In the UK we are notoriously poor at preparing for any sort of weather change that isn’t a light drizzle. When it is sunny we’re slapped with a hosepipe ban, we receive heavy rain and suddenly floods are everywhere and god forbid that we get even the slightest hint of snow! 

To stay ahead of the curve, you should buy a vehicle that will perform well even under the iciest conditions. But what’s the best vehicle for driving in the snow – front, rear or all-wheel drive?

ARE FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES GOOD IN THE SNOW?

While you will always have the best traction with a quality all-wheel drive vehicle, you shouldn’t underestimate the abilities of a front wheel drive. These are far more commonly seen on the road and they perform surprisingly well during the winter months. The main benefits of a front wheel drive car in the snow are:

  • The majority of the vehicle’s weight is over the front wheel – increasing traction on the drive wheel.
  • You get better handling than you would on a rear-wheel drive car.
  • Forward drive helps to make progress through the snow when traveling at a steady pace.
  • Due to greater front wheel traction, climbing icy hills is possible.

All of these things contribute to much greater control when driving on icy roads, helping to prevent you from fishtailing and sliding around dangerously or simply not being able to gain traction.

ARE THERE ANY NEGATIVES?

Obviously, you won’t have the same control as you could expect from a 4x4, as with these vehicles the vehicle’s weight is equally balanced over all four tyres to get the best possible grip. But that’s not to say that your forward drive car’s performance will be half as good as the all-wheel options. 

If you are driving along roads that haven’t been ploughed or gritted recently then a front-wheel drive car should have no problem tackling the snowy surface. However, you would have real difficulty trying to pull a trailer or caravan behind your car, as the weight would then become unbalanced from the driving wheels.

HOW GOOD ARE REAR-WHEEL DRIVE CARS IN THE SNOW?

Unfortunately, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage with a rear-wheel drive car as the driving wheel is at the back where the vehicle isn’t heavily weighted. This also means that the drive shaft is trying to push the heavier loads, rather than pull as you’d experience with a front-wheel drive. This can make it extremely difficult to gain grip and can cause the steering to slide around at speed.

This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to drive a rear wheel vehicle in the snow, but some precautions should be taken, including:

  • Weight down the rear of the car – this will help to provide grip and prevent sliding
  • Accelerate slowly and in a high gear
  • Invest in a good set of snow tyres
  • Drive very carefully

WHY USE AN ALL WHEEL DRIVE IN THE SNOW?

Now don’t be fooled into thinking that an all-wheel drive vehicle is invincible in the snow, because it isn’t. Yes, you will have much better traction. Yes, it is much harder to lose control. No, hill climbs and descents will not be a problem. BUT, if you do push the vehicle too hard and it loses grip then there will be very little chance of regaining control before it comes to a complete stop. That said, if you live in a place that is particularly rural and many of the roads you use aren’t gritted then a 4x4 may be your best bet. Here’s why they handle the snow so well

  • All wheels have a driving force – loss of traction in one wheel is made up for by others
  • Additional grip when climbing or descending
  • High setting on 4x4s provides a high gear ratio ideal for snowy conditions

WHEELS CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Even though the Ministry of Transport never properly prepares for snow doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Investing in winter tyres can have a huge impact.

No car is completely safe from the snow, so make sure that your car is fully equipped with everything you need to get through a snowstorm, including a shovel and traction pads to help give your tyres extra grip and prevent becoming stranded in the snow.