Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Is AWD necessary?

I am looking at a 2004 Honday Odyssey. I drive weekly between Salida, CO (7000 feet elevation) to Denver (2.5 hours). Weather can get tricky and I have to go over a few mountain passes. He thinks I have to have AWD or 4WD. Is he right, or is front wheel drive sufficient? What if I add snow tires?

Most important would be winter tyres. Winter tyres will not only help you get up the pass, but they will also help you stay on the road and to slow down on the way down. 4WD and AWD do nothing to help you stop or to keep you on the road.

How important is it that you drive the pass on a specific day.  Those passes generally clear up after a day or two.  If you can delay your trips when the weather is really bad, I doubt if you "need" AWD or 4WD.  

Remember your life depends on being able to stop, since AWD or 4WD is not going to help you stop or keep you on the road ?..  Well you make your decision what your life is worth.  

Note: have you considered chains?

AWD or 4WD would definitely be an advantage for you. No matter what you choose, you should have good winter tires on all four corners with plenty of tread.

No, AWD is not necessary.

A FWD Odyssey with winter tires is better than an AWD Odyssey with all season tires or standard tires. Even with AWD winter tires are important in the conditions you describe.

Bottom line the winter tires are more important than AWD.

AWD mini-vans have a tremendous increase in the degree of difficulty associated with repairs that are simple on a non AWD vehicle and they also have a greatly increased cost associated with these repairs. Can of worms in my opinion.If you really need AWD get 4WD.

Having lived in the snow for two decades, I would disagree with Mr Meehan: four wheel drive is a necessity if you live in snow country. Yes, there are still a few curmudgeons who say “Front wheel drive is just as good! Just put on snow tyres!”… But, the reality is this: in blizzard conditions, a 4WD with snow tyres will get you to your destination, safely and securely. Chains are terrible: they tend to break, or get “thrown” off your wheel, leaving you with zed for traction. Spend the extra money: get a Subaru or other 4WD vehicle, and you will NEVER again worry whilst traveling in bad weather, whether it be snow or rain.

GMC Sierra extended cab with 4WD is a good bet. It has a long wheelbase which will keep you out of a lot of trouble on a slick highway and especially in slush or half-packed snow. You want snow tires on it.

Avoid the SUV’s if you have to drive on highways. There is always one that runs off the road on Rt. 295 between Augusta and Portland Me. Under some conditions, they are very hard to handle. When the 45 MPH signs are flashing, the SUV’s should keep to the limit and not try to keep up with the other speeders. The more distance between front and rear wheels, the better it is for handling at legal highway speeds.

We have a big pothole near home and what type of vehicle had trouble? An SUV. Not only did it have trouble, it flipped over. Every year, Jeep Cherokees are shown in the newspaper without wheels touching the ground.

AWD is infinitely better than 2wd if 2wd won’t go and awd will. It is safer for handling in all conditions over fwd and aids in engine braking. Having said that, if you decide on the added expense, which for many is not worth it, I would not get AWD in any car that was not expressly designed for it and I don’t believe a minivan is.

Always have snow tires for extended trips or travel in snow. AWD will go better in snow w/o snow tires than 2wd with snow tires. But it’s not the best practice unless only occasional user as you still have to stop and turn at the higher speeds of awd use that you may find yourself in.

THE REAL key is paved vs dirt roads with hills. If the roads are paved, than plowed roads at any elevation with a vehicle with traction control and good snow tires maybe all you’ll need. If you make extended trips on unpaved or paved and unmaintained roads that freeze up in the winter and have constant frost and ice below snow, you will prefer AWD. The best, is to test both systems with the same or similar tires in the conditions you will encounter and decide for yourself.

"A FWD Odyssey with winter tires is better than an AWD Odyssey with all season tires or standard tires."
With all due respect, only true in conditions you can actually go in. If snow is so deep, you can’t accelerate you can at least get through drifts with awd and slow down after. It’s not a truism all the time. I have awd and snow tires which is always the best, so it’s unfair to compare this way when there are so many exceptions. AWD is always better when the tires are the same. Otherwise it’s like saying Bob Hayes was the fastest human in shoes. Others may be faster on a football field in cleats.

If the OP is dealing with roads that aren’t plowed and have 12" or snow on them, AWD is better. A FWD Odyssey with good winter tires is an excellent snow vehicle. In the very worst case scenario AWD would be better. But, the extra costs of maintenance, repairs, and fuel for an AWD Odyssey over FWD with winter tires isn’t worth it IMO.

You nailed it and only OP or those in the area can really approximate the conditions and way the cost factor vs advantages. Though even in 6" of snow, awd is always better, or 4 or three etc. Hills and ice underneath can quickly render a fwd car totally useless.

"Avoid the SUV’s if you have to drive on highways."
And why we have to avoid driving SUVs on the highway. I guess the Hylander Hybrid and Chevy/GMC Traverse should not be driven anywhere but on dirt and side roads and not be allow on I95 ? That will PO a lot of drivers of some SUVs that actually handle better than many family sedans. Do you think it’s more a function of the Maine “Maniacs” who drive them ?

and some are safer too

I’m puzzled why trucks are OK and never seem to have problems, but SUVs do ? My SUVs have all been better handler’s less susceptible to rollover than my trucks, even the lonnnggg ones.

On the one hand: minivan
On the other hand: AWD
Put your hands together: Toyota Sienna AWD + set of snow tires.

How deep can the snow be during that drive? Is there ever a rule that you need either AWD or chains to drive over the passes?

Are you really asking why SUV’s are worse than pickup trucks for the ability to roll over?
Its because they are considerably more top heavy.
Its also because people who drive them are way more over confident about the abilities of the SUV than they should be.

So, they go out there, thinking they are perfectly safe, then they have to perform an emergency evasive maneuver, hit the gravel on the side of the road, slide sideways, and start flipping over in the ditch.

I’ve seen it happen so many times, I wish there was a separate testing requirement for operating large SUV’s.


Here’s the real question you need to answer:

When the weather gets bad, do you HAVE to get from Salida to Denver?
Is this a commute into work daily. is this a trip to visit family, or is this just a trip to go to Costco, and pick up groceries?

If its work related, then I would say get an AWD or 4WD vehicle, slap some winter tires on it, and go about your life.

If its to visit family, like your parents or your sister, then just put off the visit until the weather is better. If its a visit to see your own kids who live separately from you, then you might want to trade up vehicles if this is your only chance due to a court ordered separation, and visitation rights.

If its to go to town to stock up on groceries, just stock up more on your local grocer until the weather gets better.


"Are you really asking why SUV’s are worse than pickup trucks for the ability to roll over?
Its because they are considerably more top heavy. " “So, they go out there, thinking they are perfectly safe, then they have to perform an emergency evasive maneuver, hit the gravel on the side of the road, slide sideways, and start flipping over in the ditch.” Bladecutter

That maybe true of the rollover early Ford Broncos and some of the framed ones still. But, there is a whole class of car based SUVs including the Chevy Traverse (example) with excellent stability and size and others that are dramatically more safe than pick up trucks on the highway. Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) choices"-CR -see top 10 safest 2007 as well

If OP needs some ground clearance and feels the conditions are there in snow, a car based SUV, IMO should be a safe viable option, more than a PU, more than a low slung FWD sedan or ground hugging minivan. This is something we’ll just have to agree to disagree on, and planning all trips according to the weather forecast is not always an option, even for “visits”. BTW, being a sometime operator of heavy equipment, we too are “appropriate tires for intended purpose freaks” so that we should be in full agreement.
Good debate though, hope OP is taking it all in.