All-Wheel Drive and Four-Wheel Drive

Although the terms may sound similar, all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are very different systems. On all-wheel drive vehicles, the drivetrain has a front, rear and center differential to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. On a four-wheel drive vehicle, the drivetrain has two differentials and a transfer case to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. All-wheel drive is found on cars and crossover vehicles, while trucks and truck-based sport utility vehicles usually have four-wheel drive. Both all-wheel and four-wheel drive systems improve vehicle acceleration in slippery conditions, and can enable better handling on some types of roads or terrain.

All-wheel drive and  four-wheel drive can be worth the extra investment if you live in an area that gets heavy rain or snowfall for much of the year. Also, if you tend to do a lot of off-road driving or driving on unpaved roads, all-wheel or four-wheel drive will be a highly beneficial investment for you. Additional advantages to having all-wheel drive or four wheel drive include better traction with towing and often in some cases, added resale value.

There are drawbacks to having an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicle. All-wheel and four-wheel drive systems mean lower fuel economy and often require more maintenance than standard vehicles. An advantage that four-wheel drive offers that  all-wheel drive does not is that it can be turned off, so you can only use it when you need it, saving that extra fuel cost.

If you are considering whether or not to invest in an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle for safer winter driving, keep in mind that selecting the right type of tire may be the best thing you can do to enhance safety and performance.

Fall is the Time to Think About Winter Tires

Whether we are in denial about the end of summer, or just busy thinking about a million other things, most of us don’t give any thought to winter tires until the first snow or ice hits. At that point, everyone is thinking about them, panic ensues, and winter tires, like shovels, suddenly become very difficult to find.

If you are in need of new winter tires, fall is the time to shop for and buy them. Retailers begin to stock the newest models of winter tires in the fall, so you will have the best selection from which to choose. If your tire retailer does not have the tires you want in the size you need, you can typically order them, and your retailer will install them, at your convenience, before the winter weather strikes.

Since winter tires are usually manufactured during the previous summer, quantities are most often limited. If you put off shopping for your winter tires too long, you may not get the tires or the price you want.

Not sure if you need winter tires? Consider the weather in your region. Do you often drive in snowy or icy conditions? In the winter time, do you find yourself waiting to leave until the roads in your area have been cleared? If so, then winter tires probably make sense for you. Winter tires offer superior grip when driving, stopping, and cornering. Winter tires do have the drawback of faster tread wear than all-season tires. This is because the tread is designed to bite into snow and ice, and the softer rubber is formulated to stay pliable at freezing temperatures. As long as you change back to your all-season tires in the spring, your investment should last for several seasons.

When shopping for winter tires, note that they have a mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall. It assures you that they passed an industry test for severe snow use.

Warm Up Your Car in Winter?

Dear Tracy,

In the winter, my roommate  always “warms up” her car for about 15 minutes before driving anywhere. This seems like a huge waste of gas to me, especially for someone who struggles to pay her bills. But she insists her dad told her she should never drive in winter without warming up, or she will damage the engine. Is true that you need to warm up your car in winter?

Sydney J.

Dear Sydney,

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to warm up your car before driving it. Warming it up ahead of time can help to defrost the windows and clear them for visibility, but the engine does not require a warm up.

According to the Car Care Council, warming up, or idling longer that 30 seconds is unnecessary. A better way to warm up an engine is to drive slowly as you begin your trip. In other words, as you pull out of your driveway or parking lot, do not gun the engine. Just take it easy for the first few minutes as you head down the road.

Having said that, it is important to note that your roommate’s dad is not totally off base. Cars used to require warming up in the days of carburetor fuel systems. Today’s cars are equipped with fuel-injection technology, computer systems, and thinner synthetic oils. These new developments make warm ups unnecessary in newer cars.

Some folks may prefer to warm up their car anyway, so that it will be nice and toasty when they climb inside. While this is understandable, warming your car does have some drawbacks. Wasting gas, is one that you mentioned. Idling reduces fuel economy. Idling can also cause excessive wear or stress on engine components, such as cylinders, spark plugs, and the exhaust system. Shivering behind the wheel for a brief period could indeed save your roommate gas and money, and also extend the life of her car.

Another reason why warming up is not such a great idea is pollution.  A vehicle that idles for more than 30 seconds increases air pollution. It is easy to underestimate the impact of one car, but together, we can make a significant reduction in air pollution.

Safe Winter Driving: Accidents Aren’t the Only Hazard

Major storms and extreme low temperatures have been creating some major driving problems. While snow and ice cause an increased risk for collisions on the roads, the cold temperatures also leave your vehicle vulnerable to damage. Cautious winter driving means not only being careful on the road, but also paying a little extra attention to car care.

You may avoid cold weather problems that could leave you stranded by watching these three things:

1. Weak or Dead Batteries

Extremely low temperatures strain your car battery because the chemical reactions needed to make it work happen more slowly. If you already have an old battery, this can cause it to fail even more quickly. Have the battery tested. If it needs replacement, do it right away!

2. Thickened Fluids

Freezing temperatures cause thickening of fluids your car needs to run properly, including transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, oil, and antifreeze. Making sure these fluids are maintained at proper levels will help you avoid trouble.

3. Lost Tire Pressure

Tires typically lose 1 pound per square inch (psi) for every 10 degrees of temperature drop.  Under inflated tires do not perform well, plus the tire pressure loss can eventually result in a flat tire. Be sure to check inflation more frequently as the air gets colder.

Along with following these preventive measures, it is a good idea to always be prepared for a road emergency. This is especially true in frigid temperatures. You may want to throw some winter items in your trunk, along with your roadside emergency kit, such as blankets, gloves, boots, packaged hand warmers, and a folding shovel. You may also want to keep bottled water and snacks in the car, just in case you find yourself hungry and waiting for a tow!