AWD vs. 4WD in Snow: Which Is Better for Winter Driving?

Oct 13, 2020 2 min read

If you live somewhere with snowy and icy winters, you’ve likely considered getting a car that is reliable and effective during these winter months. So, which is better at keeping you safe and in control in the winter and what’s the difference?

All-wheel Drive

All-wheel drive powers all the wheels at the same time. Both the front and back wheels operate together. There are two types of all-wheel drive: full-time and part-time. Full-time all-wheel drive is always using four wheels; part-time is usually in two-wheel drive mode but can “turn on” all-wheel drive when additional traction is needed.

Both types of all-wheel drive do not require input from the driver. Some vehicle models do come with different driving modes like snow or ice mode, which is designed to optimize traction on snow or ice.

Full-time all-wheel drive always uses both the front and back axles. Having full-time all-wheel drive can improve handling on dry pavement and can help the vehicle use its full power. In slick road conditions, it provides additional traction which helps the driver continue to drive with increased safety and confidence.

Part-time all-wheel drive always provides torque on two of the wheels time. The system can either provide the torque to the front or back wheels depending on the make and model of the car.  When the system identifies slick road conditions that require additional traction, it will engage the other two wheels. Newer models use electronic sensors that inform the computer in the car on the amount of traction needed for safe driving.

Four-wheel Drive

When you think of four-wheel drive you may think of huge pickup trucks with big tires, a tow hook, or other heavy-duty additions. These trucks may have four-wheel drive, but they aren’t the only kind that would. Four-wheel drive is also popular in SUVs. Some may think that four-wheel drive implies that a car is designed for off-roading, but it can also mean a smooth and luxurious ride on regular roads. As opposed to all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive is designed more for rugged terrain, so it’s a little stronger and tougher.

Four-wheel drive also has full-time and part-time four-wheel drive. Full-time sends power to all four wheels and some may have the option for drivers to decide how the power is distributed through the axles. Part-time always supplies power to two of the wheels, usually the rear wheels. When it’s activated by the driver, the other two wheels start receiving power. In order to be completely in four-wheel drive, the driver has to shift a lever or push a button depending on the make and model of the car.

 It’s also common for four-wheel drive vehicles to be equipped with high and low ranges. The driver can select which range to operate in usually through a lever or switch. The low range provides maximum traction on off-roads, while the high range is the default setting for normal, everyday driving.  

Which Is Better for Winter Driving?

During the winter months, when ice and snow can quickly take over the roads, your traction is crucial. All-wheel drive systems can provide the power to all the wheels at the same time or they automatically engage torque to all the wheels. Typically, all-wheel drive is better for driving on snowy and icy roads because the driver doesn’t have to make any changes or use guesswork. But four-wheel drive is good option if you’re going to be driving in deeper snow or very extreme winter weather conditions. Four-wheel drive would be better if you had to encounter a snowdrift or an icy hill.

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive aren’t necessary competitors, it’s more about finding which fits better for your needs. If you live on a back road that isn’t plowed, a four-wheel drive may make more sense for your needs. If you’re in the city where roads are typically plowed but still slick, all-wheel drive may be your best bet.

Whether you choose all-wheel or four-wheel drive, make sure your auto is properly insured before winter weather hits. Contact your Farm Bureau agent to review your coverage today.

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