What’s the Difference Between AWD and 4WD?
Have you ever wondered whether you need an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle? It partly depends on your location, but there are some
misconceptions concerning whether the extra cost is worth it.
With your basic two-wheel drive car, only two of your wheels have power going to them. In the old days, it was rear-wheel drive, but today most vehicles on the road are front-wheel drive.
Even though all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) are terms that are often used interchangeably, there is a difference.
Here’s a good explanation of how 4WD works:
When 4WD is engaged, the engine sends power to the transmission, which is then split into the front and wheel axles. The torque gets transferred to the wheels, but the wheels must have traction on the road in order for the vehicle to move anywhere. Otherwise, the tires will merely spin as you have probably experienced when stuck in mud or sand.
Let’s say that you get your rear wheels stuck in mud. If you have two-wheel drive (2WD), then your wheels will probably spin and spin. In this case, it might be extremely useful to have four-wheel drive so that your front wheels could get some traction on the road. If power was transferred to the front wheels, where the traction is, you’ be able to successfully get your car out of a sticky situation.
Read more here: Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) Advantages and Disadvantages
Both transfer power to your front and back wheels during difficult driving conditions, but AWD is an on-demand system.
With AWD systems, the power is generally delivered to one set of wheels, front or rear. When it is detected that one axle is slipping, power is diverted to the other axle with the expectation of finding more traction there.
On the contrary, 4WD is either on or off. When it is engaged, all four tires are grabbing but when it is off, only two wheels have power.
This video explains more about all-wheel drive:
Cost of Extra Power
All-wheel drive is especially beneficial in situations where you are experiencing intermittent snow and ice. It is common on SUVs and minivans, where 4WD is used primarily for pickups and trucks and with off-road driving.
They both help to get your car or truck moving, but stopping in slick conditions is another subject altogether. According to Consumer Reports, putting winter tires on your car is more beneficial than either AWD or 4WD for braking quickly and cornering in poor conditions:
One of the reasons many people buy a traditional sport-utility vehicle is for the extra security and traction of four-wheel drive. Many drivers don’t realize the limitations of AWD and 4WD, however. Though having power delivered to all four wheels increases straight-line traction, it does nothing to improve cornering or braking.
Drivers are often fooled when driving in slippery conditions with an AWD or 4WD vehicle, not realizing how slippery conditions may be when driving, only to discover they are going way too fast when trying to stop. Because the added traction of 4WD can allow a vehicle to accelerate more quickly in slippery conditions, drivers need to be more vigilant, not less. Slippery conditions demand extra caution, no matter what you drive.
In many cases, having good tires is more important than the drive wheels. Winter tires, for instance, actually do help you turn and stop on a snowy road—things that AWD doesn’t help with.
See more here: Differences Between 2WD vs AWD vs 4WD
For southern states like Texas where inclement weather consists of mostly rain and very light snow, 2WD is sufficient. However, if you do much traveling, you might want to consider purchasing an all-wheel drive automobile.