Four-wheel drive vs. steering

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

What is the difference between four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. I'm not the best driver in the snow, so I'd like to know which provides better traction, and whether they're that much better than front-wheel drive that they're worth the extra cost?


TOM: Four wheel drive and four wheel steering are two completely different things, Marilyn. Four-wheel drive (or all wheel drive) means that the power from the engine goes to all four wheels at the same time. This improves traction in a couple of ways. First, if one pair of wheels is on ice, the other pair can still get you started. Also, since the power is spread out among all of the wheels instead of just two, you're less likely to spin the wheels and lose traction that way.

RAY: Four wheel steering, on the other hand, uses the rear wheels to help steer the car. For a more detailed explanation, you'll have to consult Jackie Mason. In our opinion, the benefits of four wheel steering are negligible. And when compared with the cost of the system, and the potential cost of repairs for a whole extra set of steering components, we'd have to advise against four wheel steering.

TOM: Four wheel drive can be worth it if you have to drive in snow frequently, or if you're very fearful of driving in snow. But rather than get a "sport-utility vehicle," we'd suggest a four-wheel-drive sedan, like the All-Trac Toyota Camry, the Subaru Legacy, the 4WD Ford Tempo, or the 4WD Honda Civic Wagon.

RAY: Of course, there are other options, Marilyn. You can put four good snow tires on your current car. You'd be amazed at how much that can improve traction in the snow. Or you can do what my brother does when it snows. He stays home and watches old movies on cable TV. There's nothing safer than that.

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