Trucks & SUVs

Are Snow Tires Useless on All-Wheel-Drive Trucks?

All-wheel-drive is becomingly an increasingly-popular drivetrain system for cars, SUVs, and trucks. Able to send power where your tires need it most, all-wheel-drive provides traction and control. But just because your truck is all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive does not mean you’re automatically prepared for winter.

AWD trucks are not immune to winter’s dangerous effects. Here’s just how your truck’s drive system works and why you might consider snow tires.

The basics of four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive

If your truck has an AWD system, then it has automatic 4WD capabilities. According to Bridgestone Tire, this means that under normal conditions, around 80-100% of the truck’s power will go to either the front or rear axle. But when conditions are poor, the power automatically goes to the wheels that need the most traction.

The difference between this and 4WD is that 4WD is not automatic, unlike AWD. The 4WD must be turned on or activated and is only considered “part-time.” Additionally, all of the power is sent to each wheel equally in 4WD, where AWD systems send power to individual wheels. A 4WD truck runs in 2WD mode until 4WD is activated. It’s ideal for off-roading or steep hills.

All-season tires vs. snow tires

Winter or snow tires are built for the adverse conditions of winter, not just snow. They are made with a specially-designed rubber that remains flexible and softer during cold temperatures. The tread on snow tires is different too, with deeper grooves and irregular edges to optimize the tire’s grip in snow, sleet, rain, and ice.

All-season tires leave people with the impression that they are ideal for all seasons. But all-season tires are made with a special rubber compound that helps maintain its shape, no matter how hot the road becomes. While all-season tires are made for both dry and wet conditions, the rubber compound begins to stiffen as temperatures drop.

All-season tires come with a normal/regular tread designed to handle a variety of conditions, but they have fewer grooves and channels for gripping and spitting out snow and ice.

While AWD and 4WD trucks may have improved torque and power-control to help you get through snow, the only thing that will improve traction is your tires. And traction is what helps you not only drive on snow but stop in it. In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune, no vehicle’s drive system will help it stop better. “If you hit the brakes, the drive system is instantly out of the equation,” the publication explains.

Why you may still consider snow tires

As Dunn Tire points out, there’s a common misconception that AWD or 4WD trucks are immune from winter woes because they generally perform better in cold weather. But putting the right winter tires on your truck can “improve braking by up to 25 percent over an all-season radial and can improve collision avoidance by about 38 percent.”

AWD vehicles can provide great traction from a dead start and get you moving easily in the snow because it will send power to wherever it needs it most. But in the winter, slow, and slippery conditions, traction is more important than ever.

As Les Schwab Tires points out, “If you don’t have enough traction in the first place, the AWD system can’t compensate.” While AWD’s power helps you accelerate and move on slick and snowy roads, the improved traction doesn’t help you stop or take corners. Without snow tires, your AWD truck won’t perform any better than your typical two-wheel-drive vehicle that uses snow tires.