Do You Need Four-Wheel Drive?
by Cameron Sloane
When purchasing a new car, you have many options to choose from, including four-wheel drive (4WD). Although cars with four-wheel drive offer performance benefits – namely, better traction on slippery roads – they’re more expensive. So, before you pay for this feature, make sure it’s necessary for the conditions you’ll be driving in.
What is four-wheel drive?
Most vehicles are equipped with two-wheel drive, meaning that the engine powers either the front or rear wheels. With 4WD, the engine can power all four wheels. This reduces the risk that you’ll lose control of your vehicle if any of your wheels lose traction. Four-wheel-drive systems are most useful in conditions when it’s difficult for your tires to grip the road – like snow.
Weighing the costs of four-wheel drive
Four-wheel drive typically adds between $1,500 and $4,000 to a vehicle’s purchase price. In addition to a higher upfront cost, a car with 4WD also has higher ownership costs. Four-wheel-drive systems generally weigh between 500 and 1,000 pounds, which makes the vehicle less fuel efficient. In addition to higher fuel costs, you should take into account the extra expense of maintaining a 4WD system. Replacing or repairing your tires and brakes, both of which tend to wear faster on vehicles with four-wheel drive, can also add to your maintenance costs. If you live in an area with severe winters, the cost of a 4WD vehicle may be worth it, but in areas with mild winters four-wheel drive usually isn’t necessary.
Alternatives to four-wheel drive
If you decide against four-wheel drive, you can still improve your car’s performance in low-traction conditions. One of the most effective safety measures is equipping your car with winter tires, which have deeper treading than typical tires. In some tests, front-wheel-drive vehicles with winter tires had better traction than four-wheel-drive vehicles with regular tires. A set of winter tires can cost about $1,000, which often is still less expensive than 4WD. Other features – like electronic traction and stability control – also improve the performance of two-wheel-drive vehicles in low-traction conditions.
Regardless of whether you choose a vehicle with 4WD, make sure you protect it with full-coverage car insurance. You may also want to consider getting a car insurance policy that comes with roadside assistance. Knowing you’re covered if you get a flat tire or need a tow will give you peace of mind behind the wheel, especially in the winter.
Resources: MSNBC | Living Stingy