moving so slow, I don't see the point. Just go on up to the next paved road. If it means I'm going to be 5 miles away from the tornado, so be it. Scott Peake drives the same vehicle. Hmm, has he gotten close to any tornadoes? ;)
     
  21. ScottCurry

    ScottCurry Member

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    Here's my experience:

    Ability
    4x4 > AWD > FWD > RWD

    Gas Mileage
    FWD > RWD > AWD > 4x4

    What's most important to you?

    I chased in a FWD for the past 3 years, and just upgraded to 4x4. Why? Because every year, I would slide off the road at least once, usually in deep hail, deep snow, or ice. I always carried a tow rope, and had to get towed out of the ditch / side of the road. Had I had a 4x4 or AWD, I feel like I would have been able to drive off on my own every time, and possibly not have slid off the road in the first place. But there is a downside to switching from FWD to 4x4. My gas mileage has dropped from 23mpg to 17mpg. Doesn't seem like a lot, until you consider my cost to drive 25,000 miles a year just increased by $1,150 / year from $3,260 to $4,410.
     
  22. Marc R. O'Leary

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    Scott - You pretty much nailed it. I have AWD, never been stuck (yet), however I definitely pay for it in fuel costs and have to be hyper aware of my gas gauge. Having a turbo AWD certainly doesn't help matters. On a heavily mobile chase, I'm lucky to get 18mpg. But I also have the sense of security that A) I can handle most roads and B) I can GTFO fast if I need to.
     
  23. James Hammett

    James Hammett Member

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    In addition to the poor gas mileage on my turbo AWD, the small tank and premium gas isn't ideal for chasing. But it's been solid and the knobbies get me around well. Turbo is great for passing but I'll spring for a NA/regular gas engine with AWD next time.
     

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