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Car Advice & Reviews

All-wheel-drive / 4-wheel-drive – Do you need it?

Posted on February 2, 2013

Many manufacturers and car dealers have convinced car shoppers living in northern climates that all-wheel-drive / 4-wheel-drive drivetrains are a necessity for winter driving. Is that the case, and should you opt for an AWD drivetrain despite the extra cost? Traditionally, most cars were driven by either their front or rear wheels, but not both. AWD was reserved for light trucks that would venture off road. Then, certain manufactures promoted and popularized AWD in family cars and sport-utility vehicles. These AWD systems, as with many things in the automotive world, offer both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, AWD systems provide increased traction for a car to begin moving. There is no denying that clawing with four tires vs. two will put more power to the road, especially in adverse weather conditions. However, AWD systems carry certain penalties. The mechanical systems increase complexity and add friction and weight. Thus, an AWD car will generally have reduced fuel economy and possible acceleration compared to its two-wheel-drive counterpart. Also, the increased mechanical complexity of the AWD system can lead to reduced reliability and increased maintenance costs simply by virtue of the fact that there are more parts that can break. A final consideration is that while an AWD system increases traction for acceleration, it has no advantage compared to a two-wheel-drive car in terms of braking and handling. In fact, the increased weight of an AWD system can sometimes hamper a car’s handling. For some people, a more appropriate alternative to a car with AWD is to equip a two-wheel-drive car with winter tires during the winter months. Such a setup would result in ample traction for acceleration and superior braking and handling as compared to an AWD car on all-season or summer tires. In making its recommendations in your report, Car Match will take your driving conditions and needs into case and advise you as to whether AWD models are appropriate for you.

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