Tips, Tricks & Trends

Counterpoint: Why Four-Wheel Drive is Necessary for Some

My colleague, Thom Taylor, was recently perplexed by statistics that state 90% of pickup truck sales are for four-wheel drive equipped vehicles. He reached out to our team and asked, Why? He feels it is an unused feature in a pickup that adds extra weight, and increases costs and complexity to the vehicle. I have a counterpoint position for him. 

“I just saw that 90% ?? of 2020 pickup truck sales are 4WD. I don’t understand why everyone buys 4WD. Nobody uses it and it’s extra weight you’re lugging around and adds cost and complexity. Yes/no?” – Thom Taylor

Ram Rebel pickup truck
Ram Rebel pickup truck | FCA

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Valid points

Some of those points are valid. Many four-wheel drive vehicles will never need to use their extra gripping capability more than their two-wheel drive counterparts. It is true also that four-wheel drive systems add weight, complexity, and cost to a vehicle. Those are all valid points. Of that, there is no argument.

My counterpoint argument is with the use of the phrase “Nobody uses it”, regarding the four-wheel drive system. “Nobody” is an absolute term. Not a general one. So, let us look at this from a general perspective such as, “it is rarely used” versus “Nobody uses it.”

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro refresh
2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro refresh | Toyota

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Four-Wheel Drive Use is Regional

South of the Mason-Dixon line, most vehicles do not need four-wheel drive unless they are being used on a farm, camp, or workplace where a dirt road may or may not exist. Otherwise, a two-wheel drive vehicle is sufficient. This is where the term “Pavement Queen” comes from. It is a four-wheel, or all-wheel drive vehicle that is almost exclusively used for pavement time. 

North of the Mason-Dixon line, the tables are turned dramatically. For example, I once worked in a dealership in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We had an extensive stock of used vehicles, over 3,000 units. Inevitably, a customer came in looking for a truck. We, of course, had them. But, since our dealer network was spread out on the east coast, we often had used stock available from southern points. Keep this in mind because I am going to switch gears for a moment. 

GMC Sierra Harley-Davidson edition pickups
GMC Sierra Harley-Davidson edition | Tuscany Motor Company

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Dealership experience

The customer asked for used Tundras. He asked why one particular model was so much cheaper than the others. The Tundra was the same year and trim as another one that had caught his interest. The answer was that the Tundra he asked about originally was a two-wheel drive vehicle. When I brought this up he said, “Why would anybody ever buy a two-wheel drive Tundra?” Remember I asked you to keep in mind that we had stock available from southern points? I told him that the vehicle was coming from southern Virginia, where four-wheel drive may not be as necessary as it is in Pennsylvania.

2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup
2020 Jeep Gladiator | Jeep

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Long story short, the customer was stunned that a two-wheel drive was even in our stock. Honestly, it was rare to stock two-wheel drive trucks from any manufacturer. They typically took a long time to sell too. We had maybe one unit at a time. 

That is because in Pennsylvania they know that once you have had an experience sliding uncontrollably in your vehicle, you never want to repeat that again. The fear, while sliding, of where you will end up, or what you’ll hit is terrifying. In a slide, if you are not scrubbing enough speed fast enough, then whatever you hit will cause damage or possible injury.

It’s not about weight or towing capacity

For lovers of four-wheel drive, it’s not about weight or even slightly reduced towing capacity. It is, however, about the sense of security and peace of mind, especially if it prevents or reduces the opportunity for a slide. Basically, it is about getting to work or the store without losing traction confidence in the rain, snow, dirt, mud.

Points north of the Mason-Dixon line are familiar with snow from as early as October to late May. A four-wheel drive system will not keep you from sliding 100% of the time, but it will certainly reduce those opportunities during those eight months. So, during that time of inclement weather, a four-wheel drive system is the only way to go. In fact, I have lived in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York. I have noticed from living in those places that there is a definite change in my own vehicle buying habits as a result. In Maryland, I can get anything. In Pennsylvania and points north I will only purchase a four-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive vehicle. 

I am not alone with that mindset. It is obvious that the customer I mentioned earlier, the one looking for the Tundra, also had that mindset. It was also the mindset of the dealership I was at. Again, they rarely had the slow selling, two-wheel drive models available. 

Ford introduces the new F-150 pickup truck at the North American International Auto Show on January 13, 2014
The 2014 Ford F-150 | Scott Olson/Getty Images

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How I earned gas money

During college, I lived in upstate New York. I remember the snow there was on the ground as late as June one year. I lived at the foothills of the Adirondack State Park. It could snow for two weeks straight (not exaggerating). I had the only student-owned 4×4 on campus. When the students got cabin fever and needed to get out, guess who they came looking for, me. When the police shut down the roads due to snowstorms and only allowed 4x4s on the road, guess what vehicle was getting supplies for students from the local Stewart’s gas station, again it was me and the two snowmobiles in the parking lot. 

My four-wheel drive pickup and I not only got supplies for people, but together we helped people with small excursions to restore sanity when two-wheel vehicles could not handle it, pulled cars and trucks out of snowbanks and ditches, pulled tree-stumps out, and picked people up at the end of their midnight shift in a forty degree below zero snowstorm that had made many of the roads spotty with black ice. 

2019 Nissan TITAN Pro4X pickup
2019 Nissan TITAN Pro4X | Nissan

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It is necessary, not an option

To my esteemed colleague, Thom, I offer this. Yes, there are those who think because they have a four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive system that they have an excuse to drive like an idiot. That less experienced owner is going to have a rude awakening as a result. Even front-wheel drive vehicles can slide. But a responsible four-wheel drive owner knows that when the vehicle is driven with respect for the weather conditions, the vehicle will still outperform the two-wheel drive counterpart. So, paying extra for that sense of security in being well planted to the road is well worth the penalty of the extra weight and complexity inherent in a four-wheel drive equipped vehicle. Indeed, four-wheel drive is necessary, not an option for some people.