AWD vs 4WD

AWD vs 4WD

Last Updated July 21, 2021 | Andrew Boyle

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive — they sound like the same thing, right?

The primary objective of both systems is to improve a car’s traction, helping it accelerate in inclement conditions such as rain or snow. A misconception, however, is that they will make your car safer in adverse weather. While having AWD or 4WD can aid your vehicle in snow, the driver input and tires of your car will make more of a difference. All-wheel and four-wheel drivetrains don’t necessarily assist with braking, either, but they can somewhat improve the handling of your car.

[click the infographic below]

4WD vs AWD Infographic

All-Wheel Drive Facts

When thinking about purchasing an AWD vehicle, it’s imperative to know that it has a front, rear and central differential. AWD distributes power to all four wheels of your car, allowing standard cars to travel over rough terrain. It also adds weight to your car and generates friction between your tires and the road. All-wheel drive systems are often found in cars and crossovers, but they are not as strong as a 4WD vehicle.

In an AWD system, the torque is on most of the time while it’s split between the front and rear axles on the center differential. With split torque, all four wheels receive power all the time, except not in equal amounts. Some systems may send more power to the front or back, while others may adjust power by reacting to the feedback from the driver and road. The advantage of an all-wheel-drive vehicle is that you never have to engage the system yourself.

Four-Wheel Drive Facts

Four-wheel drive vehicles have two differentials and a transfer case, so the system can provide power to all four wheels of your car. Compared to AWD cars, however, 4WD units are only activated when you manually turn on the system. When you enable the four-wheel drive system, power is split between the front and rear axles. As a result, the torque evenly applies to each wheel. You can find most systems on off-road vehicles such as Jeeps and trucks that drive on all terrains

It’s a positive aspect of a four-wheel drive system — the ability to turn it to 2WD to improve your fuel economy. For example, while you are driving on the highway, you can operate in 2WD, and when you are off-roading through the mountains, you can employ 4WD as needed. Most 4WD vehicles have locking differentials, too, which help you traverse rocks and slippery terrain. The also drivetrain provides more pulling power because it grips surfaces using all four tires.

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About the Author

Andrew is a Jeep TJ owner and car industry aficionado with over 150 articles under his belt. Read full bio →

AWD vs 4WD

Distinguishing the difference between an AWD and a 4WD vehicle can be difficult, even for the most knowledgeable car enthusiasts. Each drivetrain has a set of advantages and disadvantages, along with different purposes. Read more about the similarities and differences between four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive on your truck or off-road vehicle!