We’re here to settle one of the biggest debates in the history of cars--which is better: two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive? It may seem silly to be arguing about wheels, because all cars have four wheels anyway, right? Wrong. For those of you that avoid AutoZone because it makes your head hurt, here’s some catch up information on what we’re about to talk about.
Two-Wheel Drive (2WD) - this is a system in your vehicle that allocates the power of your engine to only one axle. There are two kinds, front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive systems. Because front-wheel drive is the more popular system, we’ll focusing on that when we say 2WD.
All-Wheel Drive (AWD) - this system distributes the engine power equally to each tire. There are variations of this system as well. For example, some systems divide a certain percentage of power to both axles all the time, and many AWD systems deliver power to just one axle initially and then adjust when it detects slippage at one of the axles.
What is the debate? Which one is “better” to have. One of the problems here is that people don’t have the same definition of what “better” means. In the interest of this post, we’re going to remove the word “better” and make our question focused on which is “more worth it”. So let’s dig in, shall we?
The Pros for 2WD:
The system is more simple, therefore less expensive. It’s also lighter which tends to improve the fuel economy of the vehicles that have them. When you combine these two factors, you’re looking at a lower cost over the life of the vehicle. Of course that’s a big plus on the side of 2WD.
Another pro is that there is typically more room inside a 2WD car (especially front-wheel). In AWDs, there’s normally a hump in the floor by the rear seats where the transmission tunnel is, which takes up passengers’ floor space. In front-wheel systems, all the mechanics are up front, so those cars will have roomier cabins (now if only airplanes would take note!).
Additionally, 2WD vehicles are better at climbing hills since the engine weight is distributed over the front wheels. 2WD vehicles also have a tendency to perform better with cornering and braking. The general consensus is that if you drive in an area that gets rain and light snow, or in other words mild wintery conditions, then 2WD will be sufficient enough for you. The question is: are you happy with the concept of “sufficient enough”?
The Pros for AWD:
AWD systems provide more traction, particularly inline traction. This is a big plus when it comes to driving on sloppy road conditions and even off-road terrain. It will help get you going and keep you going through snow, ice, mud, sand, and other loose surfaces. If you’re stuck, that system is going to save the day.
As a result of all the wheels receiving power from the engine, if one wheel starts to slip, then they all can compensate. In a 2WD system, if one starts to slip and lose traction then there’s only one wheel with power to find some grip.
Although the 2WD is cheaper to own and maintain over the lifespan of the car, the AWD in a vehicle increases the resale value of the car! Why? Because the system is just more capable. Yes, you can take 2WD out onto some snowy roads, but the AWD system is going to handle it better. The only advantage that 2WD has over AWD on a snowy road is that the front-wheel drive is better at cornering and braking. But guess what? Winter tires will improve handling no matter what car you drive. In addition, when it comes to braking, there’s nothing more important than simply being a good and attentive driver. Period.
There is one elephant in the room that should be addressed, and it relates to another reason why the resale value of an AWD is higher: the system costs more. Typically $1,500 - $4,000 more, to be exact. This could easily be seen as a big negative, and is a big reason why many people choose to purchase the cheaper 2WD versions of cars. However, there is something that many people don’t consider when looking at this fact.
Your average driver with AWD system may truly call upon the system only a total of 3 - 4 times in the vehicle’s lifetime, which may make it seem like it’s not worth it on the surface. But when you look deeper, you’ll find that those 3 - 4 moments in which the driver truly needed the system are ones in which the consequences of not having the system would cost SO much more, including car accidents involving sliding into other vehicles or structures, getting a vehicle stuck in the middle of nowhere, and more. In those moments, that system could very easily end up saving you thousands of dollars. Don’t believe us? Look at CarFax reports on vehicles and how much accidents can cost an owner. There is a reason that many AWD owners describe it as being made to get you “out of trouble”.
So when you look at the differences between the two systems, evaluate your typical driving conditions and driving style and ask yourself is: “Which one is more worth it for me?”.