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Do I Need All-Wheel Drive and Is AWD Worth It?

Posted by Charlie Maniates | Dec 13, 2019

Between the ill effects of winter and the rampant popularity of SUVs, one major decision car shoppers are faced with today is whether they need all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). This decision becomes even more important when you consider that weather accounts for 1.2 million vehicle crashes annually, or nearly 21% of all vehicle crashes every year.

Before we discuss whether adding AWD or 4WD makes sense for you, you should first understand the difference between the two systems. Here’s a brief breakdown:

  • All-Wheel Drive: A type of 4WD system that automatically shifts power between the front and rear wheels for enhanced traction control in wintery conditions and light off-road driving. AWD systems are commonly equipped on SUVs.
  • Four-Wheel Drive: A term that encompasses any system that sends power to all four wheels, but often used to denote systems that don’t operate the same as AWD and are meant more so for heavy-duty off-roading or towing. 4WD systems are commonly equipped on pickup trucks.

Our friends at Cars.com dive deeper into the AWD vs. 4WD comparison, but here we’ll help you figure out whether you actually need one of these systems.

Advantages of AWD and 4WD

Here’s what you can expect to gain from an AWD or 4WD system:

  • Improved Traction: As mentioned earlier, AWD and 4WD vehicles have better traction than two-wheel-drive (2WD) vehicles. The added power to each wheel and optimized power distribution helps you avoid losing control or getting stuck in inclement weather. They also improve your ability to accelerate from a complete stop.
  • Resale Value: You’ll find that you can get more money for an AWD or 4WD vehicle, especially in areas where winters are harsh or heavy-duty vehicles are common.
  • Towing Ability: Because these systems generate more power, they allow for greater towing ability, especially on off-road surfaces.
  • Confidence: These systems give you more confidence while driving in inclement weather because of their improved ability to navigate poor conditions.

It’s important to remember, though, that these systems aren’t infallible. You should always drive cautiously in hazardous conditions and utilize important skills, such as driving on ice and freeing yourself from a snowbank.

Disadvantages of AWD and 4WD

Though their benefits are noticeable, especially in poor driving conditions, AWD and 4WD vehicles still come with some drawbacks:

  • Costs: Their higher resale values may be higher, but AWD and 4WD vehicles also cost more and typically require more maintenance due to their added complexities.
  • Fuel Economy: To deliver the added power that AWD and 4WD systems generate, they require greater fuel consumption. They also usually weigh more than 2WD vehicles, which adds to the reduced fuel economy.
  • 2WD Advancements: While they can’t match the benefits of AWD, 2WD systems, especially front-wheel drive, now employ traction control, stability control and antilock brake systems to help navigate less-than-ideal conditions that are milder in nature.

Should I Get AWD/4WD?

Drivers who live in areas that receive heavy annual snowfall, are surrounded by rural dirt roads or frequently tow heavy loads will likely need to add an AWD or 4WD option. However, if you’re looking to simply navigate milder winter conditions while driving primarily on paved roads, you can probably succeed with a snow-tire-equipped FWD vehicle and a cautious driving mentality.

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