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Winters in Iowa: 4x4 or AWD

Hi Tom and Ray

I am currently in the process of purchasing a new vehicle and I live in Iowa out in the country. Well during the winter there is usually a lot of snow and sometimes the county crew doesn’t get our road cleared very well. So I need a vehicle that will get my family threw some snow drifts sometimes. I have owned a Chevy Blazer for the past 15 years and I have been looking into purchasing a 2008 Chevy Trailblazer. Well my son who is a big fan of you two told me to maybe get a Chevy Equinox with AWD. So I guess my question is a AWD vehicle going to have enough power to get me threw a snow drift like a 4X4 would. Do they have the same power?

Real winter tires are more important than “whatever-wheel-drive”. I’ve lived in Colorado for 33 years and have driven RWD most of the time. My RWD BMW with four Blizzaks does better than my ex’s Audi with all season (read three season) tires. AWD/4WD helps if you live in the mountains or drive in deep un-plowed snow. AWD/4WD may accelerate faster, but stopping and turning is just (more) important. If need be, get a Subaru Forester/Outback and run real winter tires. This subject has been covered many times.


I would like to get you to think more about how you are going to keep your vehicle on the road and how to stop it than how to get through deep snow drifts.

Do your family a favor and look first at safety. If you have snow drifts that you are not sure you can get through, maybe you should stay home.

That said AWD and 4WD will both do a lot for getting through and neither is going to be much better than the other. The choice of truck and it’s ground clearance will be far more important.

Electronic stabilization control and real WINTER tyres can also make a big difference in safety.

In over 45 years of driving in snow, I have yet to experience any situation where the engine power was a factor. In fact many people have more problems with cars that have lots of power on snow and ice than cars with less power.

As has been stated, power isn’t needed to get you through a snowdrift and it will lead you to get into trouble faster on slippery roads.

If you are truly worried about snow drifts, then pay attention to ground clearance. Once your vehicle is sitting on packed now, no tire or chains will help. I’ve seen may 4WD/AWD vehicles stuck because of the packed snow underneath.

I’m a firm believer in what Twotone and Joseph have already stated. Whatever you decide to get, you’ll be fooling yourself if you don’t also get real WINTER TIRES.

This forum is filled with numerous valuable discussions on this topic. The search key is your friend.

There is virtually no difference between 4WD and AWD in the cnoditions you describe. IF you were going to mount a snow plow on the front of your truck and plow your driveway with it then the advantage goes to 4WD. 4WD systems are sturdier and take more abuse better then AWD.

Another important thing in deep snow is ground clearance. See what your Blazer has and compare it to the Trailblazer and Equinox; both have 7.8-inch ground clearance. The Silverado crew cab has 9-inches and the Tahoe has 9.1 inches. Of course, the Tahoe is about twice the price of the Equinox.

In general terms, 4 wd is, as stated, is a “stronger” drive system than awd. 4wd locks the center differential making it better capable of handling deep snow (and mud). AWD is an on road slippery weather drive system.

Fortunately, if you have the $$$$ you don’t have to compromise between the two. My 4 Runner has both as well as 2wd. There are many modern SUVs and trucks that offer this combination. If deep snow is a concern, and it’s not practical to stay home whenever the weather man predicts a possible storm, you may want a vehicle that not only offers a locked 4wd option as well as AWD, but one that disables your traction control. So in short…AWD and regular 4wd ARE NOT the same, do not offer the same advantages. With conditions as you have stated, I would look for a vehicle that offered both options in the same drive train. Add an extra set of rims with genuine winter snows, and you’re as prepared as you’re going to get.

This AWD and 4wd combination when properly prepared, help you go, corner, climb hills, make emergency maneuvers and engine brake better that any two wheel drive in severe (deep snow and less so) winter conditions. As stated, all this means nothing w/o good good winter driving skills and ground clearance. The best “may be” accompanied by a solid rear axle which maintains it’s clearance while loaded and on uneven surfaces. Stated ground clearance may make good advertisement but no matter how high, means little if it isn’t sustainable, which is true on many awd only cars and SUVs.

Chevy Equinox/Outbacks, Highlanders, CRVs, RAVs and the like are all pretenders I feel…4 Runners (which I’m partial to), Pathfinders, larger Jeep SUVs and the like are the real deal and better suited for your stated use. The newer Trailblazers lack the clearance of old and are less capable IMO. If you live in snow country you may feel a need to be over prepared as help is seldom just around the corner.

I respect everyone else advice, but I do not agree in all respects with some others nor your son’s.

I disagree about 4WD not helping when turning, my experience 4WD definately helps the turning. Sort of like a jetski. When you’re off the power and you turn the wheel the vehicle may plow straight ahead, if you turn the wheel and give it some gas, the front tires “bite” and the vehicle turns.

I can’t remember anything ever stopping my 1936 Chevrolet. Heh, heh.

High clearance, and low torque. It could start from a stop on icy hills other cars couldn’t make with a running start.

I lived in rural Iowa for a long time, and in city Iowa even longer. I used RWD until 1988 when we got a Nova (Toyolet).

IF your Blazer worked well for 15 years, you are an expert on driving in the conditions you describe, and should not be listening to us nor to your son. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Buy as close to the Blazer as you can get today in your price range and tell everyone to go pound sand.