Last updated: August 2022

2WD, AWD, 4WD: Is One Best for Winter Driving?

When the sun is shining and the roads are perfectly clear, you likely don’t give your wheels a second thought – especially if they’re doing just fine getting you from Point A to Point B. Your car is rolling, right? However, when the roads turn nasty, you start to wonder… am I driving a car with two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive? What’s the difference and does it even matter? Find out which one is typically best for winter driving and what you can do to stay safe on the road!

The Main Differences Between 2WD, AWD & 4WD

You may be able to figure out the differences just by their names! Start with your owner’s manual to learn more about your particular vehicle.

Two-Wheel Drive - 2WD

In two-wheel drive vehicles, power is supplied to two wheels at once. Either the front wheels or the back wheels. Today, most passenger vehicles are front-wheel drive, which is cheaper to manufacture and provides increased traction when driving up or down a steep road. Some larger vehicles, like pickup trucks, rely on rear-wheel drive for better traction when carrying heavy loads. You’ll also find rear-wheel drive in many luxury sports cars and other high-performance vehicles, because it can mean better handling and balance.

All-Wheel Drive - AWD

As you can likely guess, power is sent to all wheels in all-wheel drive vehicles. While all-wheel drive systems can vary a bit from car to car, they typically send more power to either the front or back wheels. If the AWD system detects that either the front or back tires are losing grip, it can send power to the opposite wheels to find traction there!

Four-Wheel Drive - 4WD

Four-wheel drive sounds similar to all-wheel drive, but there is actually a big difference between the two systems. Four-wheel drive is much more intense – in fact, the majority of drivers don’t find themselves in situations that even require it! It’s great for off-roading, navigating tough terrain, and driving safely in other situations where surface traction is hard to come by.

Which One is Best in Winter Conditions?

Well, that depends on the severity of winter in your area. We’ll break it down for you in general terms.

For 2WD cars, a front-wheel drive vehicle tends to do much better in the snow than a rear-wheel drive vehicle. Front-wheel drive cars can handle a moderate amount of snow and should meet the needs of anyone trying to get from home to work and back on roads without snow. Rear-wheel drive vehicles are generally fine if you live somewhere that gets virtually no snow, since they're notorious for slipping in wintery conditions.

AWD, on the other hand, is excellent in snow, slush, and the other standard hazards that winter brings. Because power is automatically sent to the wheels that need it, AWD vehicles can adapt from smooth surfaces to snow- and ice-covered roads in no time. However, this capability can cost you! AWD vehicles typically have a steeper purchase price than the others. Auto insurance can also be pricier, because AWD cars may cost more to repair in the event of an accident.

4WD vehicles are great if you’re dealing with extremely heavy snowfall or if you’ll be driving on particularly hazardous terrain. Four-wheel drive is likely necessary if you live in rural areas where snow plows don’t visit!

The new year is a perfect time to double-check everything: your car, your wheels and alignment, and even your car insurance. Who knows? You could actually be spending less. Get a free car insurance quote with Direct Auto Insurance to find out today!

More on Winter Driving:

For additional details and disclaimers, please see our Terms of Use.

Find a Store

Enter ZIP code to find a store near you.

Start Auto Quote

Enter ZIP code to start your quote.