When the snow flies you’re bound to hear people discuss the differences between front-wheel and all-wheel drive and what’s better for a snow packed road. In the winter months your main concern should be traction. Actually, this should be a major concern anytime you drive, but especially once snow falls. While traction comes down to more than just what wheels are driving the car – tires play a huge role – it’s important to understand the differences between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive so that you can get the car that’s right for you.

We would have discussed rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, but because many modern cars are going with either a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive setup, we decided it would be smart to focus on these two drivetrain layouts.

What Front-Wheel Drive is All About

CR-V

Front-wheel drive has become the most popular and most economical option out there. It’s the cheapest way to make a vehicle, more fuel efficient and offers great performance under a wide variety of road conditions. While a front-wheel-drive layout does come with some shortcomings and probably isn’t the best if you’re looking for a performance car, it’s a good option for everyday driving and front-wheel-drive technology continues to get better.

The biggest benefit of a front-wheel-drive setup is that the majority of the car’s weight is over the drive wheels. This means that you have great traction. The engine, transmission and many other components put a lot of weight over the drive wheels. That’s great for snowy conditions, but front-wheel-drive cars also ask a lot of the two front wheels because they power and steer the car. This means if you lose traction you also lose steering in many cases.

What All-Wheel Drive is All About

Focus RS

All-wheel drive is quickly gaining popularity because it takes the benefits of the front-wheel-drive system and basically adds power to the rear wheels. Yes, you lose the cost effectiveness and some of efficiency, but you still get a lot of weight over the drive wheels and generally a better weight distribution, which is important.

Power doesn’t go to all four wheels evenly all the time. Instead, power is directed to the wheels that need it. This makes it extremely effective in snow. In a situation where a front wheel drive car would lose control, an all-wheel-drive car can push power to the appropriate wheels and help you get the traction you need.

Which is Better?

Snowy road

Essentially, all-wheel drive is better than front-wheel drive. That doesn’t mean everyone has to have all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive does a really good job on a snowy road, and most people would be fine with a front wheel drive car. Before you spring for the all-wheel-drive version of the car you’ve been thinking of, think about where you drive and how you drive.

If you live in a flat area that doesn’t get much snow, you probably don’t need power going to all four wheels. However, if you live in a hilly or mountainous environment and are used to several inches of snow on the ground throughout winter, springing for all-wheel drive is probably in your best interest.

No matter what kind of car you get, your tires are going to make a big difference. If your tires are worn down or not made for winter weather, it really won’t matter where the power goes. Without good winter tires, you’re putting yourself in danger even with all-wheel drive.