You might wonder: Which is better for winter driving — an all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle with regular tires or a front-wheel drive (FWD) car with snow tires?
Well, the answer can depend on the road condition and snowfall levels.
But don’t worry.
We’ll draw up a detailed comparison of AWD vs FWD with snow tires to help you choose between the two.
This Article Contains:
- AWD vs FWD with Snow Tires: Which Is Better for Winter Conditions?
- Does an AWD Car Need Snow Tires?
- Can an FWD Car Handle Winter Conditions Without Snow Tires?
- 2 FAQs about Winter Tires and Driving
AWD vs FWD with Snow Tires: Which Is Better for Winter Conditions?
Your car needs to be compatible with the road condition.
In winter, that can mean:
- Braking quickly in light snow and slippery conditions
- Powering through heavy snow or snowed-in spots
- Climbing slippery slopes
So, let’s review what’s better for these requirements:
1. For Quick Braking and Safe Turns
Good handling and control are important in winter to avoid sliding past a red light or spinning out of control on a turn.
Here’s a look at the AWD’s and FWD’s capacity for braking and cornering:
- Although an all-wheel drive vehicle’s four-wheel traction is good in straight lines, it isn’t helpful with cornering — so you could slip on turn-ins. In snowy condition, you could struggle to gain control of an AWD vehicle with all-season tires.
- A front-wheel drive car has good cornering capabilities due to its front-wheel power. Plus, when fitted with a snow tire set, you’ll have better traction for braking and cornering, even on icy roads. However, you still need to drive slowly.
Bottom line: An FWD with winter tires beats an AWD (with all-season or all-weather tires) at braking and turning on snowy and icy roads.
2. For Powering Through Snow
Getting stuck in a mound of snow isn’t uncommon in winter.
Let’s see how these drivetrains compare in getting you out of it:
- All-wheel drive vehicles with all-season tires offer good traction in straight lines due to the power of its four drive wheels. This can help you move through snowed-in roads and parking spots. But in deep snow, you may get stuck due to the low traction of all-season tires.
- A front-wheel drive vehicle with snow tires will give you enough traction to drive through snow. Unlike rear-wheel drive (which pushes), FWD helps pull you out of small snow mounds — even if the rear-wheel tires have low traction.
Now, this is limited to light or moderate snow. In heavy snow, you might need to take additional measures if you get stuck.
Bottom line: Both vehicles offer enough power to drive through light and moderate snow. However, they both struggle in deep snow conditions. You could consider using a four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle in deep snow conditions.
3. For Driving Up Slippery Slopes
Traveling through inclines can be hard in winter since snow and ice can increase the risk of sliding during acceleration or braking.
How do these drivetrains perform in such conditions?
- An AWD’s all-wheel power can help you climb up snowy slopes. However, the low traction of all-season tires can reduce its braking capacity while driving downhill on slippery roads.
- An FWD’s front-end power will give you enough traction to drive up steady inclines. However, you could lose traction on the front-drive wheels because the weight is transferred to the rear tires on steep slopes. This could lead to you sliding back, similar to an RWD vehicle.
Snow tires help prevent some traction loss on FWDs, allowing for more braking potential on snowy or slippery inclines.
Bottom line: AWDs are better at driving uphill. However, the FWD with a dedicated snow tire set will offer more braking potential down the slope.
Next, let’s review how an AWD vehicle can perform with snow tires.
Does an AWD Car Need Snow Tires?
Although an AWD offers enough traction to manage light to moderate snow conditions, it’s not enough to stay safe in winter.
Winter tires help an AWD overcome its low traction during braking and cornering. This makes snow tires indispensable for daily driving in harsh winter conditions.
Note: You may require tire chains or studded winter tires (studded tires) in areas with severe winters, like the snow belt and some mountain regions.
What about FWD vehicles?
Can an FWD Car Handle Winter Conditions Without Snow Tires?
An FWD system offers good handling since its power comes from front-driven wheels. It helps you turn faster on sharp corners and pull yourself out of snow.
But with regular tires, you won’t have enough snow traction.
This makes you susceptible to understeer, where your front wheels lose grip on turns, and your car turns less than you want. In slippery conditions, it could land you in front of oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road.
You can expect something similar if you only use winter tires on the front-driven wheels. You could experience oversteer, where a loss of grip on the rear tires will cause your car to spin and go off the road backward.
That’s why an FWD car needs snow tires (on all four wheels) for winter.
Still unsure about what’s best for winter driving?
Read on to know more.
2 FAQs about Winter Driving
Here are answers to common questions about winter driving:
1. What’s the Difference Between Snow Tires, All-Season Tires, and All-Weather Tires?
The key differences between these tires are as follows:
- A snow tire or winter tire is made of a rubber compound that stays flexible in winter weather to maintain grip. Moreover, its tread comprises sipes that cut into snow and ice to enable better traction (25-50% extra traction over all-season tires) and faster braking. A winter tire typically has an M+S, Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake, or Ice Grip symbol.
- An all-season tire is designed for hot, wet, and cold weather. However, its rubber compound can become stiff in freezing conditions like snow and ice, reducing its traction.
- An all-weather tire is a subset of the all-season tire that comes with a Three-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification. However, it has a lower capacity for braking and traction in winter conditions than a dedicated snow tire.
2. What Can You Do if Your FWD Vehicle Is Stuck in Snow?
Try these steps if you can’t move your FWD vehicle out of the snow:
- Firstly, clear your exhaust pipe of any snow to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.
- Shovel away the snow around your tires or add some dry materials around them.
- Accelerate gently to climb out of the snow. Use second gear in cars with a manual transmission; its gentle wheel rotation improves traction.
- Temporarily turn off the traction control system, which may cause wheels to pause mid-spin.
- Turn the steering wheel left and right while accelerating to find traction in otherwise slippery conditions.
- Switch back and forth between accelerating and reversing to gain momentum.
- Let some air out of your tires. This puts more of the tire surface in contact with the ground, increasing snow traction. However, be sure to re-inflate your tires immediately after getting out.
- If nothing works, call for a tow.
AWD vs FWD with Snow Tires: Final Verdict
Overall, an FWD with snow tires outdoes an AWD with all-season tires in winter weather conditions, especially at braking and cornering. But remember, adding winter tires to your AWD is also a good choice to keep you safe in snow and ice.
And if you need help to prep your AWD or FWD for winter — AutoNation Mobile Service can come to you!
Contact us to have our expert mechanics address all of your auto repair and maintenance needs right from your driveway.