Editorial

Do You Really Need AWD To Survive In The Snow?

Or can a good set of set of tires make RWD viable?

When I used to live in Pennsylvania, my mother used to tell me that we couldn't buy a rear-wheel-drive car like a BMW or a Mustang because we got snow every year. I was always puzzled by this statement. Other people drove RWD cars in Northern states, so why couldn't I? Even if I ignored the fact that there wasn't snow on the ground 95% of the year, I still couldn't figure out why I "couldn't" have a car with RWD. Now that I am an adult, I can call my mother on the phone and tell her how wrong she was about owning a RWD car in a cold climate.

As a result of my mother's constant reminder of our snowy winters, my first car ended up being a Nissan Pathfinder. The Pathfinder was excellent when road conditions deteriorated, but would RWD really be that bad? We have seen tests that show RWD cars with snow tires are easier to drive than all-wheel-drive cars with summer or all-season tires.

The biggest problem with RWD cars is that they don't have as much weight pushing down on the drive wheels. In a FWD car, the heavy engine sits right over the wheels and helps push the car down without spinning the wheels. RWD cars don't have a lot of weight in the back and can fishtail as a result. One trick to drive a RWD car in the winter is to put some weight in the trunk. RWD cars are also more likely to be performance-oriented whereas most common vehicles like Hondas and Toyotas use front-wheel drive. AWD and four-wheel drive are also very different. 4WD is usually found on trucks where AWD can be found on most SUVs and cars. 4WD is better for snow use but is far less performance oriented.

When you factor out the difference between RWD and AWD and use two identical cars, you can clearly see the advantages of snow tires. You will be amazed at how two identical cars perform on ice with nothing but different tires.

This leads me to my point. SUVs and crossovers are selling like crazy in the US. Americans like SUVs because they have an imposing ride height, family practicality, and AWD. Many people buy SUVs thinking that their families will be safer when the weather gets nasty. However, if the car comes with all-season tires, it may not be any better than a normal sedan with snow tires. Snow tires cost around $120 each on average, not including the cost of having them mounted. Some people may also have an extra set of rims that they don't mind being beat up in the snow. For just a couple hundred dollars, you can make your car much safer for winter driving, even if it has RWD.

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