|Photo courtesy of Toyota.|
I used to own an SUV and have had some all-wheel drive vehicles as well. While they don't make you immune from sliding on the roads, and so don't excuse people driving like maniacs, they are incredibly nice to have when the roads are packed with snow. All-wheel drive provides a more reassuring ride than front- or rear-wheel drive, but the ultimate is a true four-wheel drive setup. The low gears are indispensable when the going gets tough, allowing you to get home and not be stranded somewhere for a few days in an especially bad storm.
Most people don't think about using the four-wheel drive system on their SUV or truck when the weather's nice. I like to go out into the wilderness, so it was never a problem for me. About once a month, you should drive around with four-wheel drive engaged. Doing this will allow the joints between the driveshaft and the transfer case, as well as the front axle to flex. Inactivity can cause those joints to seize up when four-wheel drive is finally used again, which will lead to failure and an unpleasant experience with your mechanic.
If your four-wheel drive system has a set of low gears, you need to engage the low setting as well and drive around.
And remember that you need to stay on top of the fluids and change intervals that the manufacturer recommends. Doing this will help ensure that your vehicle keeps running smoothly all year long.