Tell me about 4WD driving habits

I’ve managed driving through 17 midwest winters in nothing but front wheel drive cars. I’m at the point now where my next vehicle will be 4WD. Problem is I’ve never driven a 4WD vehcile before. Can you dispell the myths from the facts for me:

-Running a vehcile on dry pavement with the 4WD on can damage it? True? Not true? Depends on the type of 4WD?

-Using 4WD on slippery and icy roads at speed is no safer (less risk of spinning out) than 2WD?

-If it’s bad to use on dry pavement, what about mixed conditions? Blowing now? Rain? Dry tire paths down a snowy road?

AWD is fairly benign with respect to road conditions. Unless you are buying a truck, this is probably not going to be a problem for you. Cars with full time AWD can be driven on any road surface.

If your vehicle is true 4WD with locking hubs, then you have to take care depending on the road conditions. What are you getting?

Toyota SUV.


My Pathfinder is not supposed to be in 4x4 on dry roads. In mixed conditions I don’t worry about it too much unless I’m making tight turns, then I will sometimes take it out of 4x4. It’s a flip of a switch to put it back in.

Straight down a highway with mixed conditions is not a problem.

My Wifes Grand Jeep has a ‘full time’ 4x4 mode in which the transfer case is not locked like my Nissan. Mixed conditions are not an issue for that. I suspect that Toyota may have a similar setting.

Running a vehcile on dry pavement with the 4WD on can damage it?

There are different types of 4WD. If the vehicle doesn’t have a center differential, then you cause undo stress and potential damage to the transfer if you run it in 4WD mode on dry pavement.

Using 4WD on slippery and icy roads at speed is no safer (less risk of spinning out) than 2WD?

True, to some degree. 4WD helps you go. It doesn’t help you turn (much) and it doesn’t help you stop at all. On a slippery road, 4WD mode handles differently than 2WD, so if you do what you are used to doing when you start to slide you can often make things worse. I have found with my 4WD truck that it does handle better on slippery slushy and snowy roads in 4WD mode than it does in 2WD mode, but if you’re on ice you are going to slide in 2WD or 4WD. People think that they are invincible in 4WD mode and end up doing a 360 or going into a ditch. 4WD helps, but it doesn’t work miracles and you have to know how to use it properly.

Once you get a 4WD vehicle, take it out to a shopping mall parking lot (before the snow plows get to it) or someplace where you can slide and not hurt anything, and intentionally do things that will cause you to slide so that you can get used to how to recover from it.

what about mixed conditions?

I would say it depends. I personally tend to stay mostly in 2WD mode but if I start slipping a lot I’ll sometimes put it into 4WD mode. Even if the weather is crappy, if the tires are gripping well you don’t want to put it into 4WD mode (unless you have a center differential) because you’ll put additional stress and strain on the transfer.

I don’t know enough about Toyotas to tell you if they have a center differential on their 4WD vehicles or not.

Well, I have a AWD sedan and I can tell you this about it. As long as the car is not bottomed out (less than 6 inches of snow), I don’t need chains to go (but a 2WD vehicle can do this too, but maybe with more spinning of wheels). With chains on the front only I can drive through as much as 19" of snow as long as I don’t stop in it, this includes up steep inclines, which no 2WD vehicle I have ever owned could achieve that.

The biggest advantage is the stability I get in any conditions, very little pull from puddles, water filled ruts on the freeway aren’t a big deal and only require slightly more power (previous 2WD’s of mine have just spun up the drive wheels and slowed down from lack of traction).

I should mention, I like the ability I have that the AWD lets me point the steering wheel of the car and it goes that way in slick packed snow and fresh snow. Adding more gas just makes the back end come around faster but not in an out of control way. You can do fully controlled donuts in a parking lot, or quickly counter steer a slide.

I should mention that my AWD system has no center differential, but rather a multiplate wet clutch that goes from slightly engaged to fully engaged depending on wheel slippage. So on dry roads the clutch lets it slip around tight turns so the drive train doesn’t bind.

Unfortunately braking is useless on ice and slippery snow, the ABS engages easily (worse before I got new tires) so I have to plan stops way ahead, and in fact have found that using my sport shift to downshift and slow down seems to work (probably more from the sense that its making me plan far in advance of any stop I need to make). In rain I can hammer down on the brake pretty hard and it grips.

AWD vehicles do tend to get less gas mileage.

If you are concerned about travel in nasty snowy weather, get snow tires. They will do more for your ability to travel safely than AWD. Both is better, but snow tires will help you stop and steer much more efficiently.

Unless conditions are very bad (such as mud or deep snow) 4wd is not significantly better than 2wd with front wheel drive. Front wheel drive or 4wd is better than 2wd rear wheel drive anywhere except dry pavement.

It’s been alluded to above, but I’ll restate it: 4wd does not help you slow down or stop.

I would disagree and state that 4WD is significantly better when trying to get moving on packed snow or ice. Not just deep snow or mud.

Especially when going uphill. No contest.

I use it everyday 6 months out of the year on snowpacked/icy roads.

And 4wd will help slow you down if you are downshifting.

I was looking at a FJCruiser automatic. I could probably deal with it in the winter if it was front 2WD but it is rear. And a rear-wheel drive vehicle in snow is a no-go for me.
I don’t believe the FJs have a center differential.

meh, I love rear wheel drive in the snow. takes a hell of a lot more skill but you can still do stuff thats not possible with fwd.

You want something advertised as:

Full-time 4WD



You can drive 'em and forget 'em. They’ll send power to various wheels as needed. Just drive it.

Plain old and basic 4WD that you have to select via shifter or switch… is only for use on slippery surfaces, because it NEEDS to slip or risk damage to the internals. This is mostly found on heavy-duty pickup trucks.

I bought an AWD Outback last year. We’ve had pitifully little snow this Winter, but I on the once occasion where we had a decent blizzard, I took it up a block with a 35-degree-ish incline, in four inches of fresh powder, from a standing start, with zero problems.

I love that car.

Looks like the Automatics don’t have a transfer case differential, but the manuals do. Looks like if you wan’t AWD type of 4x4 you would need to buy the manual. Very odd.

Anywho, I wouldn’t worry about not having it. Ya just have to pay attention and take it out of 4x4 when you don’t need it. I’m in and out of 4x4 for 6 months out of the year, it really isn’t an issue. There are LOTS of vehicles with this set up.