Want to know if an AWD car can do without snow tires for winter driving?
The answer depends on your weather conditions — the temperature and whether you get light or heavy snow. Although AWD vehicles can handle challenging terrains, your all-season tires may not provide enough grip to keep you safe on icy roads.
But don’t worry.
We’ll compare AWD vs snow tires to help you determine if your car needs the latter.
This Article Contains:
- AWD vs Snow Tires: Which One Is Best for Winter Conditions?
- Should You Get Snow Tires for an AWD Vehicle?
- Do You Need AWD for Snow and Ice?
- 3 FAQs about Snow Tires
AWD vs Snow Tires: Which One Is Best for Winter Conditions?
The driving requirements in slippery conditions are different from those on dry pavement.
You need to:
- Stop and turn on icy roads without skidding
- Push through deep snow without getting stuck
Here’s how all-wheel drive (AWD) and winter tires compare in terms of these requirements.
1. To Prevent Skidding
The key to having good control over your vehicle is traction, which is critical for winter driving. You don’t want to skid and drive into a ditch on your way to work or fail to stop at a red light and crash your car.
How do all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles perform in that regard?
- AWD does help improve traction by distributing power evenly to all wheels, which helps maintain grip on the remaining wheels if one slips. But when used with all-season tires, you could still skid on ice. What’s more? The rubber compound in all-season tires may harden in freezing temperatures, reducing braking power and traction despite your AWD.
- Snow tires are designed to provide enhanced traction in winter conditions like ice and snow. Tire manufacturers use a deep tread pattern that bites into ice and snow to maintain grip, allowing them 25-50% more traction than all-season tires. This enables improved cornering and braking on icy roads or snowy conditions. But even with them, you need to drive slowly to prevent skidding.
Verdict: Snow tires offer better traction to prevent skidding during winter driving.
2. For Pushing Forward in Snow
The last thing you want is to get stuck in snow on your way to work. That can happen if your vehicle doesn’t have enough traction and power to push out of the snow.
Here’s how all-wheel drive and snow tires can help in this situation:
- AWD’s greater wheel power helps you accelerate and launch your car forward in light snow conditions. This can help you drive out of snowed-in roads or street parking spots, but not heavy or deep snow on rural roads.
- Snow tires make it easier to get out of snowed-in spots due to their traction. Now, they can’t compete with the acceleration of all-wheel drive with an all-season tire set, but they can efficiently use the wheel power to keep you from getting stuck.
Verdict: Snow tires are better at pushing forward in heavy snow, but AWD may be enough in regions with light snow.
Next, let’s see if you need both.
Should You Get Snow Tires for an AWD Vehicle?
All-wheel drive vehicles rely on their tires to provide traction on ice or snow. So, you could still find yourself sliding into other vehicles in winter if you pair your AWD vehicle with tires unsuitable for the road condition.
If you expect serious snowfall or icy roads, your AWD car needs snow tires. They’ll help winterize your AWD, making them the best choice to stay safe in snowy conditions.
Now, if you’re looking to buy a new car capable of managing the winter weather, you may wonder if the all-wheel drive system is the right choice.
Read on to know more.
Do You Need AWD for Snow and Ice?
Fitted with snow tires, all-wheel drive vehicles can tackle the slushy and slippery conditions of snow and ice.
But does AWD itself provide any benefit for icy or snowy conditions?
Let’s review how other drivetrains compare with AWD for winter driving:
- Front-Wheel Drive (FWD): The front-end setup of an FWD car allows for good handling on light to moderate snow when fitted with snow tires. However, front-wheel drive does poorly compared to all-wheel drive in heavy snow and uphill terrains. It can’t match AWD’s better traction, power, and stability.
- Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD): Like an FWD car, rear-wheel drive can handle moderate snow on winter tires. However, its rear-wheel power isn’t enough to tackle deep snow like an all-wheel drive vehicle. Moreover, an RWD car is more likely to fishtail on ice (at higher speeds) since it’s dependent on rear-wheel traction.
- Four-Wheel Drive (4WD): 4WD distributes power to all wheels while offering a high and low gear range to gain better traction and power on snow and slopes than AWD. This makes it safer for driving through deep snow and unplowed roads.
In conclusion, a 4WD or AWD system with snow tires can increase performance for winter driving, especially in deep snow. However, you could still opt for an RWD or FWD vehicle for light to moderate snow.
Next, let’s resolve any apprehensions you may have about snow tires.
3 FAQs about Snow Tires
Here are answers to some questions you may have about using snow tires:
1. How Expensive Are Snow Tires, and Are They Worth the Investment?
The average price for four winter tires ranges between $230 and $5,250, depending on the snow tire size, tread pattern, and brand. Comparatively, all-season or regular tires cost between $200 to $3,500 for four tires.
Moreover, switching in and out of your snow tire sets (including wheel balancing) can cost about $160, depending on the labor charge.
But wouldn’t you rather deal with the costs of new tires than that of an accident?
Winter tire manufacturers use a special rubber compound that stays flexible even at subzero temperatures, helping them maintain grip on or off the road. So, winter tires can save you from unintended insurance or tow costs.
Note: Snow and all-weather tires made for winter weather will typically have a 3-peak mountain snowflake symbol.
2. When Should You Install Snow Tires?
Ideally, you should install snow tires once temperatures drop below 45°F or your area experiences heavy snow.
But remember: Snow tires wear out quickly in warm temperatures. So, it’s best to switch to a summer tire or all-season tire set once temperatures rise above 45°F.
3. Does Your State Have Winter Tire Regulations?
Most US states don’t have mandatory regulations for winter or all-weather tires.
However, some stipulate the use of studded winter tires and tire chains, including:
- California has enforced chain traction control in mountain regions during winter months. However, some requirements exempt the use of chains on all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires.
- Oregon has chain laws that apply to all highways. The state puts signs stating if drivers need to carry and use chains, traction tires, or even studded tires.
- Colorado’s Traction Law for state highways stipulates when motorists require snow tires or tire chains. The law has regulations about tire designations (mud and snow — MS tires), minimum tread depth, and when studded tires are allowed.
AWD vs Snow Tires: Final Verdict
Snow tires are more important for winter driving than an AWD system since their braking and handling capacity are vital for safety.
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