When it comes to buying a car, whether new or used, there are many features and characteristics to consider. Do you want a manual gearbox or do you prefer the more common automatic? What engine displacement do you want? Do you want a two-door or a four-door? And among all these questions, of course, there’s the big one: should you get a two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive (4WD) or four-wheel drive (AWD) car ?
If you’ve ever bought a new car, you’ve probably seen the differences between 4WD and AWD. Most people have a general idea of what they mean – 4WD means that power is transmitted to all four wheels, but shouldn’t AWD be the same? As it turns out, they are similar, but there are a few important characteristics that differentiate 4WD and AWD. Simply put, one of the two is best suited to off-road driving, while the other is designed for regular driving, especially if that driving takes place in snow or heavy rain.
What is the difference between 4WD and AWD?
When it comes to buying a car, whether it’s new or used, there are many characteristics and features to consider. Do you want a manual gearbox or do you prefer the more common automatic? What engine displacement do you want? Do you want a two-door or a four-door? And among all these questions, of course, there’s the big one: should you get a two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive (4WD) or four-wheel drive (AWD) car ?
If you’ve ever bought a new car, you’ve probably seen the differences between 4WD and AWD. Most people have a general idea of what they mean – 4WD means that power is transmitted to all four wheels, but shouldn’t AWD be the same? As it turns out, they are similar, but there are a few important characteristics that differentiate 4WD and AWD. Simply put, one of the two is best suited to off-roading, while the other is designed for regular driving, especially if that driving takes place in snow or heavy rain.
What is AWD all-wheel drive?
So, what is all-wheel drive on a car? All-wheel drive is intended for use on tarmac – yes, it will work on other surfaces as well, but it’s mainly intended for normal driving. Simply put, a four-wheel drive car needs to transmit power to all four wheels at the same time. This generally makes the car more powerful than its all-wheel-drive counterparts. It should be noted that an all-wheel-drive vehicle does this all the time, whereas an all-wheel-drive variant only does it when necessary. You should also be aware that in a four-wheel drive car, the wheels can move at different speeds during cornering, according to Car and Driver.
All-wheel drive can be found in almost every category of car, but you mostly see it on high-performance cars, modern SUVs and passenger cars. This is because four-wheel drive vehicles can be driven in almost all weather conditions, and these types of vehicles are usually designed for the day-to-day commute needed to take the kids to school or run general errands. One way to look at four-wheel drive vehicles is that they are very general and can be used in most situations, and they can be especially useful when it’s raining or snowing outside.
What is four-wheel drive 4WD?
While AWD can be used all the time (although many cars switch to 2WD from time to time to save on petrol), this is not the case with all-wheel drive vehicles. For the most part, these types of cars are reserved for use off-road or possibly on slippery surfaces (via Popular Mechanics ). Of course, you can also use 4WD on normal roads, but this will mostly be wasted on tarmac, and it really shines in off-road conditions such as hill climbing. With this option, the driver has to manually enter 4WD mode to use it; this is usually done by turning the knob to engage the mode.
When this happens, the front and rear driveshafts lock together. This forces both the front and rear axles to rotate at the same speed. Four-wheel drive cars are advantageous because it ensures that torque is always transferred to at least one wheel, so 4WD cars are ideal for off-roading. You’ll usually find the 4WD option on certain types of vehicle, including rugged SUVs, trucks and most other models designed for off-roading.
Disadvantages of 4WD and AWD
Although both all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive have their advantages, they are not for everyone and can make some aspects of owning a car more expensive. The biggest drawback most people think of regarding both types of vehicles is fuel economy. The fact is that both 4WD and AWD cars will cost you more at the pump. The technology needed to make all four wheels work means more fuel will be used per mile. In addition, there is often a size difference between the cars that use all four wheels and your 2WD options, which also impacts fuel usage.
Other than fuel economy, many people who buy either 4WD or AWD cars feel that they have to give up something to have another. If you get an AWD car, it feels like you can’t use it for off-road activities, although you can, just only to an extent. If you get a 4WD car, then you’re only really getting the capabilities some of the time, which some off-roading fans don’t appreciate.
4WD vs AWD on snow and ice
Weather conditions are another lens through which to compare 4WD and AWD vehicles. While both offer improved traction in harsh weather conditions, they also differ in this category. According to Car and Driver, the all-wheel drive system does best in normal snow or icy weather. This goes back to the fact that AWD vehicles are user-friendly because these systems are automatic. In other words, the driver simply needs to drive on a snowy or icy road and the four-wheel drive system will apply as much traction or torque as necessary.
However, if you live in a place where there are often particularly harsh weather conditions where snow accumulates, you might want to consider 4WD. For example, if there’s a good chance that you’ll have to climb icy hills or traverse deep piles of snow during winter driving, it’s probably best to opt for 4WD. Again, both 4WD and AWD bring a lot to the table, but even when it comes to weather conditions, it just depends on the buyer’s needs.
4WD vs AWD: which is better?
We know that both 4WD and AWD cars have their place in the automotive world because each option delivers power to all four wheels; it’s how this is achieved that makes them different. Which one a buyer chooses, usually if they have done their research, is a direct reflection of the type of driving they will do most often. But is one generally better than the other? For most people who use their cars for general purposes, four-wheel drive would be the best option. One of the main reasons is that all-wheel-drive cars have less complex mechanical set-up than all-wheel-drive variants. This means that an all-wheel-drive vehicle will be much more economical in terms of maintenance and repair costs (via True Car ).
Another reason why the average driver would prefer all-wheel drive is that it is user-friendly. This is because the system is always on and requires no extra attention from the driver. All in all, unless you plan to hit the road and really use your car to drive off-road over rocky and treacherous terrain, you don’t really need 4WD when AWD basically does the same thing, but with fewer drawbacks.