While AWD is the better vehicle for snow driving, it’s helpful to know the performance of FWD vs AWD in snow before you visit a dealership.
You wouldn’t want to pay for equipment you don’t need, right?
That’s why we’ll look at the differences between these two drivetrains on wintery roads, which one to buy, and three factors to consider before you do.
This Article Contains:
- FWD vs. AWD in Snow: Which Is Better?
- FWD vs. AWD: What Are the Differences?
- AWD vs. FWD: Essential Considerations
- AWD vs FWD: 4 FAQs
FWD vs. AWD in Snow: Which Is Better?
The choice depends on how severe your winter weather conditions are:
- Mild to moderate: FWD (front-wheel drive) is a cost-effective option. The engine’s weight over the front tires can provide some traction in slippery conditions. So it’s a better choice than a rear-wheel drive vehicle.
- Moderate to severe: AWD (all-wheel drive) provides better traction and stability as the engine can power the rear wheels. However, various AWD systems do this differently, with some being more effective than others.
- Most severe: A 4WD (four-wheel drive) is the best option for extreme weather and heavy snow. The ability to manually engage four-wheel drive can be an advantage in deep snow or when tackling steep inclines.
Verdict: While an FWD car is better than an RWD vehicle (rear-wheel drive), AWD outperforms FWD in ice and snow because it can engage all four wheels. If some of the tires lack traction, the other tires can still provide forward motion.
However, AWDs may struggle to provide enough traction in deep snow, so in these cases, you’ll need a four-wheel drive, or at the very least, winter season tires with your AWD.
Let’s dive a little deeper into these two drivetrains to make an informed choice for winter driving.
FWD vs. AWD: What Are the Differences?
To understand the differences between FWD vs AWD in snow, let’s look at how each system works and its pros and cons.
A. Front Wheel Drive (FWD)
Front-wheel drive means the engine powers the front wheels. Essentially, the front wheels are responsible for moving the car forward and steering.
Here are its pros and cons:
Advantages of FWD:
- Better fuel economy: A front-wheel drive vehicle is usually lighter and less complex than an AWD. This means they burn less fuel as they require less power from the engine.
- Improved agility: Less weight and oversteer often enable higher top speeds and better maneuverability.
- Easy to service: There are fewer components in a front-wheel drive car, meaning less can go wrong, and the system is easier to repair.
Disadvantages of FWD:
- Less traction compared to AWD: In a front-wheel drive system, the only engine-driven wheels are in the front. If they don’t have enough grip, the system can’t turn the rear wheels to generate more traction.
- Increased torque steer: When a vehicle pulls to one side when accelerating, it’s referred to as “Torque steer.” In an FWD car, the transmission and differential are located on one side of the engine, causing an unequal power distribution between the front wheels.
- Reduced acceleration ability: When cars accelerate, there is a change in weight distribution due to inertia. The car’s center of gravity shifts to the rear, reducing traction from the front driving wheels.
Now, let’s look at the AWD system.
B. All Wheel Drive
All-wheel drive cars send power to all four wheels.
Here’s what you need to know:
Advantages of AWD:
- Better traction: The AWD system adjusts the power distribution between wheels to compensate for a lack of traction. This gives it slightly better off-road capabilities than FWDs and improved performance in challenging weather conditions.
- Improved handling: Adjusting the power distribution between the four driven wheels means AWDs provide a more stable ride and better cornering ability.
- Better acceleration: During acceleration, more load is placed on the rear tires. Because the rear tires also receive power, the loss of front wheel grip doesn’t have a major impact.
Disadvantages of AWD:
- Limited off-road capability: While AWDs are better in heavy snow and off-road than FWDs, they’re not as capable as 4WDs. They don’t have additional gears for extra power, and certain all-wheel drive systems only activate when the vehicle slips, which is often too late.
- Generally higher costs: Due to the complex AWD system, you’ll pay more for the vehicle, insurance, and repairs.
- Reduced fuel economy: Because AWDs are heavy with a more complex drivetrain, they are less fuel efficient. This also adds to their higher cost.
Now you know the advantages and disadvantages of each system.
So, which one should you invest in for winter?
Let’s find out the other considerations you need to keep in mind.
AWD vs. FWD: Essential Considerations
Firstly, you should base your decision on the weather and road conditions you commonly drive in.
Here are a few questions to guide you:
- Do you regularly encounter snow and ice in the winter?
- Do you frequently need to drive up to higher altitudes?
- Do you often drive in slippery conditions?
- Do you frequently drive on gravel or dirt roads?
The more questions you answer “yes” to, the more probable it is that an AWD car is the way to go.
However, besides the road and winter conditions you drive in, there are other key factors to consider.
1. Winter Tires
Winter tires (like Bridgestone Blizzak) use soft rubber compounds and special tread designs for better grip. A FWD vehicle with snow tires may outperform an AWD with all-season tires in a snowy condition.
- An FWD car with winter tires offers an affordable “middle road” for those looking to tackle moderately challenging terrain.
- An AWD car with snow tires provides better performance.
- A 4WD with winter-season tires is the best.
How much do snow tires cost?
You’ll typically pay between $100-$200 per tire. However, a premium winter tire will cost a little more.
Note: While a snow tire set will provide more grip than all-season or summer tires, your AWD still won’t have the extended gear range to deal with steep inclines. So don’t get too adventurous with your AWD, thinking winter season tires got your back.
2. Stability and Traction Control
Most modern vehicles have electronic systems to monitor wheel motion for improved stability and traction control.
With winter season tires, this technology can help a front-wheel drive car offer equivalent performance to an AWD for snow driving. So, if you’re tight on budget, putting dedicated winter tires on your front-wheel drive vehicle could save you the additional cost that comes with an AWD.
3. Pre-owned Vehicles
If you want an AWD vehicle on a budget, consider a certified pre-owned car or SUV. This is a great way to save money and get the all-wheel drive features you want.
Another factor to consider is that while a new AWD is more expensive, it’ll also be easier to resell or trade in later. AWDs tend to hold their value for longer.
Want to know more about AWD and FWD systems?
Let’s clear things up.
AWD vs. FWD: 4 FAQs
Here are answers to some AWD-FWD questions you might have:
1. Is AWD the Same as 4WD?
AWD and 4WD (four-wheel drive) are not the same. In addition to distributing power to each of the four wheels equally, a 4WD offers additional high and low gears for better traction and power.
Another difference is that all-wheel-drive is generally always active and happens automatically. 4WD is either always on or requires the driver to engage it to transfer power to the rear axle.
Generally, pickup trucks and larger SUVs use 4WD (E.g., Jeep Wrangler). Smaller SUVs and passenger cars tend to use AWD.
Remember this: 4WD is better for extreme off-road, deep snow, and low-gear situations.
2. Is Every AWD System the Same?
There are different ways to implement all-wheel drive, and each brand engineers their system differently.
For example, the AWD Subaru symmetrical system distributes power to each wheel as needed using a center differential in the transmission. However, the 2019 Ford Edge system can completely disconnect the rear axle and operate as an FWD vehicle for fuel efficiency.
This means you should choose your AWD system carefully. You may be able to offset some of the disadvantages of AWD if you find the right implementation option.
3. Which Is Better Off-Pavement?
All-wheel drive is better for driving on unpaved, slippery roads as it’s optimized to find traction on any surface, even if there’s less grip.
Now, a few miles of dirt road won’t stop a new front-drive car, but ultimately, AWD is superior.
4. Which Is Better in the Rain?
If you want the most reliable system for slippery roads, opt for an AWD vehicle. All-wheel drive vehicles can sense wheel slip and adapt to wet weather, even when equipped with summer tires.
FWD vs. AWD: Get a Grip on Winter Driving
Ultimately, AWD is better for driving in snow as it provides increased traction. A front-drive car will only get you through mild winter conditions, but it’s still better than an RWD vehicle.
Regardless of which vehicle you choose, you’ll need to service it properly so it continues to handle well in the snow.
Don’t feel like braving the winter weather to have your vehicle serviced?
AutoNation Mobile Service will come to your driveway!
We’re available seven days per week, offer online booking, and provide a 12-month|12,000-mile warranty on all repairs.
Contact us today to stay warm this winter.