AWD vs. 4WD in Snow and Ice – Do They Provide Traction?

Step into any modern car, and you’re confronted with several buttons and diagrams.




Traction control, anti-slip systems, vehicle stability systems, and more…

There are a number of different terms and ideas, all designed to give you, the driver, the perception of increased safety in snow and ice.

But do these things actually matter when it comes to winter driving traction?

While it’s true that there are numerous uses for each of these modern technologies, and while an argument can certainly be made that it’s better to have at least some of them, can you rely on them when it matters most?

AWD vs. Front (or Rear) Wheel Drive

We’ve all seen it – a car deep in snow, with front or rear tires spinning frantically. Yet the car goes nowhere.

It’s clear that the ability to utilize each axle of your car can lead to scenarios where the grip is stronger on the front or rear of the vehicle, and if you have power coming from the wrong axle, you’re S.O.L.

So imagine a scenario in which your front tires are on dry land, and your back tires are in the mud. AWD can definitely help you in this situation vs. rear-wheel drive.

While this is a specific use case, it’s more-or-less the only sort of instance in which AWD will provide you with a significant advantage in terms of traction.

AWD vs. 4WD

Whereas AWD provides traction with both axles, true 4WD gives each independent wheel its own rotational ability, independent of the others. So whereas AWD can help you in a situation where one axle has grip and the other does not, it won’t help you in a situation where one tire has grip out of the four.

At their heart, all of these systems are simply about power management – about providing power to some or all wheels independently.

So again, we can imagine a specific situation in which one tire has traction and the others do not, but can you rely on any of these systems to provide you with better traction? 

The answer is simply, NO.

All of the various buttons and systems dictate how your car/truck handles and how it manages power.

This says nothing of traction where the tire meets the surface of the road (or doesn’t meet it).

That’s why in practice, you’ll be able to do far more in snow and ice with AutoSocks than you would with a 4WD with no traction at all.

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true!

So the real question isn’t what about AWD vs. 4WD in Snow and Ice? It’s what about where your tire meets the snow?

And for that, an alternative traction device can make all the difference.