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All-Wheel Drive: Do You Really Need It?

Many drivers would never choose a vehicle without all-wheel drive. But with today's traction controls and electronic systems, is AWD really necessary? We examined the benefits and disadvantages of AWD for shoppers who may choose the system -- or disregard it -- without thinking twice.

Pro: Extra Traction

There's no question that AWD improves traction. The reason is it allows all four wheels to spin, which can be helpful if two of them are on a slick or slippery surface. It can also be helpful if two wheels are stuck. That's a reality that many drivers in snowy, northern climates have to face. For that reason, we strongly recommend AWD if you live where you often face this type of weather.

Con: Modern Technology?

Can modern technology help a 2-wheel-drive car replace an AWD one? Not quite -- but it's getting there. Many modern cars offer traction control and stability control, which help keep you on the road even in difficult conditions. Most can completely cut power to one wheel, if necessary, or control a vehicle's skid to eliminate the possibility of it going out of control. Also, an ABS helps us stop better than ever -- and it is certainly not limited to AWD cars. This means if you live in an area with more mild weather, it's easier to get by with two-wheel drive.

Pro: Resale Value

Most AWD vehicles offer better resale value than their two-wheel-drive counterparts. There's a reason: AWD costs more up-front, and it makes a vehicle more capable. No, you won't see every penny back if you decide to tick the AWD option box. But your car will be easier to sell when that time comes. Also, choosing AWD means you'll never have to worry about resale if you move to a northern climate.

Con: Cost

While AWD offers improved resale value over 2-wheel drive, it also includes higher cost. For one, it's more expensive to buy initially. Many automakers charge a premium between $1,500 and $3,000 for it. But AWD can also be more expensive to maintain, since it's more complex than 2-wheel drive. That's especially important for shoppers considering a used car that may be out of warranty.

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