An all-wheel drive (AWD) mechanical system sends a fluctuating amount of torque to each axle. Therefore, it powers both the front and rear wheels continuously and generally without the driver controlling it. This differs from two-wheel drive, which only powers the front or rear wheels, and four-wheel drive, which is a part-time four-wheel power option that the driver must turn on. Some advantages of AWD include better performance on slick and rugged roads plus the driver doesn’t have to decide about working the system.
However, it’s essential to understand the cons in addition to the pros of AWDs when you’re shopping for vehicles. So what are the disadvantages of all-wheel-drive vehicles?
When you purchase an AWD, you are purchasing a heavy vehicle. AWDs can weigh hundreds of pounds more than identical rear-wheel drives (RWD) and front-wheel drives (FWD.) The problem with this extra weight is the car’s acceleration can be negatively affected. It will take longer to reach a desired speed in a heavier vehicle.
The AWD’s weight also makes them harder to stop because there is more force between the tires and the pavement. This will increase the distance required to stop. If you’re driving an AWD in a situation where you must make a sudden stop and can’t turn or swerve to avoid another vehicle or another person, there could be a collision. This is more likely with a heavy AWD than a lighter, similar car.
2. Poor Gas Mileage
Gas mileage is very important to many people, especially in an economy where gas prices sometimes seem to increase by the day. All-wheel drive vehicles are notorious for poor gas mileage for a couple of reasons.
Since AWDs are hundreds of pounds heavier than RWDs or FWDs, they use more gas than lighter vehicles. Also, the engines of heavier vehicles must work harder. This extra work by the engine will reduce its gas mileage.
Additionally, AWDs must send power to additional wheels, and that requires a lot of energy. Whereas 2WD vehicles don’t have to do that and, therefore, are more fuel-efficient. The EPA indicates that you could lose as much as one to two miles per gallon with an AWD vehicle.
One of the significant disadvantages of all-wheel drive vehicles is the overall cost. Keep in mind that the overall cost is more than just the price tag; it’s everything else that comes with it.
AWD’s drive trains (what connects parts to the transmission) and other mechanisms are complicated and expensive. This is because you will find components such as sensors and computers that you don’t need for 2WDs and 4WDs.
Therefore, the price tag of these vehicles is high. When AWD is part of the vehicle’s standard equipment, it all becomes part of the price. This would include a markup for things like a driveshaft, software, various clutches, etc.
The overall price tag doesn’t get much better when AWD is chosen as an option. The price of the vehicle can be increased by thousands of dollars.
In addition, because AWDs have more components and complexity, that’s more components that need to be serviced. So, not only can the cost of these repairs be higher, but the number of times you need the AWD serviced could also be more. All of this adds to the overall cost of the vehicle.
Finally, we can’t forget about auto insurance. Currently, there are only two states in the U.S. that don’t require traditional auto insurance — New Hampshire and Virginia. Even if you live in one of those states, chances are that you’ll want car insurance.
Not all AWD vehicles will cost more to insure than other cars, but typically they do. AWDs cost more to repair and, therefore, cost more to insure.
4. Tire Replacement
When it comes to tires, all-wheel drive vehicles have unique considerations. Owning an AWD can be considered a disadvantage for those who don’t want to deal with having to pay extra attention to tires.
What do we mean by extra attention? We mean that all four wheels of an AWD have to be uniform. Let us explain:
The front tires on AWDs often wear out faster than the rear tires. This is because it’s the front tires that are involved with most of the steering and braking. In addition to steering and braking concerns, wear can be due to aggressive driving, misalignment, under-inflated tires, and failing to rotate the front tires to the back.
You may only want to replace the front two tires when they need to be replaced. However, it’s better to replace all four tires with an AWD vehicle. When your AWD tires are mismatched, that can cause unnecessary wear and tear when you drive. Simply put, your traction system can get confused by mismatched tires.
So, if you were to puncture one AWD tire, replacing one is not the way to go. Instead, you’ll need to replace all of the tires.
Of course, swapping all four tires will add to the price of maintaining your AWD, but it potentially will cost less than having to replace a part due to wear and tear.
5. False Sense of Security
There’s a disadvantage to driving an AWD that some people may not realize, and that is a false sense of security or putting too much faith in an AWD’s technology. You can feel pretty safe in an AWD, but you need to be realistic on how safe you actually are, begging the question, “Is all-wheel drive essential for winter driving?“
When there are icy roads with snow and slush, an AWD will reduce wheel spin when you’re accelerating. However, there is no effect on the vehicle’s ability to turn or stop in poor winter weather conditions. Therefore, an AWD doesn’t turn or stop any better than a 2WD.
The problem is that drivers are likely to judge traction in winter based on how easily a vehicle’s wheels spin when the throttle is pushed. Usually, when a vehicle feels unstable, you’d naturally slow down. But because an AWD reduces wheel-spin, it’s easy to overestimate the traction. As a result, you may find yourself skidding into a horrible situation. It’s important to remember that no AWD makes a vehicle stop faster in poor driving conditions.
6. Modern Technology
Modern technology is making it so that 2WDs are almost as effective as AWDs. Many non-AWD cars have traction control and stability for the worst driving conditions. Many can cut the power to one wheel and control a vehicle’s skid.
To save money, sticking to a well-functioning 2WD with a superior set of winter tires may be the way to go. You can get excellent traction with a good set of tires. Of course, if you live in an area with milder weather than places that get heavy winters, you won’t need winter tires, and you may not need an AWD at all.
We hope these six facts about AWD disadvantages will help you in determining which type of vehicle to purchase. Focus on the weather conditions of your area and where you’ll be driving to help you decide.