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What all-wheel drive could mean for your family

AWD gives better traction on wet roads. (image credit: Tom White)

I first appreciated AWD, or noticed the lack of it, when driving in my old car on a very steep hill with my children in the backseat. There was traffic, my tyres had needed changing for about a month and there was sand on the road. And my car started to slide backwards. Down the hill toward the car behind me. 

Yes, really. 

Luckily my brakes were still good, the traffic moved and I was able to make it up and off the hill. 

The second account that made me realise I wanted AWD probably most out of all features on a new car, was when we were going camping to a remote spot that required us going downhill - yes in the same car with the same tyres - on a slippery, dusty, dirt road. It was more like a mountain with one thin winding lane,  right on the edge of a very big drop. It took us 20 minutes to get down. Slowly, so slowly. And I was leaning so far over to get away from the edge I may as well have been it the driver's seat. It wasn't a pleasant experience all round. 

The next time I went camping on a winding downhill dirt road, I was well equipped in a car with AWD and it made a huge difference to our experience. I felt safe, even on the downhills, even on the dusty roads with the big drop off cliff edges, even on gravel. The car held to the road properly, there was no skidding, slipping, or feeling like it might slide right off the track into the bush 100m below. 

AWD also gives better traction on wet roads, and while you should still always take care and drive slowly, skidding as you take off from the traffic lights can be a thing of the past in a car with AWD like the Subaru Outback.

A car with AWD made a huge difference driving down a winding dirt road. (image credit: Tom White) A car with AWD made a huge difference driving down a winding dirt road. (image credit: Tom White)

If you're a family that likes to go to the snow, you're also better off with a car that has AWD because unless it's seriously torrentially snowing, you won't need chains on the tyres and you can drive around the village almost as normal, plus you feel safe because there is naturally less sliding around the road. 

Buying a new car is tricky and the AWD version of a car does usually cost more (unless you go with something like a Subaru Outback where all models in the range have AWD), so it's a matter of weighing up how you use the car. And be honest with yourself, do you go on road trips? Camping trips? Even if you never have before - like me before kids - you can guarantee that once you do have children you will likely be taking them to places off road you've never even thought about visiting before. If you honestly don't think you will, then it's not such a necessity.

All Subaru Outback models come with AWD. (image credit: Tom White) All Subaru Outback models come with AWD. (image credit: Tom White)

But if you do like to go on road trips to obscure spots that may require a little bit of driving across rugged (or even just non-smooth) terrain, and if you are a little bit of a chicken (like moi) or if you just want to keep your family as safe as possible then I would always opt for the car with the AWD.

Until you've been in that position where you feel like you might lose control of the car and there's not much you can do about it from the driver's seat, then it may be hard to understand, but AWD now just gives me peace of mind. And when I'm driving my kids around, that's exactly what I need.