AWD, 4WD and winter tires: What’s the difference, and which is best?

All of the above sound like good ideas, but which is best for winter driving? Let’s find out.

All-wheel Drive

Vehicles with all-wheel drive transmit power to all four wheels, in some cases to each one individually. All-wheel drive fixes some of the options associated with four-wheel and rear-wheel drive- AWD systems need no operator input to function and can automatically redistribute power to the front or rear wheels depending on traction conditions. It also improves handling on dry roads but isn’t designed for off-road treks.

AWD is an excellent option for those living in snow belt states. For many drivers, the only downside is poorer fuel economy than four-wheel drive cars, mostly due to added weight.

Four-wheel Drive

Unlike all-wheel drive, drivers with 4WD must select the proper mode. This versatility allowed by the high or low 4WD range are good for deep snow and off-roading, or for those who live in remote and rural areas that aren’t plowed regularly. The low range makes it possible to tackle boulders, steep hills, and thick mud while the high range gives you the extra traction and power needed in precarious weather.

A big downside of four-wheel drive is that it’s not automatic. Drivers must remember to disengage it when driving on dry, paved roads to prevent damage the 4WD system components. 4WD systems also add considerable weight, which hurts fuel economy, and many systems eventually suffer the same traction issues as 2WD drive vehicles.

Winter Tires

Winter tires can be a major improvement from regular and all-season tires. Winter tires are softer and more pliable which provides more grip in the cold. Their tread blocks are designed to dig into the snow and spit out the back as the wheels rotate, while their sipes (razor-thin slits in the rubber) act as tiny pumps to deliver traction on ice. Winter tires will have a special, three-peak mountain and snowflake symbol molded into the sidewall issued by the Rubber Manufacturers Association which identifies tires that meet the required performance in snow testing.

These are a great option for residents of the snow belt, and of transition states that tend to get a lot of mud and slush. If you do opt for winter tires, make sure to get four tires for maximum safety and performance.

At V&F

…we strive to provide our customer a well-rounded knowledge of all things automotive.

Since 1988, our family owned and operated service center has been providing top quality auto repair services to Agawam, Feeding Hills, Southwick, West Springfield and the surrounding Massachusetts communities. If your car needs maintenance or repair before this winter season, call us at (413)314-2280 or schedule an appointment online.

Written by Nicole Palange

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