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Advantages/Disadvantages of AWD vs. FWD vs. etc, etc

So, I need a new car. I drive a lot (800 miles round trip some weekends), ski and drive through mountain passes in the winter. I’d like to hear folks thoughts on small vehicles (RAV4 size or smaller) with or without AWD. My last car was quite convenient with AWD, but I’m not sure it’s all that necessary. Thoughts? Thanks!

AWD systems are not all the same. Some are better than others, but a FWD vehicle with winter tires will often go anyplace an AWD vehicle can go. I think tires make a bigger difference in winter driving than whether or not you have AWD.

I like my AWD Subaru in the winter, but I’m not sure I will replace it with another AWD vehicle since snow doesn’t stay on the roads very long in my area. In addition, AWD increases maintenance costs and decreases fuel mileage.

Perhaps if we knew what your last AWD car was it would help.

AWD advantages; good traction in all kinds of weather

AWD disadvantages:more expesnive to buy, uses more fuel, higher maintenance and repair costs, Tires need to be exact same size, may ned 4 new ones if one destoyed, without good winter tires, not much better than normal FWD.

Standard FWD (Front Wheel Drive)

Advantages: Less expensive to buy, easier on gas, less expensive to maintain and repair, with good winter tires has adequate traction in nearly all situations. If one tire goes flat and need replacing, need only buy one new one.

Disadvantages: In rare circumstances, has insufficient traction.

We live near the Rocky Mountains and belong to a hiking and skiing/snowshoeing club. There are several Subaru owners, some SUV owners, but the majority have standard FWD cars or minivans. No one owns a pickup truck. And no one have ever not made it to the slopes because of their vehicle! These have the worst traction (pickup trucks).

AWD is expensive to buy and it CAN be expensive to maintain…Fuel mileage is reduced…A FWD vehicle equipped with decent tires, winter tires in some cases, will get the job done 98% of the time. So if covering that last 2% of driving situations where a little more traction is needed is worth the added cost of AWD, then you must figure that out for yourself…

If you’re used to AWD, and drive in those conditions, I’d stick with AWD. Worth it to me.

f you’re used to AWD, and drive in those conditions, I’d stick with AWD. Worth it to me.
I agree. We debate this all of the time and it really comes down to how much your willing to give up in initial cost, a little extra maintenance, and a little loss in fuel economy to realize the benefits with NO LOSS TO RELIABILITY. If you need help with your decision, borrow a fwd car and drive in in the conditions you took your awd car. That will scare you back into awd and realize how off base some of the advice here is.

Mountain driving needs a system that distributes more than 50% of the power to the rear when needed and has a center lock. That includes some Toyotas and all Subarus which seem to do it the best, and excludes many others including many Hondas. Look for one with these features. Remember…FWD even with good tires, is really poor going up grades in snow !!! Only awd will do safely.

“Caddyman” I respect your judgment 98% of the time…on this issue, I’ll meet you at high noon on OP’s mountain pass any snowy January. You bring your FWD what ever with snows, I’ll bring my awd whatever with snow tires as well.

Excuse the poor camera/camerawork; this is the drive I use daily…similar to mountain road. For your reference OP. FWD does not work.

My previous car was a Toyota RAV4 (and my sister owns a Subaru Forester). Both cars are encountering major (transmission, rear differential, etc., etc.) problems at 120K or less. We both like the AWD option, but are really trying to decide if it’s really necessary/worth it. I guess I’m wondering if the extra cost (and apparently lower reliability) is worth it, if I can still get to the mountain with a FWD car. Thanks so much for you input!

That’s highly unusual for both cars. It usually occurs when you use them for what they were not intended, going off road conditions, which should never be done in an awd car.

Yes, I know. We both treat our cars like gold–regular maintenance, etc.

I used to go skiing at Arapaho Basin, which required a two-way trip over Loveland Pass (12,000’)(Colorado) in a Triumph TR-3…Thousands of other people made this same trip in RWD cars… Then, a handful of people drove (put up with) 4wd Jeeps and Scouts. Oh, sometimes you had to chain up, all part of the fun!

Few AWD vehicles make it past 120K miles without some wallet-busting repair calamity…

My thought is, OP’s used to AWD in snow now, so he may be (unpleasantly) surprised with a different set up when he least expects it, like an emergency situation.

In view of the problems you have had with 2 of the best vehicles with AWD, you may not be the right type of owners for these complex machines. Those in our outdoors club having problems with their Subarus are non technical types who don’t realize the extreme care these vehicles need, and the attention that needs to be paid to frequent fluid changes, tire size and wear, among things.

In another post we had a person with a Subaru who damaged a tire and kept driving on the mini spare. This is guaranteed to bring on $2500 worth of repairs, unless the AWD system is pro-actively disabled, as per Subaru’s instructions.

Other posters argue that with good winter tires you will be able to get to your favorite ski hills and drive in all sorts of weather with just a good FWD vehicle with good WINTER TIRES. We live near the Rocky Mountainms and have never felt the need for AWD.

Dagosa; good segment. If you drive ALL WINTER in this type of stuff, I would have an AWD. However, I grew up in this type of country and have seldom been stuck, even with a pickup (good snows, some weight in the back).

My rear drive Caprice with positraction and good winter tires walked through this stuff easily. It was our “ski car” for a long time. Both our FWD cars with Michelin X-ICE winter tires do OK as well.

In deep snow, ground clearance becomes an issue. A FWD-only SUV type vehicle like the HOnda CRV, RAV 4, Toyota Matrix would do well.

Just remember, some places (like CA) REQUIRE chains at certain times and places unless you have AWD or four-wheel drive. So if you get a two-wheel drive vehicle, make sure it takes snow chains (some don’t), or you’ll be going through what I’m going through right now with my Mazda6

Agree, I understand on the Donner Pass heading to Nevada from San Francisco it’s required to have chains in the winter IF the weather is bad.

Exactly. My car just spent two weeks in Reno because the weather was so bad I was unable to make it through Donner Pass (I-80) without chains. I had to come home on the train and then go back to Reno when the weather was good to retrieve my car.

But Caddy; that’s back when men were men and women were glad of it…for now, the average woos needs awd.

For me, the test for needing awd/4wd is pretty simple. If anywhere on your trip, you regularly encounter hills that in slippery ice/snow/deep snow conditions you can’t start from a dead stop going up hill with the vehicle you have with snow tires…you need AWD/4wd. If you need a run for the hill, you’re unsafe with fwd as any corner you may encounter going up will cause you to loose steerage as the front wheels spin. Traction control makes it worse as it slows you down, loosing momentum. You want to back down a half mile hill and try again ? That’s as simple a test question as you can get OP.
If you had awd, you probably never had to think of it. If you get fwd, be prepared for some white knuckle experiences.

The mountains are tough on transmissions no matter what drive system you have. I favor a Hugh Jass pickup truck with 4WD but I have had no AWD vehicles.

Saab won winter rallies for years with front wheel drive,of course they knew how to drive in the winter. I watched your video and the road wouldn’t bother my minivan. I used to drive tractor trailer in much worse conditions than that and they can have lousy traction.