Ford Explorer In Snow & Winter Driving (Explained)

In the 90s, the Ford Explorer was one of the pioneering models that started the SUV craze in America. Even now, the Ford Explorer continues to be a hotly demanded family SUV, thanks to its utility and performance.

Is the Explorer capable in snow and winter? Let’s find out.

Here is the short answer about whether the Ford Explorer is good for snow and winter driving:

The Ford Explorer is a capable SUV with an Intelligent 4WD with Terrain Management System, features that improve winter driving capabilities. It also has Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, and ABS. These qualities and its impressive ground clearance make it ideal for winter.

Is a Ford Explorer Good in the Snow?

Because of its large size, the Ford Explorer is suitable for traveling in snowy conditions. It has decent ground clearance (7.9 in.), so you can go through thick snow and avoid being stuck.

The Explorer’s Intelligent 4WD system is perhaps the biggest reason it drives well in snow. Along with the Terrain Management System, the Intelligent 4WD adjusts the vehicle’s performance to suit a specific terrain, e.g., snow.

In fact, the TMS has a “Snow Mode” that prevents wheel slippage and increases stability in snow.

On the average, we’ll consider the Explorer an excellent performer in snow. If your area gets a lot of snow, an Explorer should be an excellent investment.

What Features Will Improve Winter Driving?

The best vehicles to operate in winter are those that are safe to drive on either ice or snow. Whatever vehicle you’ll drive must have features that prevent loss of control on wet surfaces.

Luckily, the Ford Explorer comes with some of these features, which explains its great winter navigation abilities. Let’s discuss some of these features below:

Intelligent 4WD with Terrain Management System

The Ford Explorer is based on a rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform, but has optional ‘Intelligent 4WD’. With intelligent 4WD, your vehicle will still drive in two-wheel-drive frequently.

However, when the system senses a loss of traction in the main axle, it will send power to the other axle. This gives your vehicle temporary four-wheel-drive and prevents it from losing control.

Unlike other variants, the Explorer’s 4WD system is more intuitive and easier to use. Instead of using the common 4High and 4Lo, Intelligent 4WD uses Terrain Management System to make it easier to use 4WD.

The TMS has several modes geared towards adapting four-wheel-drive to every terrain, including snow and ice. One of the modes in the Terrain Management System is ‘Snow/Gravel/Grass’.

This mode is useful when you’re driving on wet/slippery surfaces (snow, ice, water) where loss of control is possible.

Once you activate the Snow Mode, the TMS will limit torque to wheels to stop them from slipping.

This way, your vehicle doesn’t lose traction and remains stable. It also reprograms the transmission for faster shifts, allowing you to get out faster when stuck in snow.

Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control uses technologies that enhance safe driving, especially in less-than-ideal driving conditions such as roads covered with ice/snow.

The ESC system continually monitors your vehicle’s progress while you’re driving. Once it senses your vehicle is slipping, it automatically applies brake force to the wheels, stabilizing it.

How does the ESC detect wheel slippage? It uses data from the anti-lock brake sensors and Traction Control System sensors. Such information allows the ESC to predict slipping and work to prevent it.

Additionally, Electronic Stability Control prevents counter-steer and over-steer, which are common in wet and icy conditions. It does this by balancing brake power between the wheels and reducing engine speed at corners.

This way, your Explorer won’t skid off the road or crash on a wet, ice-covered road.

Traction Control

Like Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control works to limit wheel slippage when you drive on slippery surfaces. In fact, Traction Control works in tandem with Electronic Stability Control most of the time.

As it eliminates uncontrolled wheelspin, Traction Control is useful for navigating icy roads and rainy weather. The Traction Control System works by monitoring and adjusting the power available to the wheels.

This ensures maximum contact between the wheels and the pavement, boosting traction. With the TCS in operation, you can stay in control of your Explorer while driving in winter, irrespective of the road’s level of slickness.

Anti-lock Brakes

Anti-lock brakes make it easier and safer for you to brake on icy roads. Because of the low traction available in winter, braking on icy or snowy surfaces often requires more effort.

However, in applying too much force, you may inadvertently lock up your wheels. This can cause loss of control, which increases the risk of a collision or worse, a crash.

ABS works to prevent wheel lockup on wet surfaces by regulating the application of brake pressure to wheels. This way, no wheel gets excessive brake pressure to the point where it locks up.

Defrosting System

Like other Ford models, the Explorer SUV comes with a defrosting system. The defrosting system is essential for maintaining proper visibility in winter driving conditions.

The defroster uses the Air Conditioning system to circulate air to prevent ice and snow from condensing on your windshield. Hot air from the air conditioner makes its way to the windshield and the snow/ice melts away.

Besides, the air conditioner unit will dissipate moisture in the cabin that can fog up your windows and reduce visibility. With this, you can drive safely in winter, knowing you can see other vehicles on the road.

Please also read our article on how long Ford Explorers last.

Does an Explorer Have Snow Mode?

Ford Explorers have a Snow Mode feature that works to improve traction, stability, and control in snow. However, you can only use it if your Explorer comes with optional Intelligent 4WD (with Terrain Management). 

The Snow Mode (officially known as Snow/Grass/Gravel mode) reduces torque and power needed by wheels to accelerate. This minimizes wheel slippage and ensures your vehicle doesn’t lose control while driving over snow.

Can You Install Additional Snow Gear on Ford Explorer?

You can fit whatever snow gear you want on a Ford Explorer SUV. Some of the important snow gear that can help improve your Explorer’s driving in snow include:

  • Snow socks
  • Snow chains
  • Snow tires

Before you fit any of the aforementioned gear on an Explorer, make sure it is right-sized. Often, many drivers will buy snow equipment without knowing their vehicle’s true dimensions.

This ends up causing various problems, especially with handling and ride quality. To avoid this, buy aftermarket snow equipment based on what fits your vehicle.

How Much Snow Can an Explorer Handle?

The Ford Explorer has considerable ground clearance, meaning it can handle thick snow with ease.

The 2020 Explorer stands close to eight inches off the ground. Based on this, we estimate you can travel in snow of about four-six inches thick. 

If you want to handle even more snow, you can invest in a suspension lift procedure. Still, we’d advise getting a bigger Ford SUV such as the Expedition or a truck such as the F-150 or Ranger.

You should also check our article on 11 Ford Explorer statistics.

How Do Explorers Handle Low Winter Temperatures?

Ford Explorers are fuel-injected, meaning you can operate them in subzero temperatures. Older models, especially the pre-2000s, may have difficulties operating in winter because they are carbureted.

Carbureted models often warm up slowly in cold weather and only start after multiple attempts.

If your Explorer is a newer model and has issues starting in cold weather, it may be experiencing these problems:

  • Worn or dirty spark plugs
  • Blocked fuel filter and/or fuel lines
  • Degraded battery
  • Low battery power
  • Thin engine oil

Can a Ford Explorer Drive on Ice?

The Ford Explorer comes standard with rear-wheel-drive, which, in all honesty, isn’t the best for driving on ice.

Although usable on icy roads, rear-wheel drive can increase the risk of ‘fishtailing’. Thus, we would advise caution when driving your Explorer in icy conditions.

Opting for the Intelligent 4WD (w/ Terrain Management) will help boost your Explorer’s stability on ice. The TMS has special features that increase stability on low-traction surfaces like ice and the likes.

Please also check our article on the Ford Expedition in snow and winter driving.

Does the Ford Explorer Have 4WD?

Ford Explorers come standard with rear-wheel-drive (RWD), which is a form of two-wheel drive (2WD). Notwithstanding, every Explorer model has optional Intelligent 4WD.

Intelligent 4WD system sends power to one axle most of the time, meaning you’ll be using 2WD primarily. But if the vehicle detects a potential loss of traction, the Intelligent 4WD system will kick in and provide power to all four wheels.

What About Older Explorer Models And Winter Driving?

Some of the older Explorer models are quite good for winter driving, especially those released in the early 2000s. We advise against buying models from the pre-2000 era, as most of them don’t have as standard the following features:

  • ABS
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • Traction Control

Do Explorers Need Snow Tires?

Yes, your Explorer SUV will need snow tires if you plan to drive in winter. All-season tires perform averagely in winter. They provide less traction and offer lower stability when driving in snow and ice.

However, snow tires have special tread compounds that make them suitable for winter driving. They provide first-rate traction, reduce the risk of aquaplaning, and ensure stability.

Can You Mount A Snow Plow On An Explorer?

The Explorer has enough power to handle snow plowing, so yes, you can fit a snowplow on it. However, be careful when plowing snow so you don’t damage the transmission or engine. 

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