Traction and stability control vs awd

driving
winter

#1

I am looking for a new car for winter driving. With ABS and traction and stability control, would I still need AWD?

I can’t decide. (Note: my current car does not even have ABS.)


#2

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.


#3

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.


#4

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.


#5

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.


#6

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.


#7

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.


#8

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.


#9

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.


#10

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.


#11

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.


#12

“A good all season will be fine”

And therein lies the problem, since the “good” ones for winter driving are few and far between.

In truth, the only all-season tire I know of that has decent traction on winter road surfaces is the Goodyear Fortera Triple Tread, but it probably doesn’t come in a size that would fit a Mazda 3. That particular tire is allowed to display the mountain peak/snowflake symbol, indicating that it meets industry standards for a winter tire. However, that is the exception to the rule with so-called “all-season” tires.

Perhaps you can give the OP a list of the “good” all-season tires, but remember that the OP is staking his safety on your recommendation, so please be sure that the information is fact-based (like my information on the GY Fortera Triple Tread), rather than merely opinion or hearsay.

To return to the topic of winter tires, the reason why I recommend the Michelin X-Ice is that it has exceptionally good tread wear characteristics, in addition to outstanding winter traction–unlike the fast-wearing Blizzak and many other fast-wearing winter tires on the market. This is also fact-based.


#13

According to CR, stability control, abs are worthwhile features. Traction control is part of any system that includes the above. The traction control obviously only works on the drive wheels, so the more drive wheels you have, the more forward motion traction you’ll have. Contrary to some nay say you’ll hear, the ability to have maximum traction in forward motion can be as much of a safety factor as braking traction.
Generally, if you encounter slippery conditions routinely, it may be advantageous to have awd/fwd. If it’s just occasionally, perhaps no. Good winter tires are always the given.


#14

Nothing that I posted was not fact-based. Here’s something else that’s fact-based: Most people in snowy states do not bother with separate winter and summer tires. And we manage to muddle through just fine without hitting stuff because we slow down and we know how to drive in the slick.

I never said winter tires weren’t better. They are. But there comes a point when “better” is “nice” but not “necessary.” We’re talking about plowed roads here, not snowdrifts or ice rinks. If all-seasons were such death traps in the winter there would be a lot of media coverage and a lot of lawsuits flying about. As long as you drive intelligently, and your all-seasons are good, you’ll be fine. If you get crappy all-seasons, or you drive like a moron, then you’ll get into trouble. But then, if you get crappy winter tires, or you get good winter tires but drive like a moron, you’ll still be in trouble.


#15

I’m still waiting for you to post your list of the “good” ones.
If the OP simply walks into a tire store, he is just as likely to get crappy all-season tires as he is to get the “good” ones.

I learned about the advantages of winter tires after experiencing Bridgestone tires that were–literally–hazardous on a winter road surface. Rather than trying to play Russian Roulette with other all-season tires that–theoretically–are good in ice and snow, I decided to open my wallet and buy real winter tires.

For those who say that all-season tires are sufficient, I compare that to the question of how much money one needs to carry around in his wallet. On most days, $40 or $50 would probably be sufficient. However, on the unexpected day when you need more money, it sure is nice to have some extra cash. Having an extra margin of safety in the winter is analagous to having some extra cash. You might not need it most of the time, but it can save your hide on days that you would not have anticipated.


#16

And what, precisely, are you failing to anticipate? We have TV, radio, newspapers, and the internet to tell us what the weather is going to be like. As those of us who live in snow states know, the meteorologists never shut up about it when there’s so much as a flake of snow. They tell you exactly how much has fallen, how much will fall, what that’s doing to the roads, what it will do to the roads, when it will end, whether or not the snow will freeze into chunks of ice. . Anything you could need to know, you can find out before you even start the car.

Once you’re on the road, it shouldn’t take more than about 20 feet of driving to help you figure out exactly what road conditions are like. Combine that with the knowledge that it will be slicker at intersections, in traffic jams, and anywhere else cars have been idling, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

And even then, if you’re smart, you’ll just assume when driving in the winter that everything is slick, even if you can tell it isn’t. That’ll keep you out of most potential trouble areas. You’re of course still at risk of some other driver sliding into you, but your tire choice isn’t going to influence that much.

As for the list, the Fortera you mentioned is good.

I was pleased with my Michelin Pilot Sport A/S’s winter performance. I now have the Pilot Sport A/S plus, which is a new tire that I haven’t run in the winter yet, but from all reports is better in the snow than the non-plus version. I am not cheaping out by not getting winter tires, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the $50-per all season if it’s going to see serious winter use. I just do not find winter tires to be a necessary piece of driving equipment given the winter conditions we experience here. Just because I don’t run out and get the absolute best for every possible condition doesn’t mean I’m running racing slicks during the winter.


#17

FWIW, the Yokohama AVID Touring S tires I had on my Taurus gave VERY good winter traction. My commute includes an 8% grade at one end and a 10% at the other (which is down and which is up depends on direction). Even in several inches of snow on those slopes with no plowing, I never lost traction.


#18

You can count me as one who disagrees with shadowfax too. Everyone I know who lives north of the Mason-Dixon line mounts winter tires as soon as the first snow hits the ground in the fall.


#19

I disagree with CR on ABS. I suspect they’re “buying into the myth”. ABS on extremely slippery roads can virttually eliminate your ability to stop in a reasonable distance, and in fact cause you to helplessly plow into the car in front of you. ABS does not reduce stopping distances on slippery roads, rather it allows you to keep the sbility to steer on slippery roads at the expense of stopping distances…but there’s usually no place to steer to other than whatever is in front of you.

We’ve had lengthy threads on this, and I respect that opinions vary depending one’s varying experiences, but I personally consider ABS as being something I’d rather not have.


#20

Incorrect; when brakes are locked on non abs wheels, a water layer developes from the friction heat and like ice skates, traction is less than with the pulsation during abs. It’s only in loose sand and some types of snow that stopping distance may be “slightly” compromised and the ability to steer while braking is so important that this slight loss is well worth the trade off…so instead of plowing, steer around while braking instead of “freezing”, mentally.
That’s why “wet” ice is slippier than “dryer” ice conditions and why hydroplaning with the water layer is especially dangerous. It’s about the water layer not just the ice. We old hockey players get it and abs is more than worth it.