Differences Between AWD and 4WD

Cars that send power to both the front and rear wheels have been gaining in popularity in the U.S. for quite some time. There are two different types of vehicles like this: all-wheel-drive (AWD) and 4-wheel-drive (4WD). Most people use these two terms interchangeably, however they represent two distinct types of vehicle capabilities. No matter which of these two types of cars you own, you will want to stay on top of all of your routine car maintenance. CarAdvise makes car care simple and guarantees that you’ll save money on every service you book through our app.

Let’s take a look at both of these drive types and what they are so that we can differentiate between the two.


What is all-wheel-drive (AWD)?

AWD systems send power to all four wheels of your car – there are two types of AWD: full-time and part-time. 


Full-time AWD powers those four wheels continuously and part-time AWD (sometimes referred to as “automatic AWD”) will have two-wheel drive active for most of the time and will activate all-wheel-drive only when additional traction is needed. 


Whether the AWD system is full-time or part-time, they will operate without any additional input from the driver.


Advantages and disadvantages

AWD has become an excellent choice for the average driver since they don’t have to decide when to engage the system – AWD will either always be engaged (full-time) or will engage automatically when power is needed (part-time). 


This makes things a lot simpler for the driver as they don’t have to toggle the system on and off. AWD is also available in a wide variety of vehicle types, offering many choices to consumers.


The main disadvantage usually comes from the perspective of more serious off-road drivers, who view AWD as a lesser choice compared to 4WD. 


Many off-roaders prefer 4WD over AWD due to the ability to toggle the system on and off. Additionally, AWD will typically reduce a car’s fuel economy.


What is 4-wheel-drive (4WD)?

4WD is the more traditional system that comes to mind when thinking about 4-wheel-driving capability. 4WD is more robust than AWD and can handle rougher terrain by comparison. 


The major difference with 4WD is that the system can be toggled by the driver, either by an electronic switch or a mechanical lever. 4WD systems also usually have “high” and “low” settings – the low setting provides maximum traction when driving off-road and the high setting which is optimal during slippery conditions. 


When combined with a set of off-road tires, 4WD can make your vehicle very suitable for off-road driving.


Advantages and disadvantages

4WD provides your car with the best off-road performance and will generally be the best at handling adverse conditions such as heavy rain and snow. With the right car tires, 4WD makes for excellent work vehicles due to their ruggedness and ability to handle rough terrain.


One downside to 4WD is that the driving will tend to feel stiffer than in a two-wheel drive or AWD system. 4WD also tends to have a detrimental effect on your vehicle’s overall fuel economy and initial price.


Those are the differences between AWD and 4WD systems. Whether you’re installing those off-road tires and going through rugged terrain or just need something to handle the weather, AWD and 4WD offer options for getting torque to all four wheels while you drive.

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