Even with the increase in online resources and dealer strategies, shopping for a car is still a headache. You may come across many baffling topics when choosing the right vehicle, but the four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) seem to time and again bewilder car shoppers equally. In the motoring industry, these two terms refer to very different machines, which produce fundamentally different results. Let’s have a look at the things that differentiates these two systems:

Four-Wheel Drive

This one is the old-school version. 4WD can also be referred to as Four by Four and is used on off-road vehicles or for vehicles that have all-terrain capabilities.

In this system, power travels from the engine, through the transmission, and finally to the transfer case. Power is split among the rear and front axles to enable the torque to be evenly applied to each wheel. This is not a new process and has also been used in modern Jeeps which can tackle almost all off-road obstacles.

The modern 4WD systems can now be activated with switches or buttons rather than the usual manual levers, and also include several settings for the system. These systems typically have two gears:

4WD High – This gear is used to split power, having less uniformly allowing for ‘limited slip’ of the outside and inside wheels. This corrects the spinning, locked inside wheel issue by directing more power to the wheel that has traction. 
4WD Low - This gear limits the speed of the wheel and is suitable for the arduous terrain. It is also not advisable to go too fast while using the 4WD Low; things start to break.


The pros of 4WD

  • It has the most suitable traction when you go off-road
  • You can turn it off to minimise fuel consumption
  • It is a proven, rugged technology

The cons of 4WD

  • It adds complexity and weight to cars
  • It cannot be used in all situations
  • It is expensive compared to two-wheel drive systems

All-Wheel Drive

All-Wheel Drive is a new modernism and is apparently more intricate. In the AWD system, power is channelled to the wheels that have the most traction by dividing the torque between the rear and front axles in the centre differential, and in the individual wheels using the rear and front differentials.
Currently, computers have been incorporated in many AWD systems. Sensors in the wheels keep track of traction, the speed of the wheels, and other data points in hundreds of times per second. An Engine Control Unit (ECU) determines where power is channelled to and to which wheel depending on the one that has the highest grip.


The pros of AWD 

  • It gives more grip and control in all road conditions
  • It provides sportier handling and traction for a wide range of cars

The cons of AWD 

  • It increases fuel consumption
  • It increases the complexity and weight of cars
  • It is not suitable for extreme off-road conditions
If you are planning to use your car off-road regularly, 4WD should be your prefered option. 4WD is used in truck-platform SUVs and pickups which have the strength to match the starkness of a 4WD system. However, most people will prefer AWD because it is more modern and makes more sense.

The Difference Between All Wheel Drive and 4 Wheel Drive