Does AWD Have a Downside?

Nowadays it seems a car/truck/SUV must be all-wheel-drive. But I’ve heard a few hints that AWD has a downside: namely that you must replace ALL tires whenever any ONE tire is ruined for any reason. Is this true? If yes, it’s a showstopper for me to consider buying an AWD vehicle.

Yes. You do have to replace all the tires if one is ruined.

Yes, it true. Each tire must have the same diameter or else the differentials get premature wear. AWD also costs you in gas mileage.

Obviously the downsides are more weight and added mechanical complexity compared with a 2WD vehicle, there’s also a corresponding fuel economy hit. The tire thing is true on some models, some AWD systems are more sensitive to this than others.

The fuel mileage loss was more something of the past. The penalty on modern AWD is about 0-2 MPG. For example the new 2010 Subaru Legacy with AWD is now upsized to a Honda Accord/Toyota Camry size and bests the highway MPG of Camry and gets the same as an Accord.

The hit is neglible IMHO if you research.

I was afraid it was true that one must replace ALL tires. Bummer.
Is it worth the extra up-front cost and extra mechanical complexity and less fuel mileage and extra maintenance costs for AWD? I live in an area with little snow and if I am ever off-road it’s because I took the wrong turn.
Are AWD vehicles really safer?

The tires must be the same size but that does not mean you have to replace ALL of them. If the other tires are in decent shape, you can have the new tire shaved down to match the others. Obviously, there is a point where this does not make economical sense but by then, you probably needed all new tires anyway.

I would think your comprehensive insurance premiums would be more.

Also, the extra mechanical components could eventually need repair.

If you have little snow, the advantages of AWD are not that great over FWD, at least to me. The costs ($, weight, complexity/repairs) outweigh the advantages.

Are AWD vehicles really safer?

That is THE question, isn’t it? That question has been debated here ad nauseam in many threads, so you are unlikely to find a consensus.

My take on the issue is that it is probably safer, but based on your conditions, it doesn’t add enough safety to be worth it. In my opinion, if you don’t drive off road or in snowy un-plowed conditions, the greatest benefit of AWD comes on the track as you slide around corners.

Why would insurance premiums be higher with AWD?

"…advantages of AWD are not that great over FWD…"
This is the exact opinion I am coming around to. I am a fan of FWD and will likely stay with that configuration in the future.
Thx, folks for the discussion. It has helped.

Where do you live and what do you like to do that requires getting about in rough weather? It makes a large difference whether AWD is “worth it”.

I cannot get to my family’s ski house without AWD unless we pay $1000/year to get our road sanded and better plowed.

Compared to what ?

Are you asking ; AWD vs two wheel( rear )drive ? AWD vs front wheel drive ? or AWD vs 4x4 ?

AWD vs 4x4 are different and it greatly depends on what you expect it to do for you. I have one of each.

my road has a 10 degree plus incline and with a FWD Toyota in snow I would have some wheel spin…with AWD RAV I never have any wheel spin …same type of tire and same driver …

With little or snow, I would be looking for rear wheel drive.

It is very likely traction control would have resolved this issue without needing AWD. Traction control is standard on the new Rav4, and I am willing to bet your Rav4 has it too. What year’s model is yours?

AWD / 4WD vehicles ALWAYS carry the burden of higher maintenance costs especially as the miles pile up…They weigh more than a comparable 2wd vehicle so all things being equal, they MUST pay a mileage penalty.

They are very popular because they give lower-skill drivers a false sense of security.
“Yes, I know it cost $3000 more, but with the children, I just feel safer driving it”…Yes ma’am, you are absolutely right. For a small additional charge, you can also have “Stability Control”, a feature you might really like…

The weight factor between AWD and FWD is usually only 100-200lbs with efficient modern designs. For example the Toyota Venza weighs a meager 100lbs more with AWD. The penalty is a palty 1 mpg. Old theory on “weight” does not hold water.

"…Yes ma’am, you are absolutely right. For a small additional charge, you can also have “Stability Control”, a feature you might really like…

I’ve heard precisely this comment (altho I’m not a woman) from salespersons. However, when I state rather firmly that I’m interested only in a 2WD system, they never mention the supposed safety issue again. I take that to mean they’re more interested in the sale than in the future safety of the customer.