During the winter driving season you want traction. This is one reason why nearly 30% of all vehicles sold in the US are 4-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Which one is better for your situation? Let’s find out.

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When Front Wheel Drive Is Better

Before you rush out to buy an AWD or 4WD vehicle, consider front wheel drive. If you live in an area that doesn’t see much snow, then front wheel drive is probably sufficient. Unless you like to do serious off-roading, front wheel drive cars do well on any normal road surface. In fact, a front wheel drive car with snow tires may even do better than an AWD vehicle with all season treads.

4-Wheel Drive

If you do any dirt road adventuring, then you need 4WD hands down. Four-wheel drive offers the most traction since all 4 wheels are engaged at once. 4WD vehicles come in a variety of configurations.

Full time 4WD means that all 4 wheels drive at all times. Automatic 4WD is really 2-wheel drive until the wheels slip – then the other wheels automatically kick in. Part time 4WD means you have to push a button to engage all 4 wheels, otherwise it’s 2WD. Many 4WD vehicles also come with a low gear setting for even more traction to get out of ruts.

All-Wheel Drive

AWD set ups can vary also. For example, vehicles some are front wheel drive until the road gets slick and traction is transferred to the rear. Conversely, some performance cars are rear wheel drive and shift traction to the front when needed. Other systems, like Subaru, have 20% of the rear wheels working at all times. With this type of AWD system, more power gets transferred to the back if slippage is detected.

Which One Is Best For You?

Here are some scenarios and the corresponding ideal drive choice for each:

  • Heavy snow areas or serious off road driving – 4WD
  • Variable conditions – AWD
  • Occasional snowfall, no off road – front wheel drive with snow tires or AWD

Fuel Economy Differences

Gas mileage depends on many factors such as engine type, aerodynamics, and type of driving.

But we can determine some general mileage differences between front, all, and four-wheel drive autos.

Overall, front wheel drive vehicles get the best gas mileage. Next best are AWD models that are 100% front wheel drive in normal driving conditions. 4WD vehicles are the biggest gas guzzlers, especially those that are full time 4WD.

None Are Supercars

Don’t get fooled. No car or truck is invincible in bad weather. Even full time 4WD models are no better than any other vehicle when braking or cornering on slick surfaces. Drivetrain differences only make a difference when accelerating or climbing. Good snow tires help some when stopping, but it still pays to be extra careful when the roads get slick.

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