Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) and All-Wheel Drive (AWD) are sometimes used interchangeably, especially in advertising, but there are some key differences to keep in mind when determining which is best for you.
What Do Most Cars Have?
Your average car will have front wheel drive, where only the front two wheels are powered. Some vehicles, like pickup trucks and older SUVs, will have rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are different, in that both systems power all four wheels of your vehicle. However, the way they achieve this is different.
What is All-Wheel Drive?
An easy way to remember all-wheel drive is “all wheels, all the time.” This means that all four of your wheels are always powered.
AWD vehicles include some small SUVs and minivans, as well as some cars. Some advanced AWD systems may primarily use front-wheel or rear-wheel drive until a loss of traction is detected. Because of this, AWD can be good for rapidly changing road conditions.
What is Four-Wheel Drive?
The main difference with four-wheel drive is that the driver can select the level of traction control. 4WD can be turned on and off. To accomplish this, four-wheel drive systems use a “transfer case.”
4WD vehicles typically include rugged trucks and larger utility SUVs. 4WD systems are ideal for off-roading or low traction—or when you prefer to have greater control over your vehicle handling.
Difference in Differentials
AWD and 4WD use a locking differential system, meaning that they lock the front and rear axles to propel all four tires in unison. Other cars have an “open” center differential, which allows for more flexibility in each axle, often when the car is turning.
Because of this difference, AWD and 4WD work well for straight traction, but they may not be as suited for traction when turning or braking. To help with this, it’s important to use the proper tires for your vehicle, such as snow tires during winter. Sometimes the proper tires make the most difference when it comes to traction.