Can you drive a two-wheel-drive car in the snow?

Heading to the snow this winter? If you’re wondering whether you need an all-wheel-drive vehicle, here’s what you need to know.

It’s well and truly ski season in Australia, and if you’re tempted to hit the slopes but aren’t sure whether your car is up to the task, it certainly pays to prepare.

RELATED:Our top tips for snow driving

Last year, Victoria Police turned away or fined thousands of drivers at Mount Hotham alone “for failing to carry the mandatory snow chains” on their vehicles.

Along with snow chains – a legal and practical necessity for those looking to tackle ice and snow – your choice of vehicle and tyres is crucial.

So, can you hit the snowfields if your car doesn’t have all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive? Here’s what you need to know.

Are snow chains required in Australia?

Yes, snow chains are required on all two-wheel-drive (2WD) vehicles travelling in alpine areas in Australia – and on all-wheel-drive (AWD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles in some locations too.

In New South Wales, all 2WD vehicles must carry snow chains, while 4WD and AWD vehicles do not require chains under National Parks regulations.

Meanwhile, in Victoria “A person in charge of a vehicle who enters an alpine resort must at all times during the snow season carry wheel chains suitable to be properly fitted to that vehicle”.

In Tasmania, all drivers must carry snow chains while driving in ski areas.

Regardless of the kind of vehicle you drive, it’s a good idea to at least carry snow chains with you as conditions and regulations can vary between national parks and ski fields.

Can you drive a 2WD car in the snow?

Yes, as long as you carry and fit snow chains as required – a 2WD/FWD car is perfectly fine for snow driving.

In fact, “A two-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive [car] with snow tyres is better than AWD with normal tyres,” says Subaru ambassador and former rally driver, Cody Crocker.

Mr Crocker explains that snow tyres behave much like regular tyres, but “have tiny little slits in the treads [of the tyre]” to improve grip.

Snow tyres must be specially ordered from a tyre shop and can be used on regular roads as well as in the snow.

If you’re driving a 2WD car with snow chains, Mr Crocker advises ensuring your stability and traction control are switched on, and that you go slowly into corners and avoid braking and accelerating too hard.

“Snow is not too bad for 2WD, AWD and 4WD [cars], it’s the ice that’s the issue,” Mr Crocker adds.

“Most cars will have stability control and traction control, so absolutely leave that on.”

Is RWD okay in the snow?

While RWD is not the preferred option over a FWD car, it’s still possible to take a RWD car to the snow.

“Rear-wheel drive is generally going to be the worst [option] and have the least chance of getting up the mountain even compared to a FWD,” Mr Crocker tells Drive.

“You probably have to fit chains to the driven wheels [the rear tyres], but what that means is you’re probably not going to have really great steering. You’ll be able to get there, but you have to be careful.”

That means braking and accelerating slowly, looking out for ice on the road, going slowly into the corners, and leaving a substantial braking distance between yourself and the car in front.

Is AWD or 4WD better in the snow?

All-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive cars are evenly matched when it comes to snow driving, and each offers its own unique benefits or downsides.

“The 4WD tends to come with the more manual approach,” Mr Crocker explains, meaning drivers often to have to lock in the differential or switch into 4H or 4L themselves as the circumstances require.

“It’s much easier in an AWD car, you don’t have to lock or engage diffs… the car figures it out.”

The most crucial thing to do is leave stability control on regardless if you have an AWD or 4WD.

“Don’t think you’re better at it, because you’re not,” Mr Crocker says.

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