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Four Wheel Drive Or Chains?

Why am I even asking this question?

Because the answer of four wheel drive (4WD)! But, for many people the expense of a 4WD can’t be justified so chains it is. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of both.

There’s little question if you’re driving up and down snowy roads with some regularity, that four wheel drive (or all wheel drive as it’s sometimes termed) is the better option. In New Zealand, Subarus are one of the most popular brands, and it’s a common sight (and selling point) to see a Subaru cruising past the chain fitting bay, while people struggle to fit chains in the mud and cold. Yuck! But for all their benefits, four wheel drives aren’t perfect ...


  • Less fuel efficient and/or harder on tyres. More expensive to run basically.
  • More expensive to buy.
  • More complex, when they break, they break big. But that’s all modern cars!
  • You do still need to fit chains when things get really bad. 4WD does not mean you are invincible!


  • Way less hassle. On most occasions you won’t need to fit chains.
  • Way less hassle.
  • Way less hassle.
  • Better traction control in slippery conditions.
  • Vehicles equipped with “low-range” will give you far better traction and allow to you crawl up, down (or out) far easier.

The bottom line is, if you drive in difficult conditions, such as on ski areas, and can afford it, a 4WD will make your life much easier. But, they are not invincible. There is still rubber (slippery) against snow or ice (slippery) and at times you’ll still need to fit chains. So, even 4WD owners need to always carry chains, always.

In comparison, most people already own a two wheel drive car and have little option when heading to the snow. But it’s not all bad. Many ski areas do an amazing job of snow removal these days and when you do have to fit chains, many types are way easier to fit these days. For example …

But there are a few things to remember::

  • Always carry chains. Always, always, always.
  • Have a dry run at home. It will be way worse when it’s cold and wet if you don’t know how they work.
  • Know if your car is front or rear wheel drive. Always fit them to the drive wheels. Don’t laugh, it happens!
  • Fit them early, don’t wait until it’s too late.
  • Once fitted, drive for a short distance and check they are tight, before continuing up hill

Regardless of whether you own a 2 or 4 wheel drive there are some basics to remember that will help you stay safe on the road:

  • Make sure your tyres have plenty of tread. Your safety begins and ends with tyres.
  • Never brake (or accelerate) too hard on snow or ice.
  • Drive to the conditions, if it’s chucking down with snow, slow down!

So, to answer the question, chains or four wheel drive. Well, for me personally, living in Christchurch and visiting ski areas a lot, a 4WD is logical. My trusty Subaru Outback has treated me well. But the reality is, that if you ski only 2 – 3 times a year and have a perfectly good 2WD, then a set of good quality chains will do the trick. Either way, drive safely and to the conditions and you’ll have a great day on the mountain, in whatever vehicle you choose to travel in.