Is All-Wheel Drive Really Worth the Extra Cost?

Photo: Jason Torchinsky/Jalopnik

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing the price premium on all-wheel-drive cars, the best time to buy a Boxster, and one writer’s longing for Audi Avants.

First up, is it worth paying more for all-wheel drive even in an area that doesn’t get much snow?

I’m shopping for a new family crossover in Nashville, TN. (I tried and failed to convince my wife that minivans were the way to go). We have narrowed it down to three choices, a used Nissan Pathfinder or Infiniti QX60 (basically the same car), or a new VW Atlas.

On the Atlas, we’d probably be looking at a V6 SE with the technology package. Generally speaking, I don’t think we need AWD. We are in Nashville where it rarely snows, and when it does things shut down. I drive an Xterra with 4x4 that we could use on those occasions, and that I use for occasional off-roading. I don’t think we need AWD. However, it looks like adding AWD is only about $1,500. From a resale perspective, how much of that additional $1,500 do you think I would recoup after 5 years in resale value? I wouldn’t expect to recoup all of it, but if it’s relatively close, maybe it’s worth it.

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I’m sure the readers love this question because we love to get on our soapbox and dispel the myths of AWD. But let’s break this down into components. First, if you are shopping in a particular market that does not really get snow, paying extra for AWD is kind of foolish.

You may notice that AWD cars have slightly better resale value in the second-hand market, but it’s negligible to the additional upfront cost that you will pay. Meaning, if you spend an extra $1,500 for an AWD Atlas or whatever, the best you can hope for is a trade in/resale value of an extra $1,500 compared to a similarly spec’d two-wheel-drive model. However, often you don’t recoup the whole amount in resale because you are likely trading into a market that doesn’t need it and therefore can’t charge a huge premium. So the quick answer is no, don’t spend the extra money.

But what about people that live in states that get bad weather? Naturally, this is where the comments pile up and tell you that snow tires are the answer.

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While that is correct—tires matter more than anything else when it comes to traction—it is simply just going to come down to inventory. I’ve had clients in the Northeast recognize that the AWD premium is not worth it and opt for a 2WD version, only to find out those cars are not on the lot. Remember dealers stock cars that will sell within their market region, if people want AWD/4WD crossovers that is what they are going to carry. Therefore, if you happen to live in an area where AWD cars are popular, just buy what works for your budget and don’t stress about it.

Next up, is there a best time of year to buy and sell a convertible?

I’ve been seriously considering upgrading my 2007 E85 BMW Z4 to a 2014-2016 981 Boxster S as a fun weekend/ sunny day car here in the Pacific Northwest. The Z4 has been nothing but a gem, and I wouldn’t mind hanging onto it a little longer, but the driving dynamics and the overall design/ package of the 981 has an appeal all on its own.

In your experience dealing with car buying, have you ever noticed a trend in the prices of convertibles? My gut is telling me their prices would tend to be higher during spring as #VertLyfe weather starts rolling around, then drop off in fall as #WinterIsComing. So if I were smart I’d part with the Z4 in the spring, go vertless this summer, and look for a 981 afterwards.

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This seasonal approach to car buying is one of those myths that still lingers around. While the theory that people want their convertibles in the summer and their crossovers in the winter sounds reasonable, it doesn’t take into account the fact that folks looking for specialty cars namely a Z4 or a 981 Boxster are often shopping for them nationwide. Someone in Portland might not be hot to buy a Z4 in February, but a buyer in Arizona may have been hunting for that car for a while. You don’t really see large price fluctuations on cars from season to season, as used car prices have more to do with comparable cars on the market rather than weather and locale.

And finally, what do we have to do to get another Audi Avant in the United States?

When will Audi bring back the A6 wagon we all love and adore? Is there any group who can jointly encourage Audi to import this wagon?

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This question hits close. Despite my love for these cars I am also a realist when it comes to the potential market and even though there were some wild rumors that the mighty RS6 Avant might make it to our shores, I can predict with a fair degree of confidence that it just won’t happen, even for the regular A6 Avant.

Wagons do not sell in large enough volumes to make a business case for bringing the car here. Audi barely moves the A4 Allroad, which is basically just a lifted A4 Avant. BMW is killing the 3 Series wagon for the next generation and both Jaguar and Volvo struggle to sell their midsize offerings like the XF Sportbrake and the V90. The V60? The V90. Whichever. Mercedes keeps the E-Class wagon around but only because it has a hardcore buyer base.

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I hope I’m proven wrong on this one, but I just don’t see an A6 Avant happening for America. However, there is a large Audi Avant you can buy (well, reserve) right now, it just has a different name, it’s called the e-tron. Audi wants to pretend this is an SUV, but that sucker looks like a wagon to me.

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Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at tom.mcparland@jalopnik.com!

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)