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

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. Find a new AWD car for sale near you

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. Find a used AWD car for sale near you

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.

Related All-Wheel Drive Articles:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.

Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. Buy a set of winter tires before considering AWD.  Huge difference in grip (for stopping and turning too!) without the worse mileage, much cheaper to get, and will not cost you 4 grand to fix.  

  2. I was barely able to get out of my snowy driveway in 2WD.  With AWD, I barely have to shovel.  I swear by it. Plus, my Rav4 (AWD) gets the same mpg as my previous Mazda 3 (2WD).  

  3. I have a Nissan Rogue AWD and I leave the screen on to see how often the car flips power to the rear.  Even in heavy snow falls it rarely shifts much power if any at all to the rear wheels.  For the extra cost its not worth it.  AWD does not give you better driving grip on the road.  It gives you better acceleration and the ability to start or accelerate on a slippery surface, not to remain on the surface.  Remaining on a slippery surface (i.e. not going off the road in rain / snow) is all dependent on the amount of friction between your car and the surface (tires), not the number of wheels powering it – simple physics.  So unless you live where roads aren’t plowed well in snowy conditions or experience a lot of rain that makes it difficult to get grip from a stop it isn’t worth the extra $$.

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