AWD vs FWD with Winter Tires

October 4th, 2018 by

Driving in winter weather can be nerve-wracking at times. From snow to ice and all the slush in between, we can all get a little nervous behind the wheel during the chilly months. According to Consumer Reports, “ Forty-one percent of all weather-related car crashes on U.S. roads are due to conditions involving snow, sleet, ice, and slush. That’s pretty sobering when you consider that those conditions usually exist during just a few months of the year.” So, how do we prevent such accidents from happening? The “All-Wheel Drive vs. Winter Tires” debate has been going on for years now – but which is more effective?

In reality, All-Wheel Drive will provide you with some assistance in snowy weather, however, a front-wheel drive vehicle with winter tires is much more effective. An AWD vehicle with winter tires really is the ideal combination, and will likely provide the safest overall driving experience in the snow.

All-Wheel Drive

What is All-Wheel Drive?

All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is a transmission system that allows power to be distributed to all four wheels (as opposed to rear wheel drive and front wheel drive, which only provide power to two wheels). AWD helps to provide traction, and when one wheel begins to slip, it is able to compensate to help keep your vehicle on its intended path. Some AWD systems are full-time AWD, while others are only active under certain driving conditions.

It is important to keep in mind that AWD is not the same as 4-Wheel Drive (4WD). These two systems work in different ways and have different purposes. While both are used for additional traction, 4WD is generally optimized for off-road situations, not just some wet road conditions on the way to work. Unless you plan on going off-road, you don’t necessarily need 4WD. To learn more about the different AWD and 4WD systems, check out our AWD/4WD systems page.

What are the pros and cons of AWD?

Having all four wheels active helps your vehicle gain traction, which can be helpful in snowy weather. This distribution of power also helps vehicles accelerate quicker and easier. Unlike 4WD vehicles, the driver does not need to take action to activate the AWD system.

However, while AWD helps provide traction to get your car moving in snowy conditions, it doesn’t help much when it comes to stopping or turning. Some people get overly confident driving in the snow because “it’s an all-wheel drive!” However, it is still important to be extremely cautious when driving on snowy/icy roads in AWD.

Winter Tires

What is the difference between winter tires and all-season tires?

Winter tires differ from your vehicle’s all season tires in a few ways. First, they’re made of softer rubber, making them more pliable on snowy surfaces, which provides more grip. Winter tires also have sipes, or thin rivets that help provide extra traction.

What are the pros and cons of winter tires?

Winter tires are an extremely important asset for anyone who drives in the snow. Since they don’t harden as much as all-season tires in the cold, they are able to provide more traction in slippery conditions. Drivers often panic on slippery or snowy roads and slam on the brakes. Luckily, winter tires provide more traction and aid in safe braking. Winter tires also provide more traction than all-season tires when it comes to cornering, helping you avoid that car in the ditch.

While effective, winter tires can come with a big cost attached to them, ranging from $500 to upwards of $800. Additionally, having to switch from all-season to winter tires as the seasons change comes at an additional cost, and finding a place to store them during the off-seasons can be difficult.

So, which should you choose? If you only encounter trace amounts of snow a couple times a year, you can likely get away with driving your trusty AWD vehicle. However, if snow is a little more common and road conditions often get dangerous, investing in some snow tires would be the safest decision.

Check out this video by Consumer Reports on All-Wheel Drive in the snow for more information.

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Posted in Driving Safely