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AWD questions

Hi ~ I’ve been driving a van for 17 years! Ford then Toyota. One RWD,one FWD. Never had snow tires on either, just all season radials. For the most part I got to where I needed to be tho FWD handled snow much better.

I live in Maine and I’m ready to downsize. I keep my vehicles until they are well beyond 100,000 miles so reliability is a key.

I think I’d like to try an AWD. However, I’ve also heard AWD costs more maintenance wise. If so, in what way? Do you need snow tires with AWD? Does AWD handle (like if going into a slide, skid, etc.) differently than FWD? I know 4WD is something very different.

So with that said, if I decide to go with an AWD, any recommendations for a “soccer mom” ready to retire the van, wants a decent cargo space, prefers a hatch back to a trunk, and higher seat position than a car where your legs are more straight out. I have one teen left at home who will be learning to drive in about 3 years. Safety a huge factor in what I get. Don’t want huge, something smaller with decent gas mileage. Thank you in advance for any and all who offer up their opinions! Giving up a van after 17 years will be weird, but also kinda fun for a change I think! :wink:

Real winter tires are more important the the number of drive wheels. RWD/FWD with four winter tires is better than 4WD/AWD with “all” (read three) season tires. I’ve lived here in Colorado for 34 years and have driven 4WD/AWD/RWD/FWD vehicles in all sorts of winter conditions. The only advantage of 4WD/AWD is going up steep un-plowed snowy/icy slopes. AWD will accelerate quicker, however, it does nothing for stopping and very little for steering. Remember – FOUR winter tires.

If I lived in the mountains and commuted in the worst of winter conditions 4WD/AWD would be my first choice. RWD would be second and FWD last. FWD can be downright scary going down an icy slope as engine compression retards the front wheels and can cause the vehicle to switch ends. I also prefer a manual transmission for winter driving as it provides much more control than an automatic.


AWD is a lot more maintenance. Go to “search” and type in AWD and tires. You’ll get many posts where the owner of an AWD vehicle is asking if they really have to replace 4 tires because one went flat. The answer is yes and that means more money.

If you have done OK with FWD, get any FWD sedan, wagon, or crossover you like. AWD costs more money to buy, more money to maintain (lots more mechanical parts and fluids to change), and you’ll get 1 to 3 less mpg. Not worth the extra money and hassle, and I’ve owned a couple of AWD cars. The sales people will sell the benefits of AWD but downplay the extra costs.

AWD can help you going on snow and ice. It can’t help you from sliding when trying to stop or keep you from loosing control - stability). (Although some of the new computer controlled systems can help you from loosing directional control).

Your best bet in snow and ice are real winter tyres. They will help you stay on the road, help you stop faster and help you keep going.

[b] The really important factor is not the ability to keep the car moving in snow and ice, but your ability to control where the car is moving and the ability to stop it as needed.[/b]

I like “twotone’s” descriptive answer the best. Let me add that AWD IS NOT significantly more maintenance than 2wd IMO. Not when comparing Subarus I’ve had, my RAV and my daughter’s CRV which had NO additional maintenance or care beyond diff fluids and each pushed well into 200K miles. Nor is it according to CR.

Please consider that AWD may be MORE in need of winter tires than 2wd because of the added speed in slippery conditions you’re likely to accelerate to. There are actually many advantages, though slight, to awd even in summer driving over fwd but the price difference is not often worth it. One is heavy acceleration handling is better than in fwd. This is a non factor to 95% of us. Another is the increased higher speed handling capabilities.

When driving up hills in snow, you have BETTER turning capabilities than in fwd.
Accelerating in snow IS a safety factor too when done with discretion…try merging on snow covered roads.

Traction control in fwd has narrowed the advantage of awd over fwd though. So I’d make sure I really needed it before I’d consider it. We need it, but we live “off road” and do ice/snow every day on steep hills in the winter. Most of our friends, here in central Maine, do fine without.

But, when driving in a snow storm where you MUST go somewhere in safety and equipped with snow tires, I’ll take almost any AWD anytime over almost ANY fwd/rwd vehicle. The only exceptions would be where ground clearance was an added factor.

AWD vehicles depend on a complex system of gearboxes and differentials to work their magic…Because it’s all electronically controlled, any failures in the AWD system can be very expensive to fix. All these mechanical parts are heavy and increases drag which reduces fuel mileage…Tires must be purchased in sets of 4 and properly rotated to keep the AWD happy…

In Maine, half the cars on the road are Subaru’s, there must be a reason for that…But don’t expect stellar reliability from a Subaru…They are quirky and have their weak points…

I wholeheartedly agree. When making a purchase decision I would ask the dealer to look up the prices for the 15 and 30K mile services. The difference between AWD and 2WD can (but does not have to) be hundreds of dollars for every service. I remember owning a 2WD 4-cylinder Toyota 4Runner and saving 300$ for every service compared to the 4WD/V6 model. That kind of stuff can quickly add up. Then again, insurance cost may (or may not) be lower. it certainly makes sense to look at these kinds of things before making the purchasing decision.

If you’ve had good results with FWD, then stick with it, get a set of winter tires. I never got stuck (nor had any dangerous handling incidents) in 12 years of FWD use in Anchorage. AWD will be a bit better, but you bring on significant issues regarding having 4 matched tires (diameter) at all times, a problem if one gets damaged and has to be replaced.

I absolutely agree with everything you say, but would add that ALL car tires regardless of drive systems should be purchased in sets of 4 and properly rotated. All cars have their weak points as well.

The drive system problems I’ve had with 4wd have been because I beat on them off road where 2wd would fear to tread. It’s their extreme use I’ve found that often makes 4wd/awd prone to problems. I’ve never seen a fwd car break a drive train component snow plowing or blasting through snow drifts and/or deep mud while hurrying to work, going camping etc.; stuff our awd cars were expected to do.

Hi all ~ just want to say “thank you” for all the helpful opinions and advice. I’ve read and read and read until my eyes were crossed. This is a wonderful site for lots of personal opinions, advice, and a laugh or two as well. I appreciate all your words of wisdom and now feel better informed about some things I’d never even thought about. Knowledge is power…tho sometimes I admit it’s a little overwhelming! Sometimes the more questions I ask the more questions I have and I wish I could be the type that goes by “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” (or concern you) and live more like “ignorance is bliss”. But that’s just not me! I’ve discovered a new site I’m sure I will check in with often. Safe travels!

Ford Escape, Hyundai Tuscon or Santa Fe, Toyota Rav4, Mazda CX-7, Honda CR-V are all good choices for you to look at.
The CX-7 is a toss up because if you want AWD, you’ll get a turbo charged 4cyl engine, if you get FWD, you’ll have a choice between a normal engine and the turbo version as well. Fuel mileage will range from 20/28 for the normal I4, 18/25 for the FWD turbo 4 and 17/23 for the AWD version. This will probably be the most fun to drive, but I am a little biased since I own one. :stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks bscar for giving some specific choices to consider. Funny, I had all of them, as well as some Subaru’s on my list to try out except for the CX-7. Now you’ve got me interested!