Is All-Wheel Drive Right For You?


2020 Toyota Camry AWD
2020 Toyota Camry AWD. Credit: Toyota.
For some reason, we had numerous callers the past couple of weeks who were confused about all-wheel drive (AWD) and the benefits of it. I am a big fan of AWD personally and actually said last Saturday that I would never personally own a car without it. It seems like a good time to take a look at all-wheel drive systems.

All-Wheel Drive

Not too long ago, only expensive, upper scale cars came with all-wheel drive, like Audiís famous Quattro system. They were as much about handling on dry streets as getting through a snowstorm. Much has changed as all-wheel drive (AWD) has gotten cheaper, lighter, and more common thanks to automakers like Subaru who continue to refine AWD in more common cars and SUVs.

For most people, inclement weather is an easy determining factor in whether to consider AWD for your next vehicle. Generally, it will give you all the traction needed to get to and from work safely, even in areas where there is a lot of snowfall. To be clear, if you are a serious off-road driver, four-wheel drive is going to be better for you. For some people, the decision to all-wheel or not, is not so clear.

For instance, many of our listeners in Sacramento would not use AWD often since their weather is fairly mild, but many of them go to Lake Tahoe often, and so you can easily make the case for all-wheel drive. Having all-wheel, instead of having to rent one, will probably work out cheaper.

Driving Differences

If you have never driven an all-wheel drive vehicle, you can feel subtle differences when on clean road surfaces, but most will not notice the difference. In fact, with the newer all-wheel systems, even in poor road conditions, most cannot tell when the system is engaged. In the simplest of terms, all-wheel drive distributes power where needed to give the best traction, without any action taken by the driver. Some of the newer systems even anticipate the need to engage the system before any actual slippage is detected.

Cost

You will pay more for an all-wheel drive equipped vehicle, but usually, you will get that premium back in resale value, especially now that more and more people are wanting AWD. In some models, you may lose 1 to 2 miles per gallon in fuel economy, but in other cases, there is no loss at all when driving on roads that are dry.

It is important to note that all-wheel drive is more of a performance feature than a safety feature. Of course, an all-wheel drive car will be better in snow, ice, or mud. It will allow you to go faster in those conditions too, which is not always a good thing. You must realize, too, that AWD does not help you stop, especially on ice and slippery road conditions.

Final Thoughts

Having all-wheel drive is not bad for anybody, even people who live in Southern California or even Hawaii. AWD vehicles generally sit up a little taller, have a better view of the road ahead, and enhance the driving experience. For people who battle the elements often, I think it is a must.
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Phillip
Thanks for this! Every manufacture markets AWD and 4WD differently, it can be confusing to know what exactly you are buying. From a consumer perspective, it would be nice if there was a clear standard to claim "4x4" as I feel most others are a variation or degree of AWD...
The Car Pro
All vehicles will tell you on the window sticker, usually right at the top, if it is AWD or 4WD. Usually it is pretty clear on their websites too.

Jerry Reynolds
Todd Reagan
Hi Jerry! We moved to FL 2 years ago but I never miss your show with Kevin. AWD is also recommended in Florida! It blew my mind but nearly every mechanic answers in the affirmative if asked. The snowfall is not much to deal with of course, but the torrential rains in the Spring and Summer can make AWD a welcome feature especially when on the highway.

My Honda Accord can hydroplane when the roads are covered with a heavy downpour but my wife's Merc ML 350 just plows right through and gives her a feeling of more security in that situation.

On another note, you warned me about them and I agree the Florida dealers should be locked up. I've seen more honest advertising and selling on Ross Avenue than the franchised dealers in this state, so we'll be coming to your friends in Big D when it's time to replace our vehicles. Thanks for your shows and God bless to all.
The Car Pro
Todd, good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words! Yes, AWD helps in rain too, I just like way they drive when the weather is nice.

Holler when you need anything!

Jerry Reynolds