How we rescued a snowbound UPS truck using a Subaru and a tow strap

Sometimes the secret to success is being just dumb enough to attempt the impossible. For instance, trying to tow a snowbound UPS truck up a steep hill with a small Subaru. That doesn’t seem like a feasible idea, does it? But you’ve got nothing to lose by trying, which is how I find myself dragging a UPS truck up a hill with a Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid.

The day before the latest crippling Southern snowstorm, I’m in possession of a bright green Subaru and a head full of bad ideas. I visit Lowe’s and buy a forged steel hook, which I shackle to the Subaru’s tow eye to create a beefy attachment point for my tow strap. I figure that when the storm hits, I’ll just cruise around in the all-wheel-drive Subaru and rescue the non-Subaru-having motorists. I get more action than I bargained for.


First there’s the Infiniti G37 coupe by the side of the road. The owner says she’s planning to just leave it there and she has a good point — even if I dragged her onto the pavement, she’d be right back in the ditch within 20 feet.

The next opportunity is a Corvette. I give the guy credit for heading out in a blizzard in a Vette, but the Crosstrek is useless because Corvettes are deliberately set up to resist towing. There’s nowhere to affix a strap or hook, a fact confirmed when we pull out the owner’s manual and the chapter on towing simply reads, “Don’t."

I’m despairing of my usefulness when we happen upon a police roadblock ahead of a hill. The cop informs me that there are cars off the road and it’s closed. I offer to pull them out, but he turns us away. So I simply take a five-mile detour and approach the valley from the other side, cresting a rise to find the jackpot—seven or eight cars stuck on the hill. Plus two UPS trucks.

The Subaru will now face its real test. The Crosstrek Hybrid, despite its compact wagon packaging, rocks a downright SUV-worthy 8.7 inches of ground clearance. And its all-wheel-drive system is beefier than that of most crossovers, with an active center clutch that can send 100 percent of the torque to either end of the car. Moreover, when you deactivate the stability control system it will allow healthy wheelspin while still stepping in to shuffle torque via the traction control system. This thing can sink claws.

As for the hybrid part of the equation, this system is more for marketing than fuel economy, with a tiny electric motor built into the CVT transmission and a .55 kw/h battery lodged under the rear cargo area. Compared to the standard Crosstrek, the Hybrid gains 12 horsepower (for 160), and three miles per gallon, for 31 mpg combined. But you won’t be running 45 mph on the battery as you can in, say, a Ford Fusion Hybrid. The Crosstrek Hybrid’s biggest boon is its torque curve, topping out at 163 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm. On its own, the peaky standard 2.0-liter manages 145 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm.

So, the Crosstrek Hybrid has the torque curve of a decent turbo motor paired with the four-wheel traction of, well, a Subaru. Would those ingredients be enough to turn it into a righteous little green tow truck?

The cop manning this approach to the glut is bemused at my assumption that I can help anyone, but he’s game to let me try. An F-250 is towing the first UPS truck up the hill, so I drive down to hook up to the second one. The delivery driver, like the cop, doesn’t seem to expect much. Frankly, neither do I.

I throw a hook on his bumper, draw the strap tight and deactivate VDC. We both hit the gas and for a long moment the Subaru strains and spins its tires to no avail. But I stay on the throttle and the Crosstrek soon mines its way down to pavement. I saw the wheel to get it dancing — an old truck-pull technique that, safe to say, is finding its first application in Subaru-to-delivery-truck assistance — and to everyone’s disbelief the big brown truck starts moving.

For the next 30 seconds, the silence of the falling snow is broken by the UPS truck’s diesel chatter commingled with the signature sound of a wailing Subaru flat-four. The Crosstrek resolutely drags the truck up the slope while a crowd of bystanders gawks in amazement. But we soon reach an impasse as we try to navigate between a street sign on the shoulder and a stuck Grand Marquis in the middle of the road. The UPS truck drops his left rear wheel onto the shoulderand we stop to regroup. We need to get the Grand Marquis out of here first, but once that’s done he should be able to back down the hill onto the road for a straight shot up and out.

I hook the Crosstrek to the Grand Marquis and easily tow it up the hill to send it on its way. A guy in the passenger seat, having just witnessed the Subaru towing the UPS truck, asks the price for the Crosstrek Hybrid. I tell him it’s about 26 grand and he replies, “You tell them they did a good job with that one.”

I turn back for Round 2 with the UPS truck, but by now the burly F-250 has returned and hooked on. Unfortunately, the Ford driver eschews the advantage of gravity and they don’t begin by backing the UPS truck down the hill to get its rear tire onto the pavement. Predictably, when the F250 starts pulling, the camber of the shoulder causes the brown truck’s rear axle to slide toward the ditch, where it soon becomes immovable even for a ¾-ton diesel pickup. Curses! The F-250 has stolen my glory.

However, there are still a lot of cars waiting to be rescued. Over the next hour the Subaru tows an FJ Cruiser (which picked a bad day to have its four-wheel-drive system go AWOL), a Ford Freestyle and a full-size Chevy van. The rest of the cars on the hill, including a non-quattro Audi A4, are already abandoned, so I head home.

On the drive back I’m feeling oddly nostalgic. One of my earliest memories is heading to preschool on a snowy Maine morning with my father helming our barge of a Buick Regal. We didn’t make it to school on that particular day, thwarted by a steep hill. The Regal was soon traded in on a brand-new 4x4 1982 Subaru GL wagon, rendering snow a moot issue. More than 30 years later, a Subaru wagon is still one of the best ways to beat winter. The electrified Crosstrek may not be much of a hybrid, but it’s a hell of a Subaru.