Do you really need all-wheel drive? | Consumer Reports

[MUSIC PLAYING] With the first
snowfall of every year, consumers are inundated with
a barrage of advertising, showing how a car with all-wheel
drive or four-wheel drive will save them from
winter’s icy clutches. I’ve been out there
most of my life. And why not? According to the Federal
Highway Administration, 41% of all weather related
car crashes on US roads are due to conditions involving
snow, sleet, ice, and slush. Accidents caused by
winter weather result in 150,000 injuries and
2000 deaths each year. But can all-wheel drive save you
when weather turns really ugly? Consumer Reports evaluations
show that all-wheel drive may provide some benefit, but it’s
no guarantee it will get you through a grueling storm. Through weeks of driving in
snowy conditions at Consumer Reports’ 327 acre test
center in Connecticut, we conclusively found
that all-wheel drive is good for getting
your car moving on a slick surface, such as
a snowy, uphill driveway. But all-wheel drive is
of little added help compared to an ordinary
front-wheel drive sedan when it comes time to
stop or steer your vehicle. Our evaluations conclusively
showed that using winter tires matters far more than
having all-wheel drive in many situations. We conducted braking tests in
an all-wheel drive 2015 Honda CRV– the best selling
compact crossover– with its original,
all season tires, and then with winter tires. We also brought out a
front-drive Toyota Camry rolling on its own
set of winter tires. When both the front-drive
Camry and all-wheel drive CRV wore winter tires, both stopped
from 60 MPH in about 300 feet. But when the CRV had its
original, all season tires, it took more than 650
feet to come to a stop– more than twice as far. And an increased stopping
distance of an entire football field compared to when
it had winter tires. As for handling, we found that
some all-wheel drive systems fared better than
others in getting cars around corners in the snow. A significant factor was
the available grip provided by their all season tires. Even in the hands of our
professional drivers, some all-wheel drive systems
produced too much wheel spin and didn’t provide the same
level of confidence and comfort level as others. Our test track
observations lead us to advise that
using winter tires provides the best grip and
assurance for going, stopping, and cornering, no
matter what you drive. And buying winter tires
for a front-drive car will cost far less than the
several thousand dollar premium you’ll pay for all-wheel drive. We realize that swapping and
storing tires twice per year is a nuisance. And in places where street
plowing is thorough, you can probably get by
with all season tires that are in good condition. But most all-wheel
drive owners don’t think of equipping their
cars with winter tires. According to our survey
of 54,000 subscribers who drove all-wheel drive
or four-wheel drive vehicles in the snow for more
than six days last winter, fewer than 15% equipped their
vehicles with winter tires. The rest kept rolling
on their all seasons and took their chances. At Consumer Reports,
we strongly recommend buying four winter tires for
whatever vehicle you drive. For our winter tire buying
guide and other all-wheel drive testing information, check

About the Author: Michael Flood

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