Do You Really Need an All-Wheel-Drive Vehicle?

dirty awd car

When the cold weather hits and the roads start to get slippery, you may find yourself wondering whether it’s time to invest in an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Although an AWD is essential in some driving conditions, the fact is that many drivers don’t necessarily need them. Believe it or not, there may be more economical solution that will give you better results.

But first, let’s take a closer look at AWD and its advantages and disadvantages.

What Are the Different Drive Types?

Front-wheel drive vehicles are the most common type of vehicle on the market, and for good reason. They’re easy and inexpensive to design and build, and they tend to be more fuel-efficient than other types of vehicles. FWD is also easier for most people to drive as they have good traction and predictable handling.

Rear-wheel drive is mainly found in trucks and performance cars. With RWD, the engine’s power is sent to the rear wheels, which allows for sportier handling. However, rear-wheel drive can be unpredictable in wet weather.

Four-wheel drive is generally reserved for work vehicles or all-terrain driving. These vehicles utilize heavy-duty components that customize the driving experience depending on the type of surface they’re driving on. The downside is they can be heavy, expensive, and have poor fuel economy. Four-wheel-drive is usually recommended for more mountainous regions or areas with more severe climates.

All-wheel-drive can be found in SUVs, crossovers, and a variety of regular cars, including luxury and performance vehicles. Typically, the engine sends power to all four wheels, but some vehicles are primarily front-wheel drive, with the ability to divert power to the rear when more traction is needed. This keeps the vehicle more stable in slippery conditions and allows for better acceleration on slick roads than FWD or RWD.

Advantages and Disadvantages of AWD

Now, let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of AWD.


  • Better traction and acceleration in slippery conditions. AWD vehicles provide significantly better traction in rain, snow, mud, or ice than a two-wheel-drive vehicle. They’re also better at accelerating safely on slick roads.
  • Fewer chances of spinning your tires when accelerating or exiting a corner. Since AWD has the ability to deliver torque to all four tires at once, it reduces the tendency for an individual tire to spin while accelerating in a straight line or while navigating through a corner.
  • AWD may have better resale value in areas with harsh winters.


  • A false sense of security in slippery conditions. It’s common for drivers to judge traction based on how easily their cars’ wheels spin when they hit the gas. If the car wiggles, fishtails, or otherwise feels unstable, you’ll naturally want to slow down. Since AWD reduces wheel-spin while you’re accelerating, it’s easy to overestimate how much traction you have—and to drive too fast for the conditions.
  • Higher costs and vehicle complexity. AWD is often more expensive than FWD or RWD by thousands of dollars. Since AWD is a more complex system, service and repairs also tend to be more expensive than other drive types.
  • Worse fuel economy. Since AWD adds weight to vehicles and creates driveline losses, these vehicles often suffer from worse fuel economy than FWD or RWD—however, research suggests that over time, the economy penalty is relatively minimal.

As you can see, AWD has its advantages and disadvantages, which should be weighed carefully when you’re planning to purchase a new vehicle.

Winter Tires: Another Alternative to AWD

Remember how we mentioned there may be a less expensive solution for all-weather driving? Winter tires can make a significant difference in terms of how a vehicle grips the road, especially when it comes to stopping. In fact, a major tire company did a comparison of an AWD car with all-season tires versus an FWD car with winter tires. The result? Although the AWD vehicle was a bit quicker off the line, the FWD car with winter tires handled better and stopped within a shorter distance.

The bottom line is, if you do a lot of driving in the snow, mud, or rain, an AWD vehicle can be an advantage. If you have an FWD vehicle with the proper tires for your driving conditions—and you mainly drive in the city or on the highway—an AWD vehicle typically isn’t needed.

Get the Best Advice for Your Vehicle & Driving Conditions

If you’d like to have better traction during the winter but aren’t sure whether you need an AWD vehicle or winter tires, have a discussion with your service advisor. They can help you determine whether an AWD vehicle is warranted for your typical driving conditions—or if winter tires would better suit your needs and budget. Of course, the optimal winter vehicle would be an AWD or 4WD paired with winter tires, but unless you’re heading out into the tundra, you may find yourself surprised at how much of a difference winter tires can make!

As your local European vehicle specialists, EuroCar Service sees all European makes, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover, Mini-Cooper, Fiat, Volvo, Volkswagen, Saab, Jaguar, and Smart Car. Schedule an appointment with us today at (206) 527-8828, or request an appointment through our online form.