AWD or 4X4 vs. FWD or RWD in Snow: Do You Still Need Winter Tires?

AWD & 4WD in Snow: Do you still need winter tires?

While many people think that all-wheel drive is enough to take on dangerous ice and snow, there is almost no difference between AWD-equipped vehicles and common front-wheel drive cars when it comes to cornering, braking and handling in winter weather. However, there is a 25-50% traction difference between all-season and winter tires. While AWD has its advantages, proper winter tires make the single biggest difference when it comes to braking and steering on snow and ice.

All-Wheel Drive

All-wheel drive refers to automatic four-wheel drive systems where the vehicle selects two- or four-wheel drive based on road conditions. AWD vehicles typically operate with 80-100% of the vehicle’s power going to either the front or rear axle under normal driving conditions.  In slippery conditions, power is automatically directed to individual wheels with the best traction. This is especially helpful for getting out of snowed-in parking spots or tackling unplowed roads. AWD is particularly good for assisting with acceleration on slick surfaces.  However, drivers should keep in mind AWD does little to aid turning and braking on snow and ice vs. a two-wheel drive vehicle equipped with all-season tires.

Winter Driving Tips | All-Wheel Drive

Be aware of your vehicle’s capabilities this winter. If you’re tackling the roads on all-wheel drive, the experts have some advice for you.

Four-Wheel Drive

Unlike all-wheel drive systems, most four-wheel drive (often referred to as 4WD or 4X4) systems are “part-time”, requiring the driver to activate them.  In contrast to AWD systems, 4WD systems send power to all four wheels equally, regardless of their traction.  They’re often found on pickup trucks and large SUVs designed for extensive off-road driving. Four-wheel drive works well for people who live in rural areas and encounter unplowed roads, deep snow, and uneven terrain. Many truck-based 4WD systems also have a low gear setting which can be useful for tackling steep hills. For those off the beaten path, the combination of four-wheel drive with winter tires, high ground clearance and low-range power delivery to all wheels provided by 4WD pickups or large SUVs can be crucial to winter mobility.

Front-Wheel Drive

Most passenger cars and crossovers are designed with front-wheel drive (FWD). This can be a good option for driving in snow since most of the car’s weight is above the two driving wheels which aids in traction. Because the drivetrain in a FWD vehicle is essentially pulling the vehicle along, it is less likely to experience oversteer, which is the rear of the vehicle sliding out when cornering and causing a much sharper turn than desired.  When coupled with a set of good winter tires, these vehicles can perform even better on snow and ice.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Rear-wheel drive (RWD) is common on sports cars, trucks and truck-based SUVs. RWD is less common in modern compact cars and car-based SUVs.  RWD usually allows a more even weight distribution and better handling in ideal driving conditions as the front wheels are responsible for steering while the rear wheels are tasked with sending power to the road.  Rear-wheel drive is often less ideal for driving in the snow. In most situations, RWD vehicles have less weight over the driven wheels than a FWD, AWD or 4WD vehicle, so they will have more difficulty accelerating on icy roads and a greater possibility of losing control of the rear of the vehicle. A good set of winter tires can be a tremendous help to giving these vehicles secure traction and handling in snowy and icy conditions.

Best Car/Tire Combination for Tackling Snow

Where you live should determine the type of drivetrain you look for in a vehicle. If you live in an area that sees heavy snowfall, the best option will be AWD or 4WD coupled with good winter tires.

● City driving with moderate snow and ice – FWD or RWD with winter tires will suffice. This won’t be the best option for deep snow, but it will be the most economical option since AWD vehicles are usually more expensive and use more fuel due to the extra weight of the AWD system.  AWD vehicles with all-season tires may be acceptable if the roads are plowed frequently.

● City driving with heavy snow and occasional rural driving – AWD with winter tires is your most versatile option. You will be able to handle winter’s worst conditions and still maintain performance on clear, dry roads.

● Rural driving on unplowed roads and deep snow – If tackling steep hills on rutted, unpaved roads is a necessity, you may need 4WD with a low gear settings. Otherwise, AWD with winter tires should do the trick as most AWD vehicles also provide sufficient ground clearance.

Bridgestone Winter and Snow Tires

As multiple independent tests have concluded, winter tires are the greatest differentiating factor in a vehicle’s performance on snow and ice and only make an AWD or 4WD vehicle even more capable in winter weather.

Bridgestone winter tires offer the latest technology in tire compounds and tread design to help you drive confidently in winter’s worst conditions. The Blizzak line includes a variety of studless, performance, and truck/SUV winter tires to match your driving needs.


Learn about everything from proper tire care to the advantages of Bridgestone's breakthrough tire technology and everything in between.

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