What Are the Drawbacks of All Wheel Drive?


What do you look for when shopping for a vehicle? Besides the exterior looks and the body style, the powertrain and the drivetrain are the next most important things that define your vehicle. 

The needs of drivers will vary depending on the amount of power they need, their driving style, and even their overall lifestyle.

If you are in the market for a powerful off-roader, the powertrain will be the priority followed by the drivetrain. 

For stellar off-road capabilities, an all-wheel-drive train is a must-have. 

But the All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) comes with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. 

What Are the Drawbacks of All-Wheel-Drive? 

All-Wheel-Drive vehicles are more expensive, offer low fuel economy, have worse braking and handling (especially on corners), and, most of all, often give drivers a false sense of confidence that can get them into trouble.

Drivers who live in snowy areas are more likely to go for an AWD regardless of its disadvantages mentioned above. Let us delve further into these disadvantages.

What Is an All-Wheel-Drive (AWD)

A vehicle with an All-Wheel-Drive is one with a drivetrain that can deliver power to each wheel of the car throughout when required. 

There are two types of all-wheel-drive systems, namely:

  • Full-time AWD
  • Part-time AWD

The full-time AWD system drives all four wheels throughout, whereas part-time AWD functions in two-wheel drive mode most of the time and supplies power to the wheels only when greater traction is needed. 

In General, the AWD systems work without any input from the driver. 

However, some vehicles enable some control over how much power is sent to each wheel. 

The power distribution is expressed in terms of percentages, thus, if a system is 70/30, it means that the max of 30 percent of engine power is directed to the rear wheels, with the remainder directed to the front. 

Other systems will go much further to ensure that the power is distributed to all wheels. 

What this means is that, if a car is not all-wheel-drive, or four-wheel-drive, it is most likely to be front- or rear-wheel-drive. 

All-wheel-drive often transfers more power to the front wheels, this is referred to as front-wheel biased while the four-wheel-drive are most often rear wheels biased. 

These drivetrains come with their advantages and disadvantages. 

Are More Expensive and Complex

Even though AWD vehicles will have a higher resale value compared to the 2WD, their initial cost is higher. 

The price difference between the same vehicle with two different systems can be over $6000. 

AWD is also more costly to maintain because it is more sophisticated than a two-wheel drive. 

The complexity of the mechanism and the electronic system required to support it are additional points of failure. 

Also, if you are considering buying a used AWD vehicle that doesn’t have a warranty, you will end up paying a lot when the vehicle experiences a problem. 

AWD is frequently provided as an optional drivetrain since it can raise the price of a vehicle unnecessarily. 

Some manufacturers will instead provide this function as standard despite the additional cost of AWD components. 

An all-wheel-drive system will come with an extra differential, a driveshaft, multiple clutches, control software, and more. 

Subaru and Audi are well-known for providing cars with AWD as standard equipment. 

Offer Low Fuel Economy

Aside from the additional expense in purchasing the AWD vehicle, these cars offer a much lower fuel efficiency. 

They require very powerful engines to deliver power to all wheels. 

Therefore, they spend slightly more fuel than their 2WD counterparts. 

Depending on your driving style and needs, it may cost you a few dollars more in fuel annually. 

They Do Not Improve Braking

Many people will go for AWD vehicles with the wrong idea that it is the best for off-road conditions. 

This is not always true. The all-wheel-drive system is not designed to improve the handling or braking of your vehicle. 

It will only boost traction to help you accelerate and get out of harsh road conditions. 

But they will not in any way influence your braking or handling on slippery road conditions. 

The braking and handling of the AWD vehicles are not any different from that of an average 2WD vehicle. 

Poor Handling on Corners

All-wheel-drive does not improve the handling of the vehicle on dry roads. 

This will be determined by the vehicle. 

AWD is good for high-power high-performance vehicles to help restrict spinning the tires so as to harness a large amount of horsepower. 

The capacity of an AWD system to provide torque four ways and send individually to the four tires, instead of two, minimizes the probability of any particular tire spin while accelerating on a straight line or powering through a corner, just like it does in the snow. 

Thus, AWD offers faster acceleration from rest and less friction on tires. 

AWD makes driving on low traction areas easier, but it doesn’t necessarily enhance handling or steering, which will be dependent on other factors. 

Offers False Confidence

It is important to acknowledge that AWD is just a tool that is provided to get you out of messy or low traction situations. 

It should not be confused with some superpower that will make your vehicle perform extra-ordinarily on the highway or off-road situation. 

For example, when driving in a slippery road condition, you should allow enough space between your vehicle and the next. 

This is because AWD vehicles have a longer braking distance on the slippery road since the all-wheel-drive system doesn’t affect the braking system. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Do I need an all-wheel-drive? 

The need for an All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) drivetrain will depend on the condition of the road in your location.

If you have less traction due to either too much rain or extremely snowy conditions, then the extra bucks required to buy an AWD vehicle can be justified. 

But if you have an average road, in a temperate region, with little or no snow or rains, an AWD will be an extra cost that you don’t need to incur. 

Whether you’re a first-time owner, or you are upgrading from a 2WD or a 4WD, it is important to do thorough research on whether you need the extra power and the extra traction that the AWD system offers. 

The modern 2WD vehicles have been designed to handle low traction conditions. 

All you will need is enough power and very good tires. 

Coupled with a good transmission, you will be able to use a 2WD to get out of complicated road conditions. 

Is an AWD the same as a 4WD? 

No. An all-wheel-drive isn’t a four-wheel-drive. 

The 4WD uses a system that cannot adjust the individual axle speeds, implying that they cannot be driven on dry streets or roads. 

All four-wheel-drive systems are only meant for occasional use. 

They are intended for off-road driving or driving on exceptionally slippery roads. 

On the other hand, an all-wheel-drive system will deliver power to each of the four wheels. 

Depending on the configuration of your vehicle, you can control the amount of power to be delivered to the wheels. 

But it should be noted that the AWD is not a solution to all driving needs, it comes with its share of advantages and disadvantages. 

Which one is better: an AWD or FWD vehicle? 

Front-wheel drive vehicles excel in climbing steep slopes and offer good handling in slippery situations. 

FWD vehicles are better for the manufacturers too because they are less expensive to produce and utilize space more efficiently. 

Whereas AWD vehicles are designed to send power to each wheel, they therefore come with more complex systems that may lead to increased maintenance costs.

The need for an AWD should be informed by the road condition you will be driving on. 

Very slippery or snowy conditions warrant the use of an AWD drivetrain over the FWD. 

Is AWD good in the rain? 

Yes. An AWD drivetrain is better than an FWD system in rainy conditions. 

This is because the AWD system helps to stabilize your car on a wet road, but it doesn’t necessarily help in handling or steering. 

Does the all-wheel-drive system improve braking? 

No. Even though the weight of an all-wheel-drive vehicle enhances handling, it causes the vehicle to take longer to come to a complete stop. 

When a light vehicle stops suddenly and cannot veer, it is likely to collide. Therefore, AWD will help in ensuring the vehicle is stable on slippery roads, but will not improve braking, nor will it enhance handling or turning capabilities. 

Conclusion

Now, should you purchase an AWD vehicle? That will entirely depend on your reason for buying an AWD. 

It is a yes if you reside in a location with extreme snow or rainy conditions and very wet and slippery roads. 

However, if you are on a budget, a 2WD vehicle with decent tires designed expressly for slippery roads may suffice. 

A 2WD will be fine for a temperate climate, and it will save you money on maintenance. 

All-wheel-drive vehicles are frequently mistaken for 4WD cars. 

Whereas both use all four wheels, there exist major differences between them. 

Therefore, when shopping for a vehicle, it is important to clarify exactly what you need since AWD will cost you more in initial purchase and maintenance.

John Nelson

You can find John stringing a hammock from the back of his SUV to a tree camping in the outdoors most weekends during warmer weather. John loves the outdoors and the freedom four-wheel-drive vehicles offer.

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