Cars

Having four-wheel drive becomes popular this time of year in KC

One car that he sold immediately after a snowstorm four years ago sticks in the mind of Jeremy Galloway, now the sales manager at Van Subaru.

A customer who worked at Park University was frustrated because his car was snowed in. He made it to Van Subaru, 90 N.W. Vivion Road in Kansas City, in another vehicle.

“He came in and tossed his keys on the desk and said, ‘I got to buy a car today. My car is snowed in, and I can’t get it out.’ We didn’t see his trade in person. He bought an Outback that same day because of the reputation.”

The Outback is one of Subaru’s most popular SUV models, especially when the weather is bad.

On Subaru’s website, the company boasts that the Outback’s symmetrical all-wheel drive sends power to all wheels simultaneously for maximum traction. In slippery conditions, it instinctively sends power to the wheels with the best traction, helping it stay on the road and on course.

Perhaps the example Galloway gave is an extreme case of buying a vehicle in the winter time, but there is no question that when the weather turns cold in November and December, car buyers in the Midwest think more about the advantages of all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD).

In recent years, it is probably more on the minds of Kansas City residents. In four of the last five years, including the last two winters, Kansas City has received above-average snowfall.

In February 2013 when a foot of snow fell twice in a 10-day period, AWD and 4WD vehicles managed much better than two-wheel drive in the deep snow.

National forecasts have suggested that this winter will be harsh once again from the Midwest to the East Coast.

This is the time of year car and SUV buyers in Kansas City are thinking more about purchasing AWD and 4WD.

“Absolutely,” said Anderson Foster, general manager at Gladstone Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler and Ram, 5610 North Oak Trafficway in Gladstone.

“Last Saturday (Nov. 22) turned out to be one of our biggest Saturdays of the year. We had a predominance of four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive truck and Jeep product sales. It accounted for better than 50 percent of our sales on Saturday.”

When it comes to AWD and 4WD, there are many options for buyers. It is a safe assumption that some car buyers don’t truly understand the difference between the two or if it is actually better in the snow than the standard two-wheel drive.

First off, it doesn’t matter what type of vehicle you have in ice, said Mike Sullivan, the new vehicle sales manager at Overland Park Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, 8775 Metcalf Ave.

But an AWD or 4WD vehicle has better traction in snow than one with two-wheel drive, Galloway said.

“An all-wheel drive vehicle, if you have three wheels not making contact in the snow, it will send all the power to the one wheel that is and pull you out,” Galloway said. “That is the advantage of a Subaru.”

What is the difference between an AWD and 4WD?

“A four-wheel drive vehicle is when you shift it into four-wheel drive, it does that. It is four wheels all the time (that) pull to maintain traction,” Foster said. “An all-wheel drive is a system in which the trailing pair, it could be a rear-wheel drive car with all-wheel drive capability or a front-wheel drive car that has all-wheel capability. The trailing pair or axle only kicks in when the system feels or sees slippage.

“Say one wheel in the rear is slipping and it knows it, it has a viscous coupler that warms up and engages the other set of wheels to drive. They are there all the time. A true four-wheel drive, it takes a concerted action by the driver to put it in four-wheel drive.”

Foster added that their true four-wheel drive vehicles are down to trucks and the Jeep Wrangler.

“The Grand Cherokee is a huge seller, but it is typically an all-wheel drive vehicle,” Foster said. “It doesn’t take driver action to put it into four-wheel drive.”

Galloway said the one of the things he likes about the Subaru’s AWD is it is in all-wheel drive all the time.

“A lot of vehicles advertise all-wheel drive but the drive is primarily front-wheel drive vehicle until it detects slippage,” Galloway said. “When you are talking winter driving or wet roads, inclement weather, that split second it takes the computer to switch to all-wheel drive, it is where you have problems.”

Obviously, every car dealership believes in its products. Both Foster and Sullivan are excited about the new 2015 Chrysler 200, which is now has AWD option.

“You would not have seen that years ago,” Sullivan said. “They are building a lot more crossovers now, which is a cross between a sports utility and a car, and making them available in front and all-wheel drive to grab some of that four-wheel drive segment that has become so popular.”

Typically, Sullivan said an AWD Chrysler 200 will cost $1,500 to $2,000 more than a standard version.

“The drive is going to be the same,” Sullivan said.

It all comes down to safety, Galloway said. There are winters in Kansas City that don’t have much snow but that shouldn’t deter a person from buying an AWD vehicle.

“We have people who come and compare all-wheel drive and ask is it worth it,” Galloway said. “If you think about the Midwest, just for the safety factor, even if you only have three or four big snows a year, it is worth the added safety for you and your passengers.

“Even in the mild winters, you are going to have a few occasions of snow. People just don’t like to take a chance when you have a vehicle. Subaru vehicles (are) safe and get you through the weather.”

One thing is certain: AWD and 4WD have become more popular because the technology is allowing the cars to get better gas mileage while giving you peace of mind driving in snowy weather.

“You will see people who panic and think they have to have it,” Foster said. “Because it has become more fuel efficient over the years with all-wheel drive systems, it is more adaptable and readily available than it ever has been.

“Used to be a four-wheel would reduce your fuel by half. The new 200, it is minor – a mile or two per gallon is all because the way the system will totally disengage and only bring it on when needed. It is a fabulous car. It is a world-class midsize competitor against the mainstays of that market.”

Galloway speaks just as highly about the Subaru Legacy sedan.

“The Legacy, an all-wheel drive sedan, it was top pick for sedan in Consumer Reports,” Galloway said. “You are not going to have any issues getting around in it.”

When it comes to AWD and 4WD vehicles, there are many options in the Kansas City marketplace. The examples here are just a few of them. One source for more information on AWD is Consumer Reports. Visit www.consumerreports.org/cro/2014/02/best-all-wheel-drive-cars/index.htm for more information.

Maybe this will be another winter where an AWD and 4WD will be beneficial, or maybe it won’t snow much this season.

“We are in that belt where you don’t know,” Sullivan said.

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