The forecast was slightly different than the weather: the ice storm we dreaded was mostly snow. Anyone who drives in inclement weather knows how much easier it is to drive on snow than on ice.
We ended up with about four inches of snow on top of some light sleet. Despite the weather, we still need to put out the newspaper, so I am working today. It’s not really a problem, though, because my Nissan Juke has all-wheel drive.
Some Drive-Train Training
There are five tiers of drive trains in cars and light trucks.
Conventional two-wheel drive. Prior to advances in auto design, most cars used this system. Most light trucks still use it. A drive shaft feeds engine torque to a differential at the center of the rear axle, which then feeds torque to the rear wheels. This is not a great choice in mud or snow because the wheel with the least traction will spin. The first cars I drove, my dad’s, had this.
Conventional two-wheel drive with a limited slip or locking rear differential. This is a step up, because if one of the rear wheels slips, a flywheel in the differential reroutes power to the other rear wheel.
Front-wheel drive. Instead of the transmission sending power down a drive shaft, these use a transverse (sideways) mounted transaxle that divides power between the front wheels. Newer front-wheel drive systems use some form of “traction control” to prevent one wheel from spinning. My first three cars did not have traction control, but my Chevy Cavalier and Pontiac Grand Am did, and it made a difference.
All-wheel drive. My Nissan Juke has this. In the AWD setting, power is sent equally to all four wheels, governed by a traction control computer. The Juke adds a setting labeled “AWD-V” which provides variable power to all four wheels to improve driving performance in normal conditions.
Four-wheel drive. When set to 4WD, power is sent to all four wheels. In snow, ice or mud, it performs very much like all-wheel drive. The main difference is that true four-wheel drive usually has a “low” setting that allows the vehicle to crawl over rocks, rises and depressions that all-wheel doesn’t. Abby’s Nissan Frontier pickup has four-wheel drive.
Since I had to be out and about today to photograph the storm, on a few occasions I pushed the Juke’s AWD a little, and I was genuinely impressed by the system. In spite of conditions being slick, I found the car reluctant to slide or skid, even with aggressive use of throttle and clumsy steering. It seemed eager to go in situations where nearby vehicles seemed to spin their wheels and fishtail. Also, the anti-lock brakes seemed very responsive, even when I applied full-pedal to test them.
Abby’s truck boasts similar abilities. All-wheel and four-wheel drive capability are luxuries we are both glad we possess.