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AWD vs. 4WD

I live in New England and will be needing a car shortly. My question is..which is better in the snow, AWD or 4WD? I am thinking it will be 4WD but interested in hearing from others on the subject.


  • edited August 2009
    In my opinion AWD is superior on snow-covered roads. 4WD is primarily for off-road applications.

    You should be aware that not all AWD systems are the same, and some are better than others. The least effective, part-time AWD systems offer minimal advantages over 2WD.

    You should also be aware that having AWD or 4WD can get you into a lot of trouble if you become overconfident in the vehicles abilities. These systems will get you moving when the roads are slippery, but they do nothing to help you steer or stop. We see lots of 4WD and AWD vehicles in ditches because their drivers assumed they could ignore the laws of physics.

    The best thing you can do for winter driving, regardless of vehicle type, is to install FOUR winter tires. Doing so may eliminate the need for either AWD or 4WD in winter.
  • edited August 2009
    Thanks for the reply. I very much agree that no matter what kind of vehicle you have it doesn't make you superman on the roads. Caution is always needed.
  • edited August 2009
    Are there any particular vehicles you're interested in?
  • edited August 2009
    Both of my daughters just purchased new Ford Escapes and love them. However, I am looking at a 75 mile a day work commute. Although I would like the escape, just don't thing the gas mileage will work. Heard an ad the other day for a Subura Legacy AWD sedan and thought I would check that out.
    Have to say at this point I am pretty open.
  • edited August 2009
    I've owned both AWD and 4WD vehicles. I think AWD is a bit better in snow. Balance that with 4WD systems are sturdier which means less finicky about tires and more towing capacity.

    If towing and high load capacity isn't an issue for you, AWD performs better in the snow. If you have a flat tire and the tire needs to be replaced; with AWD you should replace all four tires and with 4WD just the 2 tires on the same axle. If you run a new tire with 3 older tires on an AWD car you risk multi thousand dollar repairs from a damaged transfer case.

    I find good snow tires on FWD or RWD are fine for areas with significant snow. Many who live in snow country feel all season tires are sufficent with FWD. Myself I have a 4WD SUV now for towing capacity. My other cars have snow tires and are fine in the snow and I live in the mountains of PA.

    While AWD cars are very good in the snow I find the cost of ownership isn't worth the benefit. The AWD car gets 1-3 mpg less fuel economy over the life of the car. The drivetrain parts are expensive to repair when they go bad. You have more fluids to replace adding to maintenance costs. Tire replacement can add significantly to the costs. Since most of this is true for 4WD too, you really need to be sure you need AWD or 4WD before signing on for the added costs.

    The last 10 years in the USA has seen a huge increase in sales of AWD and 4WD cars and trucks. About 90% of these vehicles would deliver just as good service to their owners if they were FWD or RWD. Just because you live in New England doesn't mean you need AWD or FWD. If it is what you want, then go for either. Focus on the size and style of vehicle you want first and AWD or 4WD is a secondary consideration.
  • edited August 2009
    A reliable choice RAV AWD ... been driving in new england snow country VT and ME for more than 10 years with RAV's and never had any problems...of course good driving habits and tires helps as well....
  • edited August 2009
    The Subaru AWD system is one of the most sophisticated on the market, and Subarus get excellent reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. I'm sure you see lots of Subarus on the roads in New England. They are popular cars anywhere it snows a lot.

    I own an older Legacy AWD station wagon and a 4WD Ford Ranger. I prefer driving the Legacy when there's snow on the ground.

    Even though the Legacy is AWD, I still put winter tires on it when the weather turns cold. The tires make a huge improvement in winter traction. I never worry about getting where I'm going in that car.

    The only disadvantage I can think of with AWD is the need for carefully matched tires. You can't just replace one or two. All four tires have to be as closely matched as possible to avoid damage to the AWD system. Routine tire rotation is all that's normally needed to keep the tires matching.

    There is a bit more maintenance expense with AWD or 4WD than 2WD, but that is true no matter what brand you are looking at.

    There are lots of nice vehicles out there. Have fun shopping.
  • edited August 2009
    If you've never owned 4wd or awd, be aware that AWD will require extra attention from the owner about their tires. Subarus are notorious for being quite picky with mismatched tires; meaning, if you have a blow out, you'll either have to get 4 new tires, or have the new tire shaved to match the others. You'll also have to make sure you don't have different brands/treads as well, this will also affect the drivetrain components and can lead to an expensive repair down the road.
  • edited August 2009
    The rule I go by is "4WD takes you off the road, AWD keeps you on it"
  • edited August 2009
    My rule is neither 4WD or AWD will keep you on the road, but both will help get you back on. Real WINTER tyres will help with both.
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