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AWD vs. 4WD: What’s the difference?

An increasing number of Americans are buying cars with all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive owing to the growing popularity of SUVs. In contrast to 2-wheel-drive vehicles, which only supply power to the front or back axle, all four wheels of a 4-wheel-drive vehicle spin. Adventurers prefer four-wheel drive (4WD) automobiles to travel off-road, whereas all-wheel drive (AWD) is usually a preference for safety reasons. We examine the advantages and disadvantages of both. Read more for more details on AWD vs 4WD.

AWD vs 4WD drive: A complete guide

What’s the contrast between AWD vs 4WD?

All-wheel drive vehicles and Four-wheel drive vehicles are remarkably similar. All-wheel drive cars, which maximize road grip on slick roads, for instance, use a 4-wheel drive propulsion system. Some AWD systems allow the driver to choose which set of wheels (front or rear) to drive, and then use just that set while accelerating, braking, or if the computer detects a loss of grip.

Four-wheel drive pickup trucks are more common for serious off-roading. Many 4WD vehicles (but not all) use a center differential to distribute torque and power between the front and rear axles.

Off-road enthusiasts with a severe attitude typically have both high and low gears. The engine can move the car across rough terrain at a slower pace more efficiently with low range. Off-road capability is standard on many 4-wheel-drive versions despite the lack of high and low range.

Many different 4-wheel drive systems are available for a wide range of vehicles. Therefore, the motorist must come to a complete halt to activate the 4-wheel drive system. In contrast, the design is permanently started in other vehicles, and all wheels are always in contact with the road.

Are AWD/4WD vehicles safer than 2-wheel-drive models?

Depending on the conditions of the road and the driver, this may be the case. It would be inaccurate to state categorically that an AWD car is safer than a 2WD vehicle given the substantial suite of safety systems that must be included in all new passenger vehicles. Electronic stability control, a function that stops the car from slipping out of control if the driver mistakenly changes directions, is standard equipment on all recently produced passenger cars.

Compared to a vehicle with only front-wheel drive, an all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel drive system provides significant advantages in initial acceleration. This is because of the division of traction across all four wheels, which is especially helpful when the road is damp or slippery.

AWD or 4WD can make pulling a boat, trailer, or float simpler depending on the weather and road conditions. This is especially evident while towing in inclement weather, such as rain or snow, or on unclear off-roading roads. It is helpful in several circumstances, including driving on sand.

Many 4x4s are just bigger than other cars, which may improve crash performance.

Are AWD & 4WD vehicles worth the higher price tag?

Versions with AWD or 4WD often cost more than models with similar two wheel drive. Numerous SUVs come in a single model category, but buyers can choose between a 2- or 4-wheel drive system. In this scenario, the AWD/4WD model will usually cost at least two thousand dollars more than the 2WD variant. 

How the automobile is utilized and where it is driven both play a role in determining whether the additional expense is justified. It can be worthwhile to spend the extra money if the rural roads are too long, especially unsealed ones. If you reside in a location that has a lot of snowfall or rainfall, the same thing applies to you. When it comes to pulling a caravan, boat, horse float, or larger trailer, this feature is unquestionably recommended.

What Is All-Wheel Drive?

The exact mechanism in an AWD vehicle propels an automobile’s front and back wheels. It’s important to distinguish between the two distinct types of all-wheel drive systems. All-wheel drive, or full-time AWD, is the first type of system. It constantly propels all four wheels. Automated all-wheel drive (sometimes referred to as part-time all-wheel drive) systems only activate AWD when traction is inadequate or when changing lanes is challenging. Part-time systems mostly operate in 2-wheel-drive mode (which can increase fuel efficiency) and only switch to 4-wheel drive when they need more traction.

How does AWD Work?

Although the majority of full- and partial-time AWD systems operate automatically, some do include switchable modes that enable the driver to control the distribution of power among the wheels. A set of differentials, frictional coupling, and multi-plate clutch work together to maximize traction and transmit power to the wheels. Despite this, the car runs faultlessly under normal settings.

Full-time AWD

Full-time AWD involves constantly powering the wheels at the front and back. When driving on dry pavement, this type of AWD can increase the vehicle’s handling and ensure that all engine power is sent to the surface. Furthermore, it gives you an extra grip on slick surfaces like ice, snow, and mud.

Part-time AWD

Part-time AWD, depending on the model, only engages when driving and delivers power to two driven wheels either front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD) drivetrain. Therefore, when extra traction is needed, the system will activate the other two wheels automatically. Electronic sensors are widely used today, and they all give data to a computer, which determines how much torque should be applied to each wheel.

Advantages & Disadvantages of All-Wheel Drive

Going around a corner, like driving in slick weather, can result in losing control because the wheels spin when the vehicle changes direction. Vehicles frequently lose control when turning around a junction, even when the road is dry. AWD systems aid in having a grip on the car. However, it comes with multiple advantages and disadvantages.


  • The primary advantage of AWD is the superior reaction it offers. It powers all the wheels equally. If one of the wheels begins slipping, the other three will compensate by easing the driving on slick roads. 
  • The AWD system does not require any input or information to start. The system is consistently active owing to its computer-controlled mechanism. 
  • AWD systems are adaptable. They detect whether more or less power is needed and send the required power to the wheels. 
  • It provides an excellent resale value because of its high popularity and demand. 
  • AWD vehicles are comparatively better on slippery paths, making them the ideal choice when traveling on icy, muddy, and snowy roads. It gives a firm grip on acceleration.


  • AWD vehicles harbor expensive initial market value and require time-to-time maintenance.
  • The AWD engine delivers power to all wheels. Since these vehicles are heavier, it consumes almost four to ten percent of the fuel.
  • Although the AWD systems provide an upper hand in traction and acceleration, they do not improve the braking feature of the car in slippery conditions. 

What Is Four-Wheel Drive?

A car with 4WD generally comes to mind when you picture a vehicle that can cross rivers, can off-road across the desert, or crawl over rocks.

In most situations, a mechanical connection is a motive behind 4WD systems. These systems distribute torque to all four wheels via a succession of the front, middle, and rear differentials and transfer cases and coupling. Over time, these systems have become more complicated, allowing the connection and disconnection of 4WD via switches and knobs; nonetheless, many traditional 4WD techniques are managed using a floor-mounted grip that resembles a second gear changer. These systems have been available for various vehicles, including cars, trucks, and SUVs.

How does a 4-Wheel Drive system work?

All-wheel drive (AWD) and 4-wheel drive (4WD) system transfers torque to all four wheels to boost traction when necessary. In contrast, a 4WD system is often more durable than an AWD system and can typically manage more challenging terrain.

A mechanical or electronic switch or lever located on the floor allows the driver of numerous 4WD vehicles to switch between low and high settings. The low level provides the most traction when driving on rough terrain, while the high setting is best for slick on-road conditions & higher ground clearance like compacted gravels, ice, loose sand, or snow.

Full-time 4-wheel Drive

Similar to a full-time all-wheel drive, a full-time 4-wheel drive constantly sends power to all four wheels. Some systems may include selectable modes so the driver may choose how the power is split between the front and rear axles of the car but 4WD locks the front and rear driveshafts together.

Part-time 4-wheel Drive

Truck and SUV manufacturers most frequently install part-time 4WD systems, which adhere to more classic 4-wheel drive principles, in vehicles made for work and play in more challenging environments. Two wheels, normally found on the vehicle’s rear axle, are used to propel the vehicle in this scenario. When 4-wheel drive is necessary, the driver must decide and then activate it by either pushing a button or moving a lever. Additionally, several systems enable the driver to lock the vehicle’s differentials, which delivers better traction in difficult off-road conditions.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Four-Wheel Drive

A 4WD is severely beneficial when you need extra torque or power, like pulling heavy loads at low speeds. It is intended for off-road use only. Additional to these features, Four-Wheel Drive system has a fair share of positives and negatives. 


  • 4-Wheel Drive makes driving and handling the vehicle easier on terrain surfaces, ice, rocks, snow, etc.
  • The increased weight of 4WD vehicles provides a secure and tight grip on slippery roads.
  • It utilizes both sets of wheels, resulting in increased and optimized traction.
  • It enables adrenaline lovers to partake in various adventurous activities like off-roading.


  • One of the primary disadvantages that a 4WD carries is the additional costs and expenses for purchase, fuel economy, and maintenance. 
  • The extra equipment, like transfer cases and differentials, makes the system more complex and increases the weight. As a result, it hikes up the initial market value, maintenance and repair expenses, and tire wear.
  • The additional fuel and power make the system less efficient.
  • An increase in weight, in turn, increases the required braking distance to stop the vehicle.
  • Drivers often become overconfident using sophisticated mechanisms, leading to tricky situations.

AWD vs. 4WD: Which is better?

The AWD system helps drive effortlessly on icy, snowy, or damp roads and terrains. All-Wheel Drive systems assist on slick roads by distributing torque to the wheels that need it the most and even help alleviate accidents like slipping the wheel while the car or truck is moving to keep it on the road. A computer frequently regulates and assesses AWD systems. It recurrently monitors the traction of each wheel. Moreover, it is considerably quicker and more precise than a human driver.

On the other hand, 4WD systems are more long-lasting than AWD as the former offers more power and can combat terrains or rough pavements. They stand more resilient and give a strong hand in dealing with driving conditions like deep snow, mud, steep inclines or dips, and ice. The low and high range settings allow individuals to select and send the desired and optimal power to wheels depending on the condition. It is also an ideal choice for drivers residing in remote areas or frequently traveling to these areas.


Whether you need a car with 4WD or AWD is contingent on where you live and the roads you drive on regularly. Additionally, one’s preferences must be taken into account.

Various vehicles, from compact cars to large SUVs, offer AWD. In other words, there are many vehicles to pick from if you opt for an AWD. They will have a better grip on standard winter roads and, depending on the model, may be able to perform mild off-roading. You can also get winter tires so you can drive more safely on icy roads.

People who live in rural areas or suburbs may have to sacrifice comfort and efficiency when shopping for a 4-wheel drive car. A 4-wheel-drive system is ideal if you frequently experience adverse weather conditions or engage in challenging off-road excursions. Drivers who want more say over power distribution should consider part-time 4WD cars, particularly those with low- and high-range options.