Poquet Auto Blog

The Difference Between All-Wheel Drive (AWD) & 4-Wheel Drive (4WD)

Posted by Poquet Auto on Apr 4, 2019 6:00:00 AM

Have you heard of the term “drivetrain?” Maybe not, but you’re likely familiar with it even if you don’t realize it. Drivetrain is the group of components that deliver power to a vehicle’s axles and wheels. There are four types of drivetrain: all-wheel drive (AWD), four-wheel drive (4WD), front-wheel drive (FWD), and rear-wheel drive (RWD).

When most people hear the words all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD), they might assume it only applies to trucks and large SUVs. However, today, that’s far from the case.

According to Edmunds, roughly 45% of all cars sold are equipped with either AWD or 4WD. Plus, in states like Minnesota, where snowy winters impact driving, nearly 90% of people own a vehicle equipped with AWD or 4WD.

Nevertheless, these two types of drivetrain can still be mistaken for one another or appear to be the same. In reality, AWD and 4WD are quite different and serve unique purposes.

In this post, we’ll go over the differences between AWD and 4WD and discuss which one best serves your driving needs.


Four-wheel drive (4WD or 4x4)

When most people think of drivetrain, 4WD comes to mind. 4WD is a traditional system that powers all four wheels and axles of the vehicle at the same time.

How does 4WD work?

In a 4WD drive vehicle, torque (forward engine force) is delivered through the front and rear wheels. This allows the vehicle to operate with maximum traction no matter the road conditions.

4WD systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated with various drivetrain settings for extreme off-road use. 

There are two types of 4WD systems: full-time and part-time. What’s the difference?

Full-time 4WD

Full-time 4WD systems send power to all four wheels at the same time on a continuous basis. Some models allow the driver to control the power through selectable modes such as snow, mud, and sand.

Part-time 4WD

With part-time 4WD, the vehicle is driven in standard two-wheel drive drive until the 4WD system is engaged by the driver by shifting a lever or pushing a button. This allows you to use 4WD in snow or mud, but enjoy the drivability of two-wheel drive in normal conditions.

4WD Pros

  • Best traction and control in off-road conditions
  • Can be turned on or off depending upon terrain
  • Can be turned off to improve fuel economy

4WD Cons

  • Adds weight and complexity to cars
  • Increases fuel consumption when engaged
  • Not suitable for use in all conditions
  • More expensive than two-wheel drive models

All-wheel drive (AWD)

The biggest difference between AWD and 4WD systems is that AWD systems are powered by computers and other electrical systems rather than by the driver. As a result, AWD drive systems remain on and engaged most of the time.

How does AWD work?

Sensors on each wheel monitor your vehicle’s traction, wheel speed, and several other data points hundreds of times per second. The engine control unit (ECU) then dictates to which individual wheel power is sent depending on which one has the most grip.

AWD is extremely helpful in slippery or muddy conditions when wheels might be experiencing different amounts of traction. 

Like 4WD, there are two types of AWD: full-time and part-time. Both of these types of AWD are automatically engaged by a vehicle’s internal computers. However, some vehicles may allow control over how much power goes to each wheel.

Full-time AWD

Full-time AWD operates all four wheels and all four axles at the same time. The use of all axles and wheels can provide additional traction when needed.

Part-time AWD

With part-time AWD, either the front two or rear two axles are used the majority of the time. When road conditions change, the AWD system engages the other two wheels for additional traction.

AWD Pros

  • No driver input needed
  • Works all the time
  • Adapts to all road conditions and city and highway driving
  • Provides sportier handling and traction to a broader range of vehicles

AWD Cons

  • Adds weight and complexity to vehicles
  • Reduces fuel economy
  • Increases the cost of a vehicle
  • Not optimal for extreme off-road conditions

So, which is best for you?

If you plan on using your vehicle off-road, 4WD is definitely the way to go. However, for most people, AWD makes more sense. Most vehicles featuring AWD tend to have better weight distribution which aids in traction and performance. 

In the winter, it’s nice to have a drivetrain, like a modern AWD system, that responds instantly without having to toggle any switches.

No matter which drivetrain system you decide on, Poquet Auto has over 200 low-mileage vehicles for you to choose from.

Schedule a test drive of one of our pre-owned luxury vehicles featuring AWD or 4WD today.

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Topics: Tips & Helpful Info, FAQs, Uncategorized

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