Car Buying Tips

Is FWD or AWD Better In Snow?

By TheCarzingTeam November 2, 2021 | Car Buying Tips

Car Buying Tips

Weather conditions can complicate the driving experience. Drivers have probably experienced slipping and sliding while trying to navigate snow and ice. Rain can cause slipping, too, and impede traction…especially when the wheels hit a puddle.

Drivers might have the option to choose a vehicle with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) to improve traction and safety. Winter might be the most dreaded season as it leads to many slick, slippery and snowy roads. Is FWD or AWD better in snow? What about ice? Here’s what drivers need to know before engaging those tires to improve their driving experience.

Is All-Wheel Drive Good In Snow?

All-wheel  drive is called all-wheel drive for a reason. When drivers choose a car with AWD, all four tires receive power and are engaged. This allows for better traction in snow and ice. Drivers won’t feel the car sliding because all tires are used to grip the road.

AWD is good in snow and icy conditions. If a car offers AWD, the system can help improve the driving experience in wintry weather.

Is AWD Good in Snow Mixed with Rain?

Sometimes the winter or fall weather brings a mix of precipitation. It’s raining. Then it’s snowing. Then it’s rain mixed with snow. Is AWD good in snow mixed with rain? The answer is…yes! Those roads are going to be slick, and the temperature drops and it will turn to ice. Power up all those tires and choose cars with AWD…especially when living in areas with terrible winters! Drivers can gain better traction and, hopefully, feel a bit more secure when driving through the nasty rainy snow!

Even if the weather is just wet and rainy, AWD can provide better grip, traction and control on the road.

Is FWD or AWD Better In Snow?

Is FWD or AWD Better in Snow?

If all-wheel drive is great in snow, what about front-wheel drive? Is FWD or AWD better in snow? While all-wheel drive pulls power to all four wheels, front-wheel drive only powers up the front tires. As drivers could imagine, this isn’t the most efficient choice for snow when the car needs full traction.

However, FWD can provide additional traction in light snow, too…it’s just not the best option for heavy snow. Shift states that FWD vehicles are just fine for those in metro areas or places where the snow is light. Those living in areas where the wintry weather is a bit more dramatic should opt for cars with AWD. Unfortunately, AWD options are often more expensive than FWD…choosing AWD also lowers fuel efficiency.

What’s the Difference between AWD and 4WD?

Some cars offer AWD, others offer 4WD (four-wheel drive), so what’s the difference? If all-wheel drive pulls power to all four tires, isn’t that the same as 4WD? Not really. AWD cars drive great in snow, ice and other slippery conditions. However, drivers shouldn’t try to go off-roading in vehicles with AWD! That’s where 4WD differs…and reigns supreme.

Typically, drivers will see trucks, jeeps and other big vehicles offer 4WD. These are the vehicles that can handle crazy, rugged terrains. And beach conditions! Four-wheel drive vehicles are great at handling and gripping soft sand and even rocky roads…and mud, too! Of course, 4WD vehicles also can handle weather conditions like snow and ice.

In addition, Car and Driver explains that 4WD must be engaged by the driver. AWD or FWD might be engaged by the driver, too, but often the AWD system is just built-in.

Is RWD Good in Snow and Ice?

Rear-wheel drive (RWD) sends power to the back tires only. Is RWD a good choice for snow and ice? Unfortunately, RWD is often associated with “fish-tailing” issues during slick conditions. As the power is sent to the rear wheels, this causes the dreaded back slip when the truck or car is trying to navigate icy or snow. Pickup trucks often are equipped with RWD, and drivers might have resorted to adding weight to the truck bed to improve traction control.

However, according to an article on Cars.com, the issues with this particular drivetrain are improving. Still, RWD is not the best option for winter.

Is FWD or AWD Better In Snow?

Snow Tires for Additional Traction

While AWD and 4WD can help drivers navigate and manage snow and ice on the road, snow tires also can help. In areas where winter means heavier snow and icy conditions, snow tires can provide additional grip and security when road conditions are poor.

Snow tires feature different treads to help improve traction; some even offer studs. However, not all areas allow studded tires. Before investing in snow tires, drivers might want to do a bit of research to find out what tire is best for their area and their vehicle.

Other Tips for Navigating Wintry Roads

Many areas of the country will deal with snowy conditions and icy roads during the winter months. While AWD and snow tires can greatly improve traction and make the commute much less worrisome, the drivetrain and tires don’t solve all the issues. Other drivers aren’t always so careful, and driving during winter requires diligence on the road.

When conditions get slippery and snowy, drivers should stay off the road if possible. Morning and evening commutes might be especially long, as drivers are, hopefully, slowing down. If drivers don’t have to leave the house…stay home! If driving is unavoidable (work calls!), then take it slow. Keep a safe distance and be aware of surroundings. If possible, wait to leave until the plows have cleared streets and highways.  

Before winter hits, drivers should make sure their vehicle is ready to handle those icy and slick roads. Are wiper blades dull? Change them! Make sure tires have been rotated or replaced (if they are at the end of their life).

Make sure to have a winter emergency kit in the car. The Old Farmer’s Almanac advises that the emergency kit should include a flashlight (check the batteries), blankets (and other warm items like mittens, scarves, etc.), jumper cables, an ice scraper, water, safety lights (like road flares) and a medical kit, too. Keep a winter kit in each car. During hazardous wintry weather, it’s possible that drivers could be stuck or stranded. A kit allows drivers to have the basics in case of an emergency.

In addition to the Almanac’s recommendations, drivers also might wish to always keep a cell phone charger in their car, too. Non-perishable snacks also could be a great option for the kit…just in case.

Buying a New Car before Winter

Drivers who are on the hunt for a new car before winter might consider their drivetrain options. For individuals living in areas of the country that are often hit by icy weather and heavy snow, all-wheel drive might be the best option. However, drivers who only need to navigate some light snow might be better off selecting a vehicle with front-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive is its own separate drivetrain. And those who want to go off-roading, trek through tough terrain and maybe even drive on soft sandy beaches might opt for a vehicle with four-wheel drive. No matter what drivetrain drivers select to power those wheels, though, icy, wet and snowy conditions still require driving diligence. While AWD or 4WD can improve traction, drivers still need to exercise caution when navigating winter roads.

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