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Is an all-wheel drive good in the snow?

“If driving on snow or ice-filled streets, all-wheel drive is best. But if you expect severe winter weather conditions, the four-wheel drive would be a better fit.”

All-Wheel Drive (AWD)


How it works: This system is mostly found in cars and car-based SUVs. With the all-wheel drive, the system is continuously active and is managed by a computer, therefore when there are sudden changes in weather or road conditions the system automatically adapts and redistributes the power to the specific wheel that needs it most. However, within recent years, some vehicles stay on the front or rear-wheel drive and only activates when the vehicle slips. 

Advantages: It provides exceptional grip all year long in fair, all-weather environments, such as wet surfaces from rain or snow, as well as dry surfaces with dirt or gravel as long as a paved, flat surface is available to drive on. Therefore all-wheel drive is best for general driving, but also has the flexibility to handle both on and off-road driving. Most importantly, all-wheel drive is always on and the amount of power is directed by a computer, thus aiding the driver by sending more power to the weaker wheel.  


Disadvantages: All-wheel drive is not made for snow-heavy environments and may lack proper grip in such circumstances. Although the all-wheel drive system is great for all kinds of weather, the complex system is heavier and comes with a premium in comparison to its front-wheel drive counterparts. In addition, it has a low gear range therefore if the situation calls for the vehicle to crawl slowly, it is unable to do so. 


Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)


How it works: This system is most commonly seen in truck-based SUVs and pick-up trucks. Unlike the all-wheel drive, the power from the engine is only transferred to the rear wheels unless the driver (or computer if the 4WD is using an automatic system) initiates the front wheels. Once initiated, the system will split the power 50/50 to the front and back axels so all of the wheels are powered at the same speed. With most four-wheel drives, you will also find a 2-speed transfer case that will help your vehicle change to a different set of low-gears for heavy snow, rough terrain, or off-road ventures to help the vehicle get a better grip. 


Advantages: Four-wheel drive works best under rough and heavy-duty situations that require power such as hauling heavy loads, with the ability to switch to a crawl to overcome untraditional surfaces with uneven terrain, large amounts of unplowed snow, or other extreme conditions. 


Disadvantages: Four-wheel drives usually operate under the 2-wheel drive mode when inactive, but when in the 2WD mode, the grip becomes weaker than a front-wheel drive which has better traction as power is directed toward the front wheels and instructs the wheels to pull the car. Whereas the 4WD uses the rear wheels to push it forward, but with the added weight from the intricate system, it’s heavier and less fuel-efficient than other drive systems. Moreover, four-wheel drive systems are not suited for driving at high-speeds on dry, smooth surfaces, and should NOT be engaged under such conditions since it can cause wear and tear on the system.  



Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)


How it works: This drive system is most common in most cars, wagons, and minivans. Unlike an all-wheel drive, the power from the engine only needs to go to the front wheels, therefore allowing for more space when it comes to the seats in the rear and space in the trunk. 


Advantages: First and foremost, front-wheel drive is the most economical choice among the drive system as the price upfront is cheaper than its counterparts to begin with due to the vehicle needing fewer parts and requiring less labor. Thus, if repairs are necessary, it will generally cost you less than if you were to drive a vehicle with an all-wheel drive or a four-wheel drive. As you can imagine, by only carrying the necessary parts, it allows the front-wheel drive to be much lighter than other drive systems. With less weight, it requires less fuel, therefore making it the most fuel-economic choice among the four. Most importantly, because the majority of the weight from the engine is focused on the front of the car, it allows for better traction and can handle a mild amount of rain, mud, and snow.


Disadvantages: While there may be some benefits to having most of the engine weight toward the front of the vehicle, there are some setbacks as well. One negative aspect of owning a vehicle with front-wheel drive is the handling, specifically when driving at high-speeds or turning corners. This is why performance cars are most often rear-wheel drive based. However, if you are searching for an economically-friendly, standard option, a front-wheel drive is a good choice.



Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD)


How it works: This drive system solely focuses on directing the power of the engine toward the rear wheels and is usually found in cars used in professional racing, sports cars, and some sedansIt is also found in truck-based SUVs and pickup trucks since the front wheels are free, therefore their main duty is to steer while the rear wheels control the power.


Advantages: Unlike a front-wheel drive that has most of its weight focused on one end of the car, vehicles with rear-wheel drive distribute the weight of the transmission, engine, and axles evenly throughout the entire car which assists in handling and turning cornersAdditionally, vehicles with rear-wheel drive are not only lighter than their all-wheel drive counterparts, but they are also more affordable to buy and maintain as well.


Disadvantages: The one disadvantage rear-wheel drive systems have is the lack of traction which is why it is not recommended to drive a vehicle with rear-wheel drive under snowy or wet conditions. If you plan to drive a rear-wheel drive under such situations, it is recommended to switch to winter tires to help get a better grip on the icy road.