4WD vs AWD

  1. While I'm not quite in the market for a new car (need to graduate from nursing school and get a job first), today's big snow storm (that gave me a snow day from school -- yay!!!) made me start contemplating my new vehicle choices. I am tempted to get a vehicle with 4WD or AWD mainly so I have that extra bit of assurance that I can get to work in the snow. My current favorite vehicle is a Honda CR-V that comes with 4WD, but I don't know that I like that it's always engaged. I have heard that AWD may be more what I'm looking for, but I am quite interested in Hondas because of their reliability and the only AWD vehicle they seem to have is the Element, which (no offense to any fans) I think it absolutely hideous.

    Do you guys who live in snowy areas think 4WD or AWD on cars is worth the extra expense, and if so, which one is preferable for the simple task of getting where I need to go?
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  2. 9 Comments

  3. by   Katnip
    It depends on what you expect of it.

    I have AWD and love it, even though it doesn't snow that often. It's good for all kinds of wet weather too.

    A couple of things: 4WD/AWd does not help you stop better. It won't stop you on a dime when things are icy. I've seen too many tragic accidents because of this thought.

    It will help you get going and keep going when road conditions are bad. It can prevent you from getting stuck, or help you get unstuck better if you do get stuck. It may help you get through unplowed streets better than a regular car would.

    Front wheel drive cars tend to do pretty well on plowed roads. Don't buy a rear-wheel drive car for bad road conditions.
  4. by   Roy Fokker
    4WD = AWD. There is no "Vs".

    Cars basically come in three models:
    FWD: Front Wheel Drive. Power from the engine goes to the front two wheels (who also do the steering).
    RWD: Rear Wheel Drive. Power from the engine turns the rear wheels. The car is steered using the front wheels.
    AWD: All Wheel Drive (also known as 4 Wheel Drive). Power from the engine usually runs either the front or rear wheels, however with the use of differential gears, engine power can be routed to all 4 wheels during special conditions.

    1. It depends on how skilled and adept you are at driving in general.
    - A poor, unskilled or nervous driver in the best of cars will not be safe. I am pretty good driving both FWD and RWD in snowy conditions. Personally, I think the choice of transmission (manual over automatic) has a far greater impact than FWD/AWD. How well you control the transmission of power from the engine to the wheels can often mean the difference between a safe drive home over...

    2. It depends on what kind of weather conditions you usually deal with.
    - How often do you have to drive in sucky weather? I'd think someone in the NE sees a lot more snow and ice than someone here in the midwest (personal opinion and experience only). If you live out in the boonies and have to drive interstates for work... things like that. I personally wouldn't buy an AWD unless I'm living rural, my roads are not always good and I frequently go "off road". 4WD/AWD is usually more expensive to purchase and running it in AWD mode burns gasoline at a faster than usual rate. Maintainance is more tricky (especially drive train and transmission). As with purchase of any consumer durable - cost/benefit analysis is a must.

    3. Lastly - drive something you are comfortable driving. If you're used to driving FWD, stick to it. Don't switch abruptly unless you've had opportunity to practice. This actually goes for buying any new vehicle - FWD, AWD or RWD.

    AWD certainly improves traction under adverse road conditions - I guess it all boils down to "how much of an issue is it that I need to spend that much money on". If you see it happen 20 days in a given year, you're wasting money on an AWD.... FWD will do the job well enough. If you end up using AWD at least once a week or so, you should probably get it.


    cheers,

    PS: No matter what kind of car, your tires are vital. Poor tire condition can wreck even the best of cars. All that brilliant engine and snazzy electronics depends on poor, dumb friction between rubber and pavement. No matter what car you drive - take good care of your tires, your brakes and rotors.
    Last edit by Roy Fokker on Feb 13, '07
  5. by   Megsd
    Hmm. I was always told there was a difference between the two. Why are they advertised differently?

    I am not an expert snowy driver because I grew up in San Diego, but now live in snowy Ohio. We don't get a whole lot of snow, but my car (ford contour) has difficulty in snowy conditions sometimes, mainly because it's low to the ground. I'm a very cautious driver in the snow, so stopping is not a big worry for me. I'm more concerned about going. My boyfriend (a firefighter) recently bought a truck with 4WD and raves about it. As everyone else skidded on the roads this morning, he said he didn't lose traction once, the whole way home. I know that no car will always keep you 100% safe in weather conditions, but I would like to boost my chances if it's practical and useful to do so.
  6. by   mshultz
    My understanding is that 4WD vehicles do not have a center differential. Therefore, they can only be put into 4WD (which you have to do manually) during low traction situations.

    AWD vehicles have a center differential and either provide power to both axles at all times, and/or automatically shift power to the other axle as needed for traction. In my job, I get to drive various 4WD and AWD vehicles. I prefer AWD because of the better traction under normal conditions. 4WD pickups are only 2WD, and have poor traction, until you actually shift into 4WD.

    My Focus wagon has antilock brakes and traction control, which give it an edge over vehicles without these options. However, traction control is not as good as AWD, because you still only have power going to one axle.

    Ground clearance is a concern, as once the snow becomes deep enough to start lifting the vehicle, you are stuck until you have shovelled out all the snow underneath the car. I have had to do this in my driveway in the past, and it is a slow, hard job when the vehicle has low ground clearance.

    In snowy Ohio, you need to replace your tires when they are only half worn out. A FWD (Front Wheel Drive) vehicle with front tires that have more tread than the back tires tends to spin out, especially if you let off the gas (or worse yet, hit the brakes) when you are cornering. Also, performance tires, and tires with tread that looks like little triangles, are poor in snow. I prefer premium grade Michelin all-weather tires. However, even on a subcompact, you will not get much change out of a 500 dollar bill.

    Some people prefer manual transmissions, but I guess I lack the necessary talent. When stuck with a manual transmission, if I keep engine rpms low enough to minimize spinning, as soon as the tires start to hook up, the engine stalls.

    Garrison Keillor says that the logical result of Four Wheel Drive (either type) is getting stuck in deeper snow. I think there is some degree of truth to this.
  7. by   traumaRUs
    I gotta put a bid in for the Subaru. I have a 2005 Outback and it is so cool - goes everywhere and I live in central IL where we currently have 8 inches of the white stuff on the ground, blowing and drifting too. This is the second Subaru that I have owned. I have 34,000 miles on it and I've had it for 16 months! I drive a lot in my job. The other one that I owned was a 1996 Legacy and I loved it too. They are AWD, get around just great.

    I must add that I totallly agree with Roy too that you have to have some skill to drive in the snow. I lived in Alaska for two years and drove a Blazer than but that was 20 years ago too.

    Anyway, take care.
  8. by   bethin
    Here's an explanation:

    4WD - 4WD is a part-time system, meaning the car drives on two wheels during regular use and then you must manually engage all four wheels when more traction is needed. This can be by flipping a switch inside of the vehicle. 4WD may also have a special low range for difficult off-road conditions There is also full-time 4WD, which is similar to AWD, but may still have the special low range. You can't drive a part time system on dry roads - you will ruin it.

    AWD - This system requires minimal driver participation. In most cases, AWD automatically engages when more traction is necessary.

    If you live in an area where you get alot of snow, I think 4WD or AWD is important. If not, invest in an industrial strength shovel.
  9. by   Megsd
    Quote from traumaRUs
    I gotta put a bid in for the Subaru. I have a 2005 Outback and it is so cool - goes everywhere and I live in central IL where we currently have 8 inches of the white stuff on the ground, blowing and drifting too. This is the second Subaru that I have owned. I have 34,000 miles on it and I've had it for 16 months! I drive a lot in my job. The other one that I owned was a 1996 Legacy and I loved it too. They are AWD, get around just great.

    I must add that I totallly agree with Roy too that you have to have some skill to drive in the snow. I lived in Alaska for two years and drove a Blazer than but that was 20 years ago too.

    Anyway, take care.
    My dad always raves about subarus, and the more I look at them, the more I like them too. With the outback, do you find that you have any trouble with ground clearance? They don't look too low to the ground, which is encouraging, and they seem to be around my price range. How's the gas mileage on those, out of curiosity?
  10. by   pannie
    I drive an AWD and love it. I deal with sand at the beach and once in a great while, ice here at home. We have 4WD on our Z71 but I don't always feel very confident switching it. Mine is a Sienna and it doesn't sound like you need that big of a vehicle. Our kids got Suburu's as first cars and they are sturdy and dependable.
  11. by   CrufflerJJ
    Quote from Megsd
    My dad always raves about subarus, and the more I look at them, the more I like them too. With the outback, do you find that you have any trouble with ground clearance? They don't look too low to the ground, which is encouraging, and they seem to be around my price range. How's the gas mileage on those, out of curiosity?
    My wife has a 1999 Subaru Outback wagon, and I've got a 2003 Subaru Impreza WRX (turbo) wagon. The AWD is EXCELLENT in snow. Good tires do make a difference in snow/ice. The Outback stock tires were good on snow, but the WRX stock tires sucked pretty bad. I ended up getting a second set of tires/rims for the WRX through www.tirerack.com. Mileage on both vehicles runs around 23-24 MPG.

    I think the Outback has more ground clearance than my WRX, but in "normal" Ohio snow conditions, it doesn't make that much difference.

    My gut feel is that vehicle reliability with the Subies isn't quite up to the level of Honda or Toyota. I've only been in one Subaru assembly plant in Japan, and multiple Honda plants in Japan & the US, but base this statement on what we've seen with our two Subaru vehicles.

    My wife's Outback wagon was reliable until it blew an engine head gasket ($2000 repair) at around 90,000 miles. My WRX had some problems from the "get-go". Nothing too major, but minor things like failures to start at 0 F, air conditioning freezing up in humid weather, seat mounting bolts coming loose, gasoline leak & smell when ambient temperature is below 15 F, squeaking windows,warped brake rotors,.... Subaru, of course, says "problems...what problems????", and expects the consumer to pay for repairs. Not quite what I'd expect from a reputable manufacturer.

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