Not all vehicles are created equal when it comes to winter driving. Many people tend to gravitate towards four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles believing that their ability to tackle snow and ice are superior. While these SUVs, Crossovers and other models may provide more power and stability than a two-wheel drive sedan, winter driving is all about traction.
Many people automatically assume that with a four-wheel drive vehicle they will be able to conquer all roads and surfaces. This is simply not the case. You could have a part-time or full-time four-wheel drive vehicle that provides the precise amount of torque to each wheel, but may see no advantage in performance or handling based on the driving conditions. For the torque system to be effective in snow or ice, you need to have winter tires installed. Winter tires are specifically designed to grip the road and handle the most extreme temperature and weather conditions.
It’s this misconception that leads to many winter accidents. People think they are well prepared to handle all winter driving conditions with their 4WD or AWD vehicle. As a result, they often equip their vehicle with all-season tires. While all-season tires are good in a number of general year-round driving conditions, performance can degrade significantly in cold and icy conditions. All-season tires are constructed of rubber compounds which are “averaged” to deliver better wear and good traction in a wide range of conditions, but the trade-off is a decrease in traction below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the point where all-season tire compounds begin to harden and lose traction.
Remember, winter driving is all about traction, and being able to stop your vehicle and control it during turning. While four wheel-drive-vehicles provide a definite advantage upon accelerating, they provide no advantage when stopping or turning on ice or snow. At this point it’s between the tire and the road - and the driver may be at a disadvantage as many four-wheel-drive vehicles are heavy and take longer to come to a stop.
Another thing to remember is many four-wheel-drive vehicles come with large wide tires. Because of the larger surface area of these tires they don’t dig through snow as efficiently as less wide tires, and can actually “hydroplane” on top of snow or ice. This can cause the vehicle to slip during steering and braking maneuvers.
The simple point is this: if you want maximum winter driving performance from your 4WD or AWD vehicle, you need to have winter tires installed. Only winter tires can provide the depth of tread and soft rubber compounds necessary to grip the ice and snow. As we discussed in an earlier article, proper winter tires can improve braking by up to 25 percent over an all-season radial and can improve collision avoidance by about 38 percent. Furthermore, it’s critical to place winter tires on all four wheels – this is especially true for 4WD and AWD vehicles.
Save travels this holiday season! If you have any questions about winter tires or driving safety, please feel free to call or stop by one of the convenient Dunn Tire locations.