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I am looking for a new car for winter driving. With ABS and traction and stability control, would I still need AWD?
<br/> I can't decide. (Note: my current car does not even have ABS.)


  • edited September 2010

    A very important consideration is the vehicle's tires. All of the devices that you mentioned are very effective, but the only link that any of them have to a slippery winter road surface is 4 small patches of rubber making contact with the roadway.

    One of the big myths is the concept of an "all-season" tire. Because of the inherent compromises in tire tread design, it is not currently possible to make a tire that is equally effective in all weather conditions. Because winter road conditions exist for only part of the year, so-called "all-season" tires are biased toward good performance on dry roads and rainy roads, with winter traction being a secondary consideration. The result is that drivers who rely on all-season tires in the winter actually have far less traction for starting, turning, and STOPPING than they think they do.

    What is the bottom line of all of my blather? If you really want to be able to drive with as much safety as possible on slick winter roads, you should do two things:

    >Buy a set of 4 Winter tires (the term "snow tire" is now archaic) on their own dedicated set of steel wheels.
    >Even with those winter tires, ABS, traction control, stability control, and--possibly--AWD, make sure that you drive more slowly than you usually do and be sure to allow VERY long following distances between you and the car in front of you.

    My vehicle has ABS and traction control and stability control and AWD, and I still mount a set of Michelin X-Ice tires during the winter. I always find it amazing to see how many Blazers, Jeeps, Explorers and other AWD vehicles are in a ditch, upside-down, while I motor safely past them with my winter tire-equipped vehicle.

  • edited September 2010
    If you do a lot of off-road driving, or drive in deep snow, I would get the AWD. If you only drive on paved plowed roads, I don't think you will need AWD. In any case, make sure you have good winter tires.
  • edited September 2010
    AWD is superior to FWD or RWD cars equipped with ABS, traction, and stability control. Of course the AWD car has ABS, traction, and stability control too.

    IF, you live on a mountain and encounter lots of difficult snow conditions then get AWD. If you live in the other 95% of snow country you will do fine with FWD if you put good winter tires on all 4 wheels.

    I would rather drive a FWD car with winter tires than an AWD with the all season tires that come on the car. To me the tires are more critical than AWD or FWD. If I lived in an area where I needed AWD I would also put winter tires on the AWD car. If you have AWD and winter tires you can deal with just about anything as long as you can see where you are going.

    The main reason NOT to get AWD is the whole drive train is much more complex and will require more repairs and maintenance; as in more expensive to own. In fact, AWD can be much more expensive. If you have one tire go flat that can't be patched you have to buy 4 new tires. Mismatch tires will kill an AWD system and cost thousands of dollars to repair. So, even though AWD is better don't get it unless you really - REALLY need it. Most of the time it will just cost you about 2 mpg less fuel economy, increase your repair and maintenance costs, and add $2,000 or so to the price of the car.
  • edited September 2010
    Based on my experience with my 2000 Blazer 4wd, tires make all the difference. I had a set of Uniroyal all season tires that were barely adequate in the snow in 4wd. My 88 Beretta (fwd) with good all season tires would have run circles around it.

    Those tires were replaced with Firestone Destination LE's. I believe the Firestone's were snow rated. The first time I drove in snow (9") with the new tires, I was halfway to work before I noticed the Blazer was still in 2wd, the snow traction was that good.

    This last winter in South Jersey was one of the worst in years. Even with 30k on the Firestone's, I felt comfortable driving in the snow. The Blazer has ABS, but I try to drive conservatively so as not to engage it.

    Ed B.
  • edited September 2010
    What conditions do you expect to drive in? If you live on a back road in snow country, then AWD is probably a good idea. If you live in a typical northern city and you can wait for the plows most of the time, then FWD with winter tires should be fine.

    You said you're scared of winter driving. Are you new to it? If so, make sure to practice a lot in empty parking lots when the snow comes.
  • edited September 2010
    Winter tires will make a bigger difference than any of the systems you mention.

    Without traction, none of them mean much, and you can't create traction where there isn't any.

    Just about any vehicle with proper winter tires can be driven in most winter conditions. If you're trying to travel through severe winter conditions you're asking more than these systems were designed to handle.

    Install four winter tires, regardless of the vehicle you're driving.
  • edited September 2010
    What are you currently driving?

    As everyone has already said, good, new, winter tires are the single best thing you can do for winter driving. As McP said, most cars on most roads will do fine with a good set of winter tires.

    Note in my statement I said "new". Worn down winter tires are no better than summer tires, and I'd rather have a set of all-season tires with plenty of tread than a set of worn out winter tires any day. Too many people think that because they have winter tires on they're fine, even though the tires are almost completely worn out.

    In short, the condition of the tires are as important as the type.
  • edited September 2010
    Thank you.
    Okay, once I get a good set of winter tires then I would not need AWD for driving on plowed road. This is how I understand your answer which i greatly appreciate.
    I currently drive a Mazda3 which is terrible in any inclement weather. I have also had some "unable to diagnose" problems that have made me uneasy in the past year. I am not new to winter driving but since this past year I feel as though I need to drive a tank.
  • edited September 2010
    I don't mean to go against what VDC says, because he gives very good advice all over this forum.

    But I'll tell you - you do not need separate "winter" tires to drive on a plowed road. A *good* all season will be fine, assuming you don't drive like an idiot, and take his other advice by slowing down and keeping nice, long following distances. In fact, some winter tires, like Blizzaks, lose their phenomenal grip very quickly if you drive them on regular pavement, which means you either take them back off once the plows go through, or you wear away the grip layer and end up with a regular tire.

    If you live somewhere like a village on top of the Rockies, then winter tires are a good idea, but if you're in the flattened north, they're helpful, but not completely necessary.

  • edited September 2010
    amhof59, please count this as one vote against what shadowfax has said above. Even on plowed roads, when they are frozen, I think you would be better off on a good set of winter tires.
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