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Do You Really Need All-Wheel Drive?

Whether you live in a snow state or not, the thought of buying an all-wheel-drive car may have crossed your mind. After all, driving with four wheels has to be better, and safer, than driving with two, right? Yes and no. Let’s go over the details on what all-wheel drive is and see if it is really necessary.

What is all-wheel drive?

Most of the cars on the market today are front-wheel-drive while those of the sportier, luxury, and truck variety are typically rear-wheel-drive.  With an all-wheel-drive car, power gets sent to all four wheels, and as you can guess this creates a lot more traction than just driving with either the front or rear wheels.

This means that in slippery conditions, like when you’re driving on a snowy road, your car will be able to accelerate better and will be more stable overall. Don’t get all-wheel drive confused with four-wheel drive, though. Four-wheel drive is most seen on trucks and SUVs that equipped with it and the difference is that a four-wheel-drive system cannot vary the individual wheel speeds. And since the inside wheels of a car turn slower than the outside wheels in a turn, having the vehicle in four-wheel-drive mode on dry pavement can cause it to hop and even mess up some of the internal drivetrain components.

Four-wheel drive is mainly used for off-road situations, while all-wheel-drive systems can be used all the time. It’s one of the reasons Subarus and Audis are so popular.

RELATED: Bring on the Snow! The 2021 Chrysler Pacifica has a New Look and All-Wheel Drive

The new 2021 Chrysler Pacifica with all-wheel drive
The new 2021 Chrysler Pacifica now offers available all-wheel drive (AWD) with the most advanced AWD system in its class, and the only one to offer AWD along with Stow ‘n Go seating | Chrysler

There are many advantages

As you can probably guess, there are advantages to having an all-wheel-drive vehicle. The car will have more traction in slippery conditions and it will have more grip when turning or accelerating quickly. A car with all-wheel drive and all-season tires will typically have much better grip than a front- or rear-drive one, however, it can be necessary to put snow tires on an all-wheel-drive car as well, if the weather gets really bad in your area.

However, there are disadvantages

Now that we know traction is the main advantage in having an all-wheel-drive car, it can be a curse as much as it is a blessing. Some drivers with all-wheel-drive cars can tend to get overconfident when driving in hazardous conditions in which the all-wheel-drive system won’t actually help.

For example, having an all-wheel-drive system does not mean that your car will brake better or slow down quicker, that’s what good brakes and tires are for. Also, an all-wheel-drive system has more components that the car has to move, which equates in more added weight to the car and sacrifice in fuel economy. And lastly, automakers tend to charge anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 more for the all-wheel-drive variant of the same model, so if your typical drive doesn’t necessitate an all-wheel-drive system, you might actually be better off getting the front- or rear-drive variant of the car and investing in snow tires instead.

RELATED: Here’s Why All-Wheel-Drive Systems Aren’t All Equal

2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD front
2020 Toyota Camry XSE AWD front | Toyota

Is all-wheel drive really that necessary?

Ultimately, it really depends on your location. If you live in a state where it snows regularly in the winter months, then having an all-wheel-drive system can come in handy and even save your car. However, if you live in a state or area that never sees snow, but you like to go to the mountains once or twice a year, then we recommend saving your money and getting a proper set of tires or chains for that yearly trip. Ultimately, you might just be spending an unnecessary sum of money on an all-wheel-drive system that you might never use.