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Do You Use 4×4 On Ice? [ Answered & Explained ]

Navigating your car through ice requires a calculated blend of skills and tactics.

Automobile experts recommend using 4×4 cars or SUVs to drive on snow.

With the conditions slippery and daunting, you cannot ignore the possibilities of getting stranded.

With 4×4 SUVs, you can draw the best line of defense while driving in wintry conditions.

With proper skills, your experience won’t be that nerve-wracking when you have a 4WD car.

So, if you reside somewhere that experiences frequent snowstorms and blizzards, having a 4WD car is a must.

Reputed manufacturers design these vehicles to retain control even on surfaces where traction is low.

Besides, you would enjoy better handling of the vehicle, which might otherwise skid off the surface.

Let’s check out why you must use 4WD cars on ice. 

Do you use 4×4 on ice?

Yes, 4WD SUVs are ideal for navigating through snowy terrains.

However, make sure to get your battery fully charged at the outset.

Also, drivers should know the drawbacks of using 4WD cars on ice.

In case the ice isn’t that deep, a 2WD would be fine.

However, when you need better control and traction, 4WD cars would be the best pick.

Therefore, a 4WD is not always the right answer to tackle icy conditions.

When the road conditions turn out to be too challenging, you would need a 4WD. 

Therefore, if you drive through rain or light snow, you would probably use the 2WD mode.

Moreover, driving with 4WD calls for experience and skills.

In case you are not habituated to using the 4WD mode, it would be wise to refrain from doing so.

With the surfaces extremely slippery, 4WD cars won’t do much good since the tires won’t find much resistance to clutch to.

This might result in the car going out of your control.

While driving on ice with a 4WD car, make sure not to pick up speed.

Picking up speed doesn’t help when you continue to lose control of the car on slippery terrains.

What you need is maximum momentum to get over the icy patches.

With your 4WD tires accumulating traction, you can regain control of your car. 

Does 4 wheel drive help ice?

Regardless of the conditions on the road, a 4WD car would distribute adequate power to all the wheels.

While the front wheels of your car would be pulling the vehicle, the rear wheels would be pushing it.

When you brake your car or corner it, the traction would be the lowest in your 4WD car.

Therefore, when you want to corner the car, make sure to remove the gas slightly to ease the vehicle into position.

Driving with a 4WD car on snow helps so long that you retain the momentum and refrain from speeding. 

A 4WD car maximizes traction and friction between the tires and the road surface.

This generates a greater amount of grip. In case you happen to lose this grip, the vehicle would spin out and you can lose control over the steering.

Now, if your car tends to go out of control, the AWD mechanism would compensate for power loss to the wheels by dispatching additional power to the tires that are still in contact with the road surface.

Therefore, when you detect the car losing grip on the road surface, simply ease off the gas pedal.

This ensures that the car wouldn’t suddenly move when it regains traction.

Ideally, when you use your 4WD to regain control of your vehicle, it would be wise to accelerate slowly.

This would allow enough time for your tires so that they can adapt to the new conditions. 

Modern AWD systems come with smart mechanisms.

They don’t distribute power to all four wheels at the same time when one of them loses grip.

Besides, some SUVs with a 4WD mechanism come with the provision of getting the center differential locked up.

So, it would send power simultaneously to all the wheels.

This feature helps you navigate through slippery roads.

Only experienced drivers can deploy this feature correctly.

Therefore, you need not use the 4WD feature on ice and snow all the time.

With moderate winter conditions, even a 2WD would be perfect.

In case you find the challenges threatening enough or get stuck in ice, the 4WD would come to your rescue. 

How to drive in snow and ice with 4-wheel drive? 

1. Gentle braking

Remember, although a 4WD system would help you move ahead in snow, it wouldn’t help you stop the car quickly.

You need to retain the momentum and slow down gradually.

On a slick surface, you need more stopping distance.

Even if you are using a 4WD vehicle, try slowing the car down rather than applying sudden brakes. 

2. Working on curves

Drive gently when you take the curves. The front wheels of your truck or car tend to corkscrew when you speed on slippery curves.

The car might not turn and travel straight in the wrong direction.

Put your foot off the gas for a while to let the car slow down. 

3. Drive slowly

Forward movement becomes challenging on slippery surfaces with the ice melting.

At times, you may have to limit the speed just to 10mph. Try not to pick speed when you take your car off the road on icy trails. 

4. Building momentum

You need to build momentum even when you drive slowly with your 4WD SUV.

Closely observe the road conditions where the wheels tend to lose traction.

As soon as the wheels try to dig in, press the accelerator in a controlled way.

If the ice layer is thick, you may dig the car flat until the layer reaches the undercarriage. 

5. Reading the thickness of ice

Drivers need to master slow driving on ice at different times of the day.

For instance, the depth and consistency of the snow tend to be different in the evening and the morning.

Also, some fresh snow can deposit and start melting on accumulated snow.

When you succeed in reading these road conditions, you can approach the challenges accordingly.

At times, you might have to drive a bit aggressively so that you can use the momentum to cross a thick layer of snow. 

6. Climbing slippery inclines

In case you have slippery inclines to climb, your SUV needs a decent amount of momentum.

Besides, you need to be on the right driving line. On your first attempt, you might not succeed in climbing up the incline.

Pick a better line and retry climbing the slope.

Engaging 4-Lo while deploying differential lockers might help when you ascend these surfaces.

Most importantly, drivers should know when the 4WD power starts declining, and when they should shift down or up. 

How much risky is it to Drive in 4WD on Ice?

As we explained, driving in the 4WD mode isn’t for everyone.

Unless you properly understand the AWD mechanism and gain adequate experience, you are at risk.

Here are some of the risks that you would encounter while driving in 4WD on ice. 

1. Vehicle spinning off

Traction matters the most when you take on icy terrains.

Even if you have 4WD, improper driving habits might prevent you from gaining the desired traction.

This can result in the spinning of the vehicle, leading to accidents. 

2. Braking becomes difficult

With the 4WD mode on, you would experience longer braking times.

So, you need to get a new concept of braking distance in case you have been driving on city roads all these years.

On snow, you need to slow down the car gradually while retaining the momentum.

Sudden braking can lead to skidding, and land you in accidents.

The heavier the vehicle, the greater momentum it would have. This directly increases the stopping distance.

This challenge becomes much more intimidating when you take downhill terrains. 

3. Difficult to steer

 Even if you have the 4WD mechanism in your SUV, it won’t enhance the steering ability.

With the increased power at the wheel, you must control the acceleration intelligibly.

Otherwise, your car can suddenly move forward when you don’t intend to do so.

This makes steering 4WD cars even more challenging. 

Factors the take care while driving on ice 

  • Rather than speeding, focus on gathering momentum and driving slowly
  • Refrain from applying brakes while climbing steep ascends
  • Keep your fuel tank and battery full while driving on ice
  • Install snow tires, snow chains, and snow plow if needed
  • Avoid using the adaptive cruise control feature
  • Turn your headlights and taillights on if conditions are foggy 


4WD tires, along with snow tires and other winter driving gears turn out to be a necessity while driving on snow.

Whether you navigate through sand, slush, mud, or snow, you can’t afford to count completely on the drive system of your car.

Driving skills matter when it comes to navigating your way through icy terrains.

This explains why automobile experts prioritize driving skills as much as they focus on the driving mechanism of SUVs.