AWD vs 4WD: What’s the Difference?

AWD vs 4WD: What’s the Difference?

The majority of cars out there have four wheels. So it makes sense that when people hear “all-wheel-drive”, they assume that means “four-wheel-drive.” However, that’s not actually the case. 

So what actually is the difference when it comes to AWD vs 4WD? Which one is right for you? Continue reading and we’ll walk you through everything you need to know so that you can be a more informed driver. 

What Are We Talking About?

When a car manufacturer refers to a vehicle as all-, four-, or two-wheel drive, they are talking about the tires that are getting power from the car’s engine. A two-wheel-drive car is one whose engine powers either the back axle or the front axle of the car.

This means that the engine is making either the back tires or the front tires move. The other axle is just rolling along with the car.

Four-Wheel Drive

When four-wheel drive is engaged, the engine is powering all four wheels. This is especially useful if the vehicle needs extra traction on surfaces that are slippery, such as ice, sand, and gravel. The point is that even if one of the wheels can’t seem to get any traction, the other wheels hopefully can.

The operative word here is “engaged.” Technically speaking, four-wheel-drive means that your car is able to drive with all of its wheels but you have to manually select that option. The purpose of four-wheel-drive was that you could engage it if you’re already stuck or are worried that you might get stuck.

With four-wheel drive, you’ve got the engine, the transmission, and the transfer case. The transfer case can either be in two-high, four-high, or four-low. That means it’s a part-time four-wheel-drive system. 

When you’re driving in four-low, you don’t want to drive too fast. This is because things can start breaking down on you.

Most newer cars with these part-time systems utilize some kind of automatic deactivation so that you can avoid damage to the parts when you drive past a certain speed. Many older trucks, unfortunately, don’t come with this mechanism.

Four-wheel drive was not meant to be used all the time and you’re supposed to disengage it when you’re driving on normal, paved roads. When you engage four-wheel drive, the transfer case becomes locked so that the rear- and front-driveshafts always get the same amount of torque and are rotating at the same speed. This occurs whether you’re on or off the gas. 

A car is four-wheel-drive when the front- and rear- driveshafts are turning at exactly the same speed. You’re only going to get that with a transfer case or some other type of locking differential.

All-Wheel Drive

When your car comes equipped with all-wheel drive, that means that it can select what kind of traction you should be using on its own. The car has sensors that can decide how much power should be going to each of the wheels. This way, your vehicle is able to deliver you optimal traction without you having to do anything.

An all-wheel-drive vehicle doesn’t have a transfer case but it also doesn’t have a locking center differential either. It varies the amount of power between the rear and front through a center differential that isn’t locked. 

This can obviously be a very useful feature. However, if you do some serious off-roading, then you may want to have the control that four-wheel drive provides. This is why both AWD and 4WD are so popular in today’s trucks.

Let’s dive deeper into these differences. 

Part-time AWD Vs Full-Time AWD

With full-time all-wheel-drive, all of the wheels are always receiving power. However, they’re not always receiving the same amount of power. These vehicles use center differentials but they’re variable. They can be a clutch pack or a viscous center differential.

With part-time all-wheel-drive, power normally is sent to either the rear or front axle. However, the car can send power to the other axle if it senses that the wheels are starting to slip. 

Part-time FWD Vs Full-Time FWD

For part-time four-wheel-drive, you can have the vehicle engaged in 4WD or you can drive it in 2WD. This is the standard type of four-wheel-drive.

A full-time four-wheel-drive, on the other hand, is always engaging all four tires. However, the axles aren’t necessarily locked together. You can lock it all together if you choose to though via the center differential.

Things to Consider

It’s important to know what the possible downsides of extra traction could be. When you engage all four wheels, the engine in the car needs to work extra hard to power everything. This means that your engine will be heavier and that you’ll need more power just to move the whole car in general. 

Due to this fact, all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles tend to use a lot more fuel than your standard 2WD cars. 

Why You Should Know the Difference When It Comes to AWD Vs 4WD 

Buying a car is a big investment. That’s why you want to make sure that you’re buying the right one so that you will run into as few problems as possible. By knowing the difference when it comes to AWD vs 4WD, you’ll be able to make smarter purchasing decisions and drive the car that best suits your driving needs. 

Are you looking to purchase a new vehicle? Contact us today and see how we can help you!

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