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How Much Difference Can a 4x4 Make in Winter?

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Due to the mild nature of the UK, it is very rare that we ever have to deal with large amounts of snow and ice on our roads. Unfortunately, this means that for the brief period that it does occur the nation, as a whole, is completely unprepared.

While most cars can handle driving in the snow and ice to some degree, making sure that your vehicle is set up correctly can go a long way at this time of year. If you’re looking to buy a new car and want to know what type of drive chain works best in the snow then check out this article.

So, just how much difference can a 4x4 make during winter months?

Four Wheel Drive vs All Wheel Drive

First things first, you need to understand that there is a very definitive difference between four-wheel drive(4x4) and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles. These terms are not interchangeable, although it can be very confusing if you aren’t up to date with the latest car technology.

Crucially, the biggest different is that a 4x4 is designed almost explicitly for heavy off-road use while AWD is designed to provide drive to all wheels for maximum traction in all conditions. If you want to find out more about 4x4 gear ratios and more on how these systems differ then click here.

How can a 4x4 Help in Winter?

As a 4x4 has power being delivered to all the wheels on your vehicle, you have the benefit of added traction when compared to front or rear wheel drive. This gives you a much greater margin for error which can be the difference between a safe journey and losing control of the vehicle.

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[Image: FOTNMC under CC 2.0]

In deep snow 4Lo can help you gain traction and bring you up to speed, but once you’ve got moving you’ll want to switch to 4Hi to maintain your momentum. As all the wheels are driving the vehicle, if one of them slips then it doesn’t affect the car as seriously as there is still traction at other points.

However, due to the drive being on all four wheels you do need to take extra care when cornering. If you try to turn too fast on an icy or snowy road then the front wheels could corkscrew and make the vehicle continue in a straight line rather than taking the turn. Make sure you slowdown in advance to prevent this from occurring.

Not Just About the Drive Chain

It is important to remember that while a 4x4 can help in snowy and icy conditions, you do still need to exercise caution. While 4WD can go a long way in getting you moving, but it does not help you stop. Always make sure you leave plenty of time to brake and keep your speed slow and steady.

Winter tyres can have a huge impact on how well your car performs, regardless of drive chain. Auto express did a test to find out which works best, winter tyres or a 4x4.

Knowing how to drive in winter conditions is also extremely beneficial, as this can drastically enhance the performance of your 4x4. Not sure on what to do when driving on snow or ice? Check out this article that covers everything you need to know about winter driving.

There are a few key differences when driving a 4x4, for example the high/ low range gear box should be used for its intended purpose - if in doubt, 4Hi for cruising and 4Lo for extra control. Vehicles with diff locks will have huge benefits as these engage to prevent the vehicle from slipping. Traction control on the other hand can become a hindrance, so you may need to manually turn this off if this becomes the case.

When going downhill, sometimes it is more beneficial to put the vehicle into 2WD and put it in a low gear. Using the engine to brake while keeping the wheels rolling can stop you from entering into a slide, allowing you to maintain control of the vehicle.

How Much Difference Does a 4x4 Make?

Honestly, a 4x4 can make a huge amount of difference when it comes to winter driving but it isn’t the be all and end all. It is just as important to install winter tyres and know the best ways to drive in the snow – without these essentials you will not be able to make the most of the system.

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Due to the landscape and road network of the UK, you are unlikely to absolutely require a 4x4 for winter driving. That said, if you do have one then you’re extremely unlikely to become stranded wherever you are in the country. For most roads, winter tyres or an AWD system like Subaru uses will be more than enough to get you through even the worst of British weather but if you do drive country lanes or other untreated surfaces a 4x4 will be a godsend.

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