Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Gill asks: Do full size SUVs like the Chevy Suburban really need 4WD to handle well in the snow or is 2WD sufficient? My thinking is that the weight of the vehicle will be sufficient for traction but I don’t know for sure.
My reply: The problem with 2WD – with rear-wheel-drive – trucks and SUVs as regards traction (as opposed to handling) is that they are usually light in the rear; most of the weight of the drivetrain is over the front wheels. This reduces traction. (It’s also why FWD cars – which have the weight of the drivetrain over the drive wheels – are generally better in snow than RWD vehicles.)
Now add to the mix that all the engine’s power is flowing to just two rather than four wheels. If those two lose traction . . .
If you have 4WD (or AWD) you have multiplied your traction footprint, so to speak. The engine has four rather than two possible avenues to propel the vehicle forward. Also, truck-type 4WD systems usually have a two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing, which is a huge help in deep/heavy snow and (of course) off-road.
With that said, some general advice:
If you don’t have to deal with snow more than a few days out of the entire year, going with 2WD may be sensible in that in exchange for having to deal with occasional snow days, you will pay less for the vehicle and less for gas the rest of the of year. In my opinion, 4WD only makes sense if you live in an area subject to bad – and long – winters, where you’ll need 4WD to get around and not having that capability would be more than an occasional inconvenience.
You can improve the traction of a 2WD truck or SUV by weighting the rear end (bags of cement, whatever is handy) and shoeing the thing with snow tires. Also, if you’re shopping for such a vehicle, be sure to buy one that has a limited slip rear axle. A RWD vehicle – truck, SUV or car – without limited slip is like brushing your teeth but never flossing!
. . .
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