Of all the automotive winter-related questions we field as so-called experts in the matter, the “AWD vs. winter tires?” is one of the simplest and most complicated to answer. The reason for this stems from the fact that many confuse traction with grip or adherence.
Let’s begin with all-wheel-drive. As the name implies, at any given time, all four wheels can assist in getting the vehicle to move. AWD or four-wheel-drive, or even 4×4 are systems that are designed to increase traction when conditions are difficult.
By having all four tires providing forward motion, you’ll enjoy escaping the snowbank that the city kindly covered your vehicle in overnight. Modern and sophisticated AWD systems will also enable you to depart an intersection with relative ease, as opposed to suffering wheelspin with constant stability control intervention in a two-wheel-drive vehicle.
Winter tire advantages
However great an AWD-equipped car may be, this is where the advantages end. A winter-tire-equipped automobile, even a front-wheel-drive one, might be at a disadvantage in the aforementioned snowbank, however, the extra grip provided by good winter tires nearly negates all other pros delivered by AWD.
Winter tires are designed to handle a multitude of conditions including colder weather, icy and snow-covered surfaces. The involved technologies have come a very long way in the last decade alone, enough to match and surpass an AWD vehicle in most winter driving situations.
What we often forget is that forward momentum is nice and useful however if turning and, more importantly, stopping, are all but completely impossible, there’s really no point in getting a move on.
A good winter tire such as a Yokohama IceGuard, Bridgestone Blizzak or Michelin X-Ice can provide excellent stability, lateral grip, limit understeer (turning the steering wheel and continuing on straight) and deliver the necessary amount of grip in order to come to a full stop.
The trouble with AWD
At any point, and no matter the vehicle, when the temperature drops to 7 degrees Celsius and lower, 4-season, all-season and all other “summer” tires all but completely relinquish their ability to grip the surface. So, no matter how impressive the AWD system is, if the tires can’t do their job, you’ll be a hazard to yourself, and the others on the road.
As such, an AWD vehicle with all-season tires is a greater threat as good acceleration can be possible but every other necessary manoeuvre will be severely compromised. And remember, no matter the road conditions, more speed means that braking distances are longer. More speed also equals a greater chance of understeer.
The winning combination
The bottom line is that if you live above the snowbelt, or almost anywhere in Canada, winter tires are a must. A two-wheel-drive vehicle with winter tires will get you through the vast majority of winter urban driving situations.
With winter tires, AWD becomes an incredible asset. A proper set of winter appropriate rubber will enable the AWD system to function as it should and, on top of that, you’ll benefit from ideal stopping performance, accident avoidance, and turning abilities.
Are you ready for winter? We are and we’re very much looking forward to it!