Car Buying Tips

Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Used AWD Car

If you’re hitting the marketplace in search of a used all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle, you’re in the right place. We’ll sort through some of the options, models, and terminologies you’ll encounter in the process, and look at a few simple ways to help ensure you find the best used AWD car possible for your dollar.

AWD Car vs AWD Crossover

Today, crossover SUV models represent some of the most popular vehicles in Canada. The majority of these models come with AWD, since it’s a highly in-demand feature among Canadian shoppers thanks to the extra confidence it provides in sloppy weather.

Still, some shoppers prefer to drive a car like a sedan or a hatchback, which may better suit their sense of style, fuel budget, or locale. The selection of AWD-equipped cars is relatively limited compared to crossovers and SUVs, though there are still plenty of choices.

Affordable Used AWD Cars

If you’re searching for an AWD-equipped sedan or hatchback from a mainstream brand, some popular models to consider from recent years include the Subaru Impreza, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal, Chrysler 300, Mitsubishi Lancer, Dodge Charger, and Dodge Challenger.

Subaru is highly recognized by shoppers for offering proven AWD on virtually every vehicle it sells. The Impreza and Legacy are small and midsize sedans, respectively, that have been around for decades.

The Ford Fusion (now discontinued), Chrysler 300, and Dodge Charger have been available with AWD for many years, meaning you’ll find a wide range of selection at a wide range of price points in AutoTrader’s used car marketplace.

More recently, AWD became available for the first time on models like the Mazda3, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, and Nissan Altima. If you’re searching for a newer second-hand model, be sure to give these models a look.

Manual AWD Cars

The vast majority of AWD-equipped cars come with an automatic transmission because that’s what most shoppers buy. Shoppers after a used AWD with a manual transmission can consider models like the Subaru Impreza, Subaru Legacy, and Volkswagen Alltrack.

Stretch Your Budget?

If you’re after even more selection on an AWD-equipped car, consider searching for models from luxury brands like Audi, Volvo, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, Genesis, Acura, and Cadillac.

In the past decade or so, AWD has become widely available or even standard on many of the sedan and coupe models offered by these automakers. If buying and running a luxury car is in your budget, you’ll find additional selection if you expand your search to include cars, coupes, and wagons from brands like these.

There are several used electric car models offered with AWD as well, primarily from automaker Tesla in the form of its Model S and Model 3. These all-electric luxury cars boast impressive performance and technology, but also a luxury-level price.

Hybrids with AWD

From model-year 2019, the Toyota Prius Hybrid was offered with AWD for the first time. For the AWD car shopper after the lowest possible fuel bill, a slightly used Prius AWD may be just the ticket. Geared towards shoppers in northern climates, the Toyota Prius AWD is even fitted with a specific cold-climate battery pack.

AWD Terminologies

Automakers sometimes name their AWD systems to make them more familiar to shoppers.

For instance, Subaru’s AWD system is called Symmetrical AWD. Volkswagen models equipped with AWD are called 4Motion. Other automakers simply add the AWD designation or the number 4 to the car’s name, for instance, the Chrysler 300 AWD and Cadillac ATS4.

Elsewhere on the luxury side, look for a Super-Handling AWD (SH-AWD) badge on AWD-equipped Acura cars; AWD-equipped BMW, Audi, and Mercedes models wear xDrive, Quattro, and 4Matic badges, respectively.

On a Tesla, the Dual Motor designation is applied to AWD-equipped models, which use one electric motor for the front wheels and another for the rear.

Check for These Four Potential Problems Before You Buy

Some owners have reported problems from their AWD-equipped cars. Many have not.

Below, we’ll take a look at four of the most common AWD-related problems you’ll find amongst all of the AWD-equipped cars we’ve covered in our Used Car Review section.

Though reports of AWD-specific trouble amongst used cars is relatively rare, understanding some of the most common complaints can help you make a smarter and more informed test drive, which can save you money in the long run.

AWD System Leaks

Some owners of AWD-equipped cars have reported fluid leaks from components related to the AWD system, but it’s not super common.

For instance, the Ford Fusion owner’s community has documented a fluid leak from a component called the Power Take-Off Unit (PTU), which is used to split drive power between the front and rear wheels.

A PTU fluid leak can cause driveline damage and cost you money, so it can pay to be on the lookout or to have the vehicle you’re considering inspected by a professional before you buy. During a routine inspection, a technician can quickly spot potentially expensive trouble like this.

AWD System Malfunctions

Some owners of AWD-equipped cars have reported one or more instances of an AWD system malfunction from their vehicle. Again, this doesn’t happen often, but is worth keeping in mind if you’re shopping for a used AWD car.

The AWD system in the car you’re considering is typically monitored and operated by a networked array of sensors and electronics. These help ensure optimal operation, but also help technicians sort out a quick and easy diagnosis in the event of system trouble.

Though the potential causes of warning lights and error messages are numerous, the common ones often seem fairly minor. For instance, a bad brake pedal switch or wheel speed sensor can knock a vehicle’s AWD system offline, and a weak or dying battery can cause unwanted warning and error messages, too.

In this example, a serious AWD-system driveability problem is fixed with the installation of a new electronic resistor at a cost of $22.

If the used AWD-equipped car you’re considering displays an error message or warning light relating to the AWD system, treat it as an invitation to have the vehicle professionally diagnosed.

AWD System Maintenance

Some AWD systems are considered “sealed for life,” meaning they don’t require any fluid changes or servicing once they leave the factory. Other AWD systems require regular inspections and maintenance, just like your car’s engine and suspension.

Failing to properly maintain an AWD system (if required) reduces the lifespan of expensive parts, reduces resale value, and negatively affects performance.

Before you buy a used AWD car, be sure it’s been cared for properly by its past owners, by checking service records. Read the owner’s manual for specific instructions, if any, on how to care for the AWD system in the car you’re considering. Following these instructions can save you headaches and costly repairs down the line.

Here’s some more reading on how to care for your AWD-equipped vehicle.

Test for Scrubbing Tires

On your test drive, find an open space like a parking lot where you can make some figure-eights in the vehicle. Quiet the cabin.

Now, perform several figure-eight manoeuvres at a low speed, being sure to fully turn the steering wheel to each side. As you’re cornering sharply at low speed, listen for any signs of scrubbing, dragging, or rubbing from the vehicle’s tires.

If you notice any, having the vehicle seen by a technician before you buy is advised. These sensations could be a sign of trouble with one or more components related to the vehicle’s AWD system.

Note that clunks or popping sounds in this situation are potential trouble signs as well.

Yes, You Still Need Winter Tires With AWD Cars

Modern AWD-equipped cars utilize fantastic amounts of tech to optimize control and handling in the background, giving drivers the confident, stable handling they expect.

This tech and the AWD system it powers all work better when proper tires are installed. When you install a quality set of winter tires on your modern AWD-equipped car, you’ll experience a dramatic increase in driving performance and a reduction in driver stress levels. Use of all-season tires in winter conditions severely limits the AWD system’s ability to help drivers control the vehicle in slippery situations. Plus, having AWD doesn’t help you brake or stop any faster, so having the right winter tires for your AWD car is the safest way to motor in the cold seasons.

A quality set of winter tires helps drivers unlock maximum performance from their AWD system during cold-weather months.