What’s the Difference Between AWD & 4WD?

While both all-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive provide increased traction during acceleration, these drive modes have different functions and features. Auto manufacturers don’t use consistent terms when marketing their AWD and 4WD cars, trucks, and SUVs to make matters more confusing. If you’re shopping for a new performance or all-terrain vehicle, review the distinguishing factors to decide whether AWD or 4WD is right for you.

Function and Use

AWD provides engine power to all four tires simultaneously, preventing slipping and sliding on wet or snowy roads. Most modern AWD systems can automatically switch from front-wheel drive to AWD when conditions require the extra traction.

While AWD works best during inclement weather, 4WD offers rugged off-road handling capabilities. Pickup and full-size trucks equipped with this type of system often allow drivers to shift to 4WD as needed manually. With 4WD, the front and rear driveshafts lock so the axles turn simultaneously at the same speed. Even when wheels slip on snow, mud, or sand, you’ll be getting power to at least one of the front and one of the rear wheels. Unlike AWD, 4WD has limited use on pavement.

To truly understand whether a vehicle you’re considering has AWD, 4WD, or a combination of both, talk to your dealer or read the owner’s manual thoroughly. It’s also important to remember that these systems only boost traction when you’re accelerating the vehicle. They won’t improve turning or stopping on slippery roads.

Type of Vehicle

According to U.S. News and World Report, 4WD is best for trucks and off-roading vehicles to tackle challenging terrain. Cars and crossover SUVs typically have AWD to provide better handling, which is also why this drive mode comes in so many late-model performance and luxury cars. With AWD, you’ll spend less on gas than with a 4WD system, and the overall cost to purchase or lease the vehicle will probably also be lower.

Many high-end vehicles now come with both systems, so drivers no longer have to decide between AWD vs. 4WD. A smooth handling SUV can become an off-roading machine in seconds with this versatile upgrade so that you can enjoy both the capabilities of 4WD and the comfort and ease of an AWD system.

If you often drive in areas that get heavy snow or tackle mountainous terrain, a 4WD may help you traverse thick drifts and slick rocks. Those who tow heavy loads, travel roads with steep inclines, or live in remote areas may also appreciate the functionality of 4WD. If you want a car that can handle run-of-the-mill winter weather, consider going with an AWD vehicle with snow tires.

Added Features

Unlike AWD vehicles, many 4WD vehicles are equipped with upgraded features for a better off-roading experience. If you’re shopping for an all-terrain vehicle, look for skid plates that protect the truck’s underbody from debris, low-range gearing for effective rock-crawling, and locking differentials to keep you going on the most challenging ground. Often, you can adjust the vehicle’s 4WD system depending on the current weather and road conditions.
When you’ve decided on the right 4WD or AWD vehicle for your driving needs, bring it to Highline Car Care for manufacturer-recommended maintenance of any make and model. We provide high-quality professional vehicle service and repairs to clients throughout the East Valley from our convenient location in Gilbert. Schedule your efficient, affordable service appointment today to prepare your vehicle for the winter weather ahead.

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