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I looked at a house today and one of its drawbacks was that it had a very long, steep driveway. In New England we get thick snow, sleet and ice and with a steep driveway I am concerned the car might have trouble getting up it, or might slide off it going down.

The driveway drops 50 feet over 300 feet which is a grade of over 9 degrees in some places.

Is there any way to make such a steep driveway safer?

  • That's pretty steep. The safest way would be to let someone else buy the house. :-) That's going to put a lot of wear and tear on your vehicle, also. You don't mention what the surface is. Cutting grooves across it would improve traction, but New England winters will fill the grooves with ice and snow. A gravel surface will help if the snow isn't too thick, but that's hard to clear. A 4WD vehicle with chains on the tires would help. If you have the space, you could change the driveway to weave back and forth over a longer path to reduce the slope. – fixer1234 Dec 4 '17 at 2:58
  • Diligent clearing, sand, salt. Rinse and repeat. With any luck it's facing south and the sun will do some of the work for you. Also, do the responsible thing and use proper winter tires. All-season tires are a far cry from the most safe and effective rubber available. Just ask Scandinavia. Both of our cars get their wheels swapped in November and March. – isherwood Dec 4 '17 at 3:09
  • That's a *average*17% grade. (% rise/run being the normal way grades are measured). Does the driveway flatten out near the bottom, or are you on a hill straight onto the highway? – Harper Dec 4 '17 at 3:12
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Having lived a good portion of my life in an area where heavy snowfall is common I can say that the best way to deal with snow in any driveway is to keep it shoveled out down to the underlying surface. You should at all possibilities try to keep it shoveled, plowed or blown before any attempt to drive on it. In many cases driving on it compacts the snow down and begins to cause a build up of compacted snow ice that will tend to want to stay there for the rest of the winter. These comments can apply to any driveway but especially to one like you describe which is a serious grade.

In my last years of living in snow country I had a medium steep driveway that rose about 6 feet over a run of about 45 feet. I was working long days at my job and there were multiple drivers in the family that used the driveway multiple times before I could get it cleaned out each time it snowed. I can say that it was a mess of slippery iciness that was hard to drive in. Some years the icy build up was as much as 8 inches thick. The work around solution that I used was to spread liberal amounts of course sand over it to provide traction till the next snow.

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A widely available solution is to install a driveway heater to keep the crucial section unfrozen. This technique is also commonly used on walkways.

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  • Sounds like it could be a very expensive retrofit as well as expensive to run, but as you asked for "any way".... – Aaron Brick Dec 4 '17 at 4:31
  • New England snow might just laugh at a driveway heater unless it's nuclear powered. :-) But it would be worth exploring the experiences of people who may have tried them there (and see if the local stores sell them, which might be an indicator). – fixer1234 Dec 4 '17 at 4:54
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I spent 5 years living in a cabin deep in the woods with a 1/4-mile long driveway of gravel and dirt. It had some very steep grades here and there, and none of the local plows would have anything to do with me except one, who charged $175 per plowing. That was unthinkable, as I was deep in the snow at a high elevation for typically 7 months out of the year. For the cost of two plowings, I purchased a rusty old 4WD Bronco and widened the first 20 feet of the driveway at the road end. I parked my regular car at the end of the driveway and used the Bronco, with chains, as my driveway vehicle. It was the best and cheapest solution I ever came up with, and I regularly got up the steep parts in 3 feet of snow. I never registered, insured or inspected the Bronco. That's what made the solution so cheap.

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