• Ash Habib

Do I really need All Wheel Drive?


Dodge Journey & Dodge Caravan (Photos by Dodge)

In an attempt to find out what questions people really had about cars, and what they would want advice on, I put out some feelers on social media as well as asking friends in person to find out what questions non car people had. Over the next few weeks, we'll dive into these inquiries, so I hope you enjoy!


Our first question in this set is about All Wheel Drive/Four Wheel Drive and whether or not it's needed. This was a question from someone local to me, in Winnipeg, MB. Winnipeg has an interesting climate that is almost unmatched globally in that we experience a broad range of temperatures from -40 to +40 Celsius.


There's not a lot of topography here, as most of southern Manitoba is located on what would be a traditional flood plain. We also have 2 major rivers flowing through out city that intersect, and are less than 2 hours away from a large body of water (Lake Winnipeg). The combination of extreme temperatures as well as humidity takes a toll on our infrastructure and landscape. Brutal winters have had more and more people flocking to All Wheel Drive/Four Wheel Drive when purchasing their next vehicle.


Now, when considering this aspect for your next vehicle, you need to identify what a need actually is, because, it seems that this concept has gotten significantly blurred recently.


Need (Definition): A necessary duty, requirement, or obligation.


So, what does this mean in everyday life? We all use the bathroom, toilet paper is a need. Buying the ultra quilted, 3 ply toilet paper is a want. Now, this isn't to say buying expensive, premium toilet paper is a bad thing, because for 1) That would be really off topic, and 2) It's OK to buy something as a want, as long as you identify it as such.


Strictly speaking, do you need All Wheel Drive? No. Literally 98% of the population doesn't NEED AWD. If you regularly find yourself fording across rivers, driving in off road scenarios where you may find 1 wheel or more not in contact with the ground, or are scaling mountains on a weekly basis, you're in the 2%.


Thankfully that portion is out of the way now, so we can talk about why you'd want AWD. AWD has a number of benefits, and a few notes, so with this information, you can make a decision for your situation.


Pros


Helps Acceleration on inconsistent services. Having the ability to put power down to all four wheels allows for easier acceleration, especially in inclement winter weather. This is usually the benefit most people are looking for with AWD. No one wants to be the person stuck at the lights of the intersection, with their wheels spinning and their car barely gaining any speed forwards.


Helps Performance in Sporty Vehicles. With modern all wheel drive systems becoming as advanced as they are, they can react to conditions in a fraction of a second. This allows for optimal performance when it comes to transferring the power to the ground, as well as introducing handling benefits when combined with other technologies such as torque vectoring, which allow the vehicles computers determine which individual wheels can make the best use of power.


Allows more traction on uneven terrain. If you're traveling off road where you won't be on even surfaces, find yourself crossing deep water, or climbing steep grades, having the security of all four wheels being able to accept torque can quickly become a need. This allows you to concentrate less on what the power is doing, and more on where you're going.




Cons


Vehicle Cost. This first one is pretty straight forward. Having more components in your car equals more cost, that makes sense. In addition to this however, AWD vehicles are often priced at an additional premium in addition to this. Whether it's that they don't get the same incentives, or they're just priced higher from the get go, AWD can take a chunk out of your pocketbook right off the bat.


Fuel Consumption. While more cars are becoming available with AWD, the majority of options are still Crossovers, SUVs, and Trucks. A lot of consumers find themselves moving up size and price-wise in vehicle classes in the false pursuit of security that they believe AWD provides. Even if you manage to stay in your intended vehicle class, driving those extra two wheels, and the weight penalty that come with all the extra hardware (Usually 150-300 lbs) takes a toll on your fuel consumption.


Manufacturers have caught on to this over the years, which is why a lot of Crossovers especially, have made large strides in becoming more efficient, but how accurate are those numbers? Well, for one, a lot of the systems disconnect the AWD at highway speeds, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's one way to "game" the system. Because of this, reported fuel consumption, especially in urban areas that experience winter, is often much higher than the estimates on the fuel sticker, leading to unexpected extra costs in some cases.


Inflated Sense of Security. This point is the most dangerous of them all. A lot of consumers are falsely led to believe that AWD is something it's not.


It doesn't make your vehicle inherently safer, and often leads people to either:


1) Believe they are better drivers than they are due to the ability to accelerate in poor conditions, and

2) Leads people to develop a false sense of confidence and believe they don't need winter tires.


This leads to car accidents and potentially lives at risk. Countless SUV drivers get in accidents with other vehicles or end up in a ditch every winter simply because the driver didn't have winter tires on. The worst possible thing I hear on a regular basis is "I don't need winter tires, I have AWD/4x4". The simple fact is that while AWD helps you get going, it doesn't help you stop.


OK, so you've reviewed the pros and cons of AWD, so now you have to make one of two choices:


1) You decide you WANT AWD


Great! Now you can start looking at vehicles that have this as an option. Remember, winter tires are still required for safe driving in winter months, so make sure to budget for that!


2) You decide you don't NEED AWD


Great! Now you can start looking at other vehicles. My biggest suggestion other than make sure you get winter tires, is to avoid crossovers/SUVs. Getting a 2WD version of these is pointless without AWD. If you're looking at an SUV or crossover, take a look at a van, wagon, or hatchback style.


An easy example to compare is the Dodge Caravan and Dodge Journey. The Caravan has a more usable body style and cargo area, has the same elevated driving position, and to get a Journey with a similar capacity and engine costs $5000 more, and that's comparing front wheel drive versions with similar equipment!


Now take that savings, buy a set of winter tires, and go on vacation for 2 weeks during the coldest part of the winter!


If you or someone you know is looking for a vehicle or needs help learning the differences between all wheel drive systems, contact us at www.ashhabibautoconsulting.com/contact/ to book your FREE initial consultation!


You can also subscribe to our weekly articles to keep up to date on the latest in automotive news! If you have an automotive question you'd like answered, send an email to ashonautos@gmail.com and maybe we'll get to answer it in a future article!


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