The dangers of driving in snow and ice demand our attention. This is amplified in our more Northern regions where the snow and ice are more abundant and frequent during the winter months. This can cause residents to enlist an arsenal of winter weapons including: snow tires, studded tires, snow chains, rock salt, kitty litter, sand, shovels, etc. However, the question always comes up about the necessity of having 4-wheel-drive (4WD) in your winter wonderland. The answer as always is, it depends.
The most important thing to remember about 4WD is that it is notably terrible on icy roads. Icy roads are tough enough to navigate with two spinning wheels, but four spinning wheels is usually a one-way ticket to the nearest ditch. You may notice many 4WD vehicles in the ditch because the driver was overly confident because of their 4WD capability. In other words, having 4WD seems to give their owners that Teflon mentality that nothing can harm them. Sadly this is not true.
The high center of gravity with many 4WD vehicles is another concern. This is especially dangerous if a vehicle is sliding into a ditch in icy conditions. This higher center of gravity can cause many 4WD vehicles to roll over much easier than standard passenger cars. Sliding into an icy ditch is never fun, but the possibility of your vehicle rolling on adds fuel to the fire.
Do not necessarily put your 4WD vehicle on Craigslist just yet, they have a lot of value in some special sets of circumstances. The 4WD functionality can be an asset in deep snow especially after large snowstorms. Normal passenger vehicles have trouble in snow over about 8 inches. A 4WD vehicle is less likely to get stuck in snow this deep due to the drive of all four wheels. This is especially true since many 4WD are more elevated off of the ground than passenger cars, thus giving more ground clearance. This can also be an asset if you live in areas that do not have paved roads or driveways. Some winter driving scenarios actually may necessitate veering off into a shallow ditch to get better traction and this might not be possible in many 2WD passenger cars.
A final advantage that many 4WD vehicles might have in winter weather is the possibility of having a winch on the vehicle. A winch can be your own personal AAA service in more rural areas. Should you get stuck in the snow, just hook your winch up to a nearby tree and you can most likely pull yourself out.
The bottom line is that you need to look at where you live, where you work, where you shop and consider the typical winter road conditions when making a vehicle decision. Most situations do not require a vehicle with 4WD capability. However, if you travel in more rural areas where conditions can be worse and help is less available, it might be your ticket to stay out of the ditch. If you are unsure, then you can always go with an All-Wheel-Drive vehicle such as an Subaru Outback which has some of the advantages of both kinds of vehicles. May you stay between the ditches this winter.