What Does the Snow Button Do on a Vehicle?

by parker
YouTube video

As winter weather conditions can pose challenges for drivers, many vehicles come equipped with a snow mode or snow button to help improve traction and control on slippery surfaces. In this article, we will explore the purpose and functionality of the snow button on a vehicle, specifically focusing on the Toyota Highlander.

Key Points:
1. Introduction to winter weather conditions
2. Explanation of the snow button icon
3. Understanding the snow mode in all-wheel drive vehicles
4. Benefits of starting in second gear
5. Differences in the snow button on newer and older cars
6. The snow button’s impact on steering control
7. Using snow mode on the highway and in stop-and-go traffic
8. Variations of snow mode in different car models
9. Limitations and inability to adjust the snow mode
10. Explanation of Downhill Assist Control feature

Introduction to Winter Weather Conditions

In the opening of the video, Steven Welch from Bema Toyota in Nashville introduces the topic by mentioning the ice storm warnings and inclement weather prevalent in certain regions during winter. Winter weather, such as snow, freezing rain, and icy roads, can significantly impact a driver’s ability to maintain control of their vehicle. In response to these conditions, manufacturers have included special features like the snow button to assist drivers in navigating through challenging winter conditions.

Explanation of the Snow Button Icon

Steven points out a small icon inside the Toyota Highlander that resembles a snowflake. This icon does not indicate a runway but, in fact, signifies the possibility of icy road conditions. The presence of the icon is triggered by low temperatures and precipitation, suggesting caution to drivers.

Understanding the Snow Mode in All-Wheel Drive Vehicles

The main focus of the video is to explain the functionality of the snow button and its purpose in all-wheel drive vehicles. Steven clarifies that the snow button is different from the traction control button, which is mandatory in all vehicles. The snow button specifically activates a snow mode that alters the car’s behavior and enhances traction on slippery surfaces.

Benefits of Starting in Second Gear

One key feature of the snow mode, as Steven explains, is that it allows the car to start in second gear instead of first gear. Starting in second gear rather than first gear can minimize wheel spin and provide better control when accelerating from a parked or stopped position. This is particularly useful in snowy or slippery conditions found in many winter climates.

Differences in the Snow Button on Newer and Older Cars

Steven mentions that he initially thought the snow button functioned differently in newer cars. However, he realized that the less pronounced difference in newer cars with eight-speed transmissions is due to the smoother transition from second gear as compared to older cars with six-speed or five-speed transmissions. Despite this difference, the snow button still ensures starting in second gear, providing improved traction and control.

The Snow Button’s Impact on Steering Control

In addition to modifying the gear starting point, activating the snow mode also tightens the vehicle’s steering wheel. This adjustment helps prevent oversteering and improves stability, reducing the risk of veering off the road in slippery conditions.

Using Snow Mode on the Highway and in Stop-and-Go Traffic

While the snow mode primarily affects the starting gear, its impact diminishes once the vehicle reaches highway speeds. On the highway, the snow button’s influence is limited to slightly tightening the steering wheel. However, in stop-and-go traffic, drivers can leave the snow button activated as it offers benefits for traction and control when accelerating from a standstill.

Variations of Snow Mode in Different Car Models

Steven mentions that snow mode may have different names or variations across various car manufacturers and models. Some vehicles may use a weather mode or have a snow and ice mode, which typically serve the same purpose of enhancing control and minimizing wheel spin in wintry conditions.

Limitations and the Inability to Adjust the Snow Mode

It is important to note that the snow button’s functionality is pre-determined by the car manufacturer and cannot be adjusted by the driver. The system is designed to provide the best possible performance and control by starting in second gear. Attempts to force the car into a higher gear, such as third gear, manually may not be successful as the vehicle’s programming restricts gear shifting until the car is in motion.

Explanation of Downhill Assist Control Feature

Steven briefly mentions another feature called Downhill Assist Control, which is separate from the snow button but relevant to winter driving. This feature allows drivers to maintain a speed of three miles per hour while going downhill by setting the car to first gear. The system will ensure a controlled descent, but excessive braking or accelerating will override the feature, putting full control back in the driver’s hands.


In conclusion, the snow button found in all-wheel drive vehicles, such as the Toyota Highlander, is a useful feature that enhances traction and control on slippery winter roads. By starting the vehicle in second gear, the snow mode minimizes wheel spin and facilitates smoother acceleration. Additionally, it tightens the steering wheel, improving stability and reducing the risk of oversteering. While the snow mode may have slight variations in different car models, its purpose remains consistent across all vehicles – to provide drivers with an extra layer of control and safety in inclement weather conditions.

By understanding the functionality and benefits of the snow button, drivers can make informed decisions about when to engage this feature and maximize their vehicle’s traction and control during winter weather. Remember to always exercise caution and drive safely when faced with challenging road conditions. Stay informed, follow any local guidelines or warnings, and take advantage of the available features in your vehicle to ensure a safer and more secure travel experience.

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