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Why You Should Avoid All-Wheel Drive Unless You Need It

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author photo by Doug DeMuro

If you're interested in a new car, you may be considering a few models with all-wheel drive. AWD can be a great feature, as it offers better traction than 2-wheel drive on slippery surfaces or rough roads. But is it always a good idea to choose an AWD car? We don't think you should opt for AWD unless you really need it -- and here's why.

Worse Gas Mileage

In general, cars equipped with 2-wheel drive get better gas mileage than models that use all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive. There's a reason: AWD or 4WD cars have to send power to each of the vehicle's wheels, which requires extra energy. This means 2WD cars are less complex than those with AWD or 4WD, and their simpler drivetrains mean improved fuel economy in the long run.

AWD cars also offer worse gas mileage than 2WD rivals because they're heavier. AWD and 4WD drive systems can add hundreds of pounds to a car's curb weight, and that extra bulk can have a big impact on fuel economy. That's because an engine has to work harder to move a heavier car, which means more fuel is used to move an AWD car the same distance as one with 2WD.

More Expensive

Another reason to avoid AWD and 4WD is cost. Most such vehicles are more expensive than their 2WD counterparts; for example, in many modern SUVs, 2WD models can be $2,000 or $3,000 cheaper than AWD or 4WD models. So unless you often face snow, ice, rough roads or other situations where AWD or 4WD are crucial, we suggest you opt for the less costly alternative.

More Complex

Generally, AWD systems are more complex than standard front- or rear-wheel-drive setups. While this won't necessarily sway buyers interested in new cars with long warranties, anyone considering a used car should bear in mind that complexity can end up costing more money in the long-term. Here again, unless you truly need AWD or 4WD, you should steer clear of the feature -- particularly in a used vehicle.

Our Advice: Buy When Needed

Given the drawbacks of AWD and 4WD, our general advice for shoppers interested in a new vehicle is that you should only opt for these features if it's necessary. Of course, there are a few models, as with many new Subarus, where AWD doesn't cost much extra or come with a substantial gas mileage penalty. But in many vehicles, the benefits of AWD only outweigh the drawbacks if you plan on using the system frequently on rough roads or during harsh weather conditions.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Why You Should Avoid All-Wheel Drive Unless You Need It