Is Front-Wheel Drive Good in the Snow?
If you live in a place where the flurries fly, you don’t necessarily need all-wheel drive.
A lot of people who encounter snowy conditions every winter believe that all-wheel drive (AWD) is the only solution for traversing winter weather. But while all-wheel drive has its benefits, it’s not strictly necessary. With a few pointers, you can manage snow and ice just fine in a front-wheel drive vehicle.
A front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicle sends power only to the front wheels, and is sometimes preferable in snow and ice because it’s easier to control, particularly when compared to rear-wheel drive (RWD). Front-wheel drive essentially pulls your vehicle, whereas rear-wheel drive pushes it. When a RWD vehicle accelerates on a slippery surface, the tail end can easily “step out,” or slide, requiring swift and corrective actions such as countersteering from the driver to avoid a spin. In the same situation, a FWD vehicle—because it pulls instead of pushes—will maintain its course, even if the front wheels don’t have good traction.
Compared with a front- or rear-driver, an AWD vehicle offers more drive traction—the ability to get moving from a standstill. But acceleration shouldn’t be your highest priority in inclement weather. In order to stop and turn, your car needs grip, which your tires provide. That’s why it’s a good idea for snowbelt drivers to invest in a good quad of winter tires. On the slippery stuff, a front-driver with winter rubber is more capable than an AWD vehicle on all-seasons.
The Benefits of FWD in Snow Over AWD
If a vehicle offers a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, the front-driver will cost less. It also has fewer mechanical components than an AWD car and is, thus, lighter and more efficient, meaning it uses less fuel. Plus, with fewer mechanical components, there’s less to go wrong and maintain (and pay for in repairs) if you’re keeping your vehicle long term.
How to Free a Front-Wheel Drive Vehicle That’s Stuck in the Snow
If you ever find your front-driver stuck in a snowbank or otherwise unable to find traction, try these tips before calling for a tow:
- Shovel away the snow around your tires to give them some room to move, then apply gentle pressure on the accelerator. You don’t want to stomp on the pedal and have your car launch into traffic or a deeper mess.
- If you find that your wheels pause mid-spin, temporarily disable the vehicle’s traction control. (Check the owner’s manual to learn how.) This system applies the brakes or limits the powertrain’s output in low-traction situations, but you need your wheels to spin a bit, so the car can claw its way out of the snow.
- If your transmission allows for manual control, try starting in second gear. This permits the vehicle's wheels to rotate more gently than in first gear, which might help with traction.
- Turn the steering wheel left and right as you press the accelerator. Sometimes this can get you onto a less slick surface, where your tires may find traction and pull your car out of a mound.
- Try "rocking" your vehicle, gently accelerating in drive, then reverse. Go back and forth to gain momentum and reach a higher-traction surface.
If you’re looking for a vehicle that is capable of tackling winter precipitation, you don’t need to limit yourself to all-wheel drive models. A front-wheel drive vehicle with a good set of winter tires and an educated driver can often get through conditions that would hinder an all-wheel drive vehicle.