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Thinking about getting a vehicle with all-wheel drive? Here's what to know

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More than half of all new vehicles on the road come with all-wheel drive, and while the added protection may not compensate for a lack of good tires, it does help.

“I wanted safety and peace of mind,” Karlie Stephenson, who recently bought a 2018 Mazda CX-5 with all-wheel drive for her family, said.

Since the 1990s, automakers have been making the shift towards all-wheel drive vehicles from rear-drive vehicles and later, front-wheel drive.

However, not all vehicles with all-wheel drive operate in the same way.

A Subaru, for example, always directs some of the engine’s power to the rear of the car and can send larger amounts if needed. This happens with a mechanical driveshaft that runs the length of the car, whereas electric and some hybrid vehicles utilize individual motors at each of its axles.

“There are cost-effective ways or different ways of doing this, where maybe the car is primarily driven as front-wheel drive,” Consumer Reports’ Alex Knizel said. “The front wheels are getting most of the power all the time and then only in certain situations will it send power to the rear wheels.”

People who live in snowy areas with plenty of wet, slippery conditions would benefit the most from vehicles with all-wheel drive, as it provides added traction for drivers, Knizel said.

“Or, you know, [if] they live at the bottom of a steep driveway that is often wet or snowy or covered in ice.”

In Canada, all passenger vehicles sold since the 2012 model year have come equipped with electronic stability control, which – in addition to traction control -- significantly improves road-holding capabilities regardless of all-wheel, rear-wheel, or front-wheel drive.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that even the best systems will struggle to find grip on slippery roads if your tires are in poor condition. While all-wheel drive does provide added protection, it can’t compensate for a bad set of tires.

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