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Do Four-Wheel-Drive Vehicles Need Winter Tires?

Posted: Thursday, December 22nd 2011

A common misconception regarding winter driving is four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles don't need winter tires because they perform better in winter conditions than two-wheel-drive vehicles. Although 4WD trucks, SUVs, and crossovers may provide more power than a two-wheel drive sedan, winter driving is all about traction. Stopping, starting, cornering and control are the elements that are controlled primarily by the tires. The facts show that a 4WD vehicle may accelerate quicker in snow, but won't stop any faster or corner any better.

4WD provides the precise amount of torque to each wheel, but may present little or no advantage in performance or handling based on the driving conditions. For the torque system to be effective in snow or ice, winter tires should be installed on the vehicle. Winter tires are specifically designed to grip the road and handle the most extreme weather conditions and harshest temperatures.

According to "Even in all but the harshest of snowy conditions, a two-wheel-drive vehicle (whether front- or rear-driven) will perform safely and securely in snow with the proper snow tires mounted on all four wheels. Comparison tests performed by automotive-enthusiast magazines in the snow have shown that a 2WD drive vehicle with snow tires on all four wheels will outperform a 4WD vehicle with regular tires."

Driver belief that 4WD vehicles can properly handle winter conditions coupled with improper tires for seasonal conditions can lead to winter accidents. While all-season tires are good in a number of general year-round driving conditions, performance can degrade significantly in cold and icy conditions. All-season tires are constructed of rubber compounds which are "averaged" to deliver better wear and good traction in a wide range of conditions, but the trade-off is a decrease in traction below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the point where all-season tire compounds begin to harden and lose traction.

Winter tires

Another thing to remember is many four-wheel-drive vehicles come with large wide tires. Because of the larger surface area of these tires they don't dig through snow as efficiently as less wide tires, and can actually "hydroplane" on top of snow or ice. This can cause the vehicle to slip during steering and braking maneuvers. The 4WD vehicle may also be at a disadvantage when stopping as many are heavy and take longer to come to a stop

The simple point is this: for maximum winter driving performance a 4WD or AWD vehicle should have winter tires installed. Only winter tires can provide the depth of tread and soft rubber compounds necessary to grip the ice and snow. Proper winter tires can improve braking by up to 25 percent over an all-season radial and can improve collision avoidance by about 38 percent. Furthermore, it's critical to place winter tires on all four wheels – this is especially true for 4WD and AWD vehicles.

Drive safely this winter season! If you have any questions about winter tires or driving safety, please feel free to call or stop by one of the convenient Dunn Tire locations.