You might not need an SUV for snowy conditions when an all-wheel drive vehicle would do just as well...or better.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I work for an employer who is trying to decrease the number of four-wheel-drive vehicles driven by employees. The nature of our work is crisis-oriented (child protective services), requiring that the staff drive in all weather conditions, including snow. The staff is also required to transport children in these conditions. I have been told by the person in charge of vehicles that there is no difference between four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive when driving in snow, and that the safety is the same. I'm concerned that this is not accurate and that staff and children will be placed at risk. Please provide some advice. -- Sarah

TOM: Well, first we want to applaud your employer for trying to get unnecessary four-wheel-drive vehicles (we assume they're SUVs) off the road. That's a noble desire.

RAY: But these don't sound like "unnecessary" SUVs to us. They sound pretty necessary, from what you describe. And the guy who said that two-wheel drive is just as good as four-wheel drive in the snow is nuts. Four-wheel drive is a lot better in the snow because you can engage what? Two more wheels! And full-time all-wheel drive is even better than that, because it's safe to use in all weather conditions.

TOM: If you truly must get around in all kinds of weather, including snow, then you are one of the few people who can actually justify a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

RAY: If your employer simply hates SUVs because of the cost of gasoline, the danger to other motorists or the general impression of waste and excess, perhaps he or she should consider one of the Subarus like the Outback or Forester. Those are both passenger-car-size (for fuel economy and the safety of other cars you might hit), but they have full-time all-wheel drive for traction in rain, snow and slush. Plus, they're inexpensive and reliable compared with full-size SUVs.

TOM: Other small, all-wheel-drive options would be the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe. Good luck, Sarah.

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