Do I Need Snow Tires If I Have AWD?

While you can probably safely drive your AWD (all-wheel-drive) with all-season tires in light or moderate snow, it’s a common misperception that AWDs will act like a tank in slick conditions. That just isn’t the case. You need snow or winter tires or even snow chains when facing severe winter roads in any vehicle. That includes AWDs. Here’s what you need to know about snow tires and your AWD or 4X4.

Is AWD or 4X4 Better in the Snow?

According to Consumer Reports, AWD and 4X4 vehicles may do fine in light snow. But there is a difference between doing fine and successfully navigating treacherous winter roads. When comparing AWD and 4X4 on winter roads, the deciding factor comes down to the vehicle and what you want from it. An AWD will transfer power to the wheels that need it, while a 4X4, when the transfer case is selected, provides power to all four wheels at once at much lower gears. When paired with snow or winter tires, both options can offer solid, safe-driving results.

What AWD Does Really Well in the Snow

AWD is great at getting your car moving from a dead stop and accelerating smoothly in a straight line when the pavement is slippery. It’s able to do this because it sends more power to whichever wheels are getting the most traction and less power to the spinning wheels.

But if you don’t have enough traction in the first place, the AWD system can’t compensate. If none of the four tires has enough grip, you’re going to struggle to stay in control in wintery conditions.

This is why an AWD equipped with all-season tires might not deliver safe braking and sharp cornering on snow or ice. In fact, independent testing from Consumer Reports shows that a front-wheel-drive (FWD) mounted with winter tires will have a shorter stopping distance and better cornering than an AWD with all-season tires.

Are Snow Tires Recommended for AWD and 4x4 Vehicles?

It’s true, AWD and 4x4 vehicles can help you maintain momentum in snow and ice. But when it comes to braking and cornering performance in these conditions, your tires rather than the type of vehicle make a big difference. Les Schwab recommends that you have winter tires on your AWD and 4x4 if you’re regularly driving in snow and ice. We also recommend that you carry a set of snow chains.

How Winter Tires Provide Better Traction

What some people call snow tires are, in fact, winter tires built for better road grip in ALL winter conditions — rain, ice, snow and slush. These tires are made with specialized rubber that stays softer in cold temperatures. They’re designed with tread features like bigger grooves, biting edges, sipes, optional studs and variations in the block shapes for improved grip even in subzero temperatures.

Graphic comparison between all-season tires and winter tires where the tread is shown side by side

Other differences between all-season and winter tires include:

Traction: Winter tire traction is optimized with deeper grooves and sharp, irregular edges while all-season tires feature normal tread for a wide range of conditions.

Technology: Winter tires are designed with a rubber compound that remains flexible in snowy and icy conditions. All-season tires are designed to withstand hot weather with a harder rubber. However, those tires cannot grip snow and are prone to sliding on ice.

Built For: Snow tires are built to grip snow, slush and ice while all-season tires are made for spring, summer, and fall.

Learn more about how to choose between all-weather, all-season, and winter tires.

Are Winter Tires Worth It for AWD Vehicles?

AWD is helpful when you’re starting to move or accelerating on slick roads, but not so much when you’re cornering or stopping. It’s not a substitute for having winter tires.

If you’re only visiting snowy areas once or twice a year, you may not need to invest in another set of tires. However, you should carry a set of tire chains for those just-in-case moments. Check your owners manual for chain restrictions and recommendations, including the use of tire socks.

If it’s frigid where you live or you’re traveling in more than light snow, buying a set of winter tires for your AWD will deliver the road grip you need for most winter weather conditions. Of course, you may also need a set of tire chains or tire socks for those times when the snow and ice get especially treacherous.

Les Schwab Has Your Winter Tires and Snow Chains

Your local Les Schwab can help you choose the best winter tires for your driving and safety needs. Stop by today and face this year’s winter roads with confidence.