It’s not uncommon for first-time owners of all-wheel drive cars to get into a car accident because they became overconfident in the capabilities of their vehicles. What happens is they get enthralled by the excellent traction when driving out of deep snow and the good acceleration all-wheel drive gives them in slippery road conditions. Acceleration is good until you have to brake or swerve, at which point, all-wheel drive does nothing to help you.

The Limitations of All-Wheel Drive

All-wheel drive provides engine torque to all four wheels of your vehicle. This helps when pulling out of a parking space in deep snow and driving on unplowed roads. Four tires provide more traction on slippery roads than the two tires of two wheel drive vehicles. Pushing your car through deep snow can require more traction than is available with only two drive wheels. The same is true when driving up a steep hill on slippery roads. However, that is where the advantages end.

All cars, including those with two wheel drive, have four-wheel braking. That is, each wheel has its own brake. This means four-wheel drive doesn’t brake any better than two wheel drive. Steering in snow has little to do with the number of wheels with engine torque. It has more to do with your driving technique and your tires. Fully inflated tires handle better in snow than partially inflated tires. And snow tires work better in snow than all-season tires. Avoiding accidents in slippery conditions require driving at slower speeds and driving more gently than you would on dry pavement.

Many first-time owners of all-wheel drive cars fail to understand these limitations and end up driving too fast. They find out the hard way that their braking on slippery roads is the same as that of two wheel drive cars.

Does this mean it’s pointless to have all-wheel drive? No. They are very useful for winter driving in the mountains and in hilly country. Engine torque on all four wheels helps tremendously when going up steep road grades in the snow. However, you’ll have to remember to take it slow on the straight and downhill sections.

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