But did you know most standard cars can handle the snow just fine?
I've been reading up over at Mr. Money Mustache, and he did a particularly relevant post to me today - All Wheel Drive Does Not Make You Safer . If you want to read, go ahead. I'll wait.
If you don't want to read, let me sum it up - AWD is a bit of a scam in the auto world. It doesn't make your car/van/SUV handle any better in bad weather conditions - that's the job of the tires.
Why is that relevant? Back before I even got pregnant with Tristan the Toddler Terror, I started feeling a little cramped with two growing kids in the back seat of my Saturn Ion. There were a few minor mechanical issues with my Ion, and I started thinking how nice it would be to have a minivan. I grew up with a minivan, learned how to drive in a minivan. It was familiar territory for me. I dreamed of the extra cargo room, the fact that the kids could be a little further apart, and being able to give their friends a ride if needed.
My dear husband was not impressed. He also grew up with a van, but had memories of it struggling up over mountains while streams of cars honked behind. He wanted me to get an SUV because he was sure they were better in the snow. I refused. I wanted a minivan, or I wanted my sedan fixed up so I wouldn't have to worry.
So we came to a compromise. I could get a van - IF it had AWD or 4WD. Fine. So we got my 2002 Chevvy Astro Van with AWD, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. It is about as close to an SUV as you can get and still be a minivan. It sits really high above traffic, it feels solid when you open and close the doors - it's a heavy duty van. A man's van. I've been driving it for the past 3 years, and I'm fond of it in my way.
Not my van, but very similar. Note the box-y shape and serious height of this metal brute.
But things have changed since we bought the van. For one thing, Jake bought a huge SUV with ample seating, tow package, and cargo space - a Yukon Denali that's about the same size as a Suburban. It's much bigger than my van - yet it gets better gas mileage! He's averaging between 15 and 16 MPG, while my Astro struggles to get 14.5 MPG. I've since learned that the AWD is the reason my mileage is so lousy - the motor is sending power to the front and rear wheels, expending unneeded energy and gas, just to have that AWD label. So I don't need my vehicle to be the big hauler anymore - I just need room for the kids, groceries, and my massage table. For another, the van cost us $1200 to inspect last spring. Since then, it's been living on borrowed time - I may not want a car payment, but the repairs are coming close to equaling car payments.
I took it in for an (overdue) oil change on Saturday. The tech looked at me in pity as he told me all the things that were going bad on my heavy-duty van. We were hoping to eke one more year out of the van before switching, but after that news we decided it has to go before May and inspection time. I tried talking to Jake about going to a one-car lifestyle for a while, using some of the savings to get an electric assist put on my bike so I can go more places with ease, but he isn't sold on the idea. He needs to know that in the event of an emergency, his wife and kids have safe, reliable and fast transportation. I can't fault him there. I'll still try to keep it parked as much as possible though. :)
So he started asking me what style of vehicle would I like. And I was able to say "No AWD - it doesn't help!" and have the data to back me up on the decision! So now I need to do some research on minivans, mileage, and seating configuration (I don't like the ones where you have to flip down the middle row seats to get to the third row seats) and start calculating what we can swing in the way of cost.