Behind the Wheel, Under the Hood

Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive: I thought they were the same!

March 9, 2010
So tell me the difference between four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive … because I could’ve sworn they were the same! Au contraire! First, let’s talk about four-wheel drive (4WD). This drive allows the driver to switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel mode, depending on your driving situation. And there are two settings for 4WD: High and low. The 4WD low setting should only be used in extreme off-road situations. So, for all you road ragers out there … now you know! IMG_0697-645x483Now, let’s look at all-wheel drive (AWD). All-wheel drive is similar to 4WD, but has no 2WD option. It will always be operating in 4WD. There is no on/off switch. This is why AWD vehicles are more expensive than 4WD. Bonus fun fact: What is overdrive? I’ve heard it used before, but never knew exactly what it meant. In simplest terms, overdrive allows you to maintain high speed with lower RPMs, which therefore increases your fuel economy. Do you have any burning car questions? Lemme know and I’ll find an answer for you!

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  • egbradlee March 9, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Lauren, unfortunately there is more to it. Many pople in the automotive industry actually use AWD & 4WD interchangeably. Whats more important is whether the system is Part-Time, Full-Time or On-Demand. Part time is what many people refer to as 4×4 and is usually found on SUVs and Trucks. It allows the driver to switch out of 2WD in poor traction conditions. Full-time systems are where all 4 wheels are being driven always in ome ratio between front & back. You tend to find these on Subarus and some larger SUVs. You pay a serious penalty for fuel economy for larger vehicles, but its always on without any delay. On-Demand is what most people refer to as AWD. However, they are not always driving all 4 wheels. When road conditions are good On-demand vehicles will tend to put all the traction to the front or rear wheels (Usually the front). This means better fuel economy depending on the size of the vehicle. When slippage is detected, the vehicle will shift traction to the set of wheels that are not slipping. Hope this helps.

  • Lauren McCarthy March 12, 2010 at 9:42 am

    You’re right … there is a lot more to it.
    I appreciate the additional information. It definitely helps.
    So let me ask you … do you drive an AWD or 4WD vehicle?

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  • egbradlee March 15, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Neither. I used to have a Jeep Cherokee. Both my cars are FWD and I have snow tires on our family car. It works almost as well as 4WD in the Boston area. My next car will have On-Demand AWD. I happen to work for a company that makes components for 4WD/AWD systems so thats why I’m familiar with the types of systems available.

  • Lauren McCarthy March 16, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I see! Well, I appreciate your insight! I’m learning more and more each day. Thank you! Let me know what car you get next and how the On-Demand AWD treats you! 🙂