Finally Explained: All-Wheel Drive Versus Four-Wheel Drive

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You may not have given much thought into the differences between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive cars. But if you live and drive in an area where weather conditions can make road ways treacherous, it’s important to understand which vehicle will get you safely from one point to the other. Here are some essentials to get you started.

First, some basic definitions. Four-wheel drive means the power is sent to the front and rear of the vehicle. All-wheel drive means the power is sent either to the front or the rear, but it is not locked together.

Part-time 4WD

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Full size trucks and Jeep XJs can be driven in 2WD, then engaged in 4WD. When 4WD is active, front and rear tires turn at the same rate, making it good in muddy and snowy areas. Driving in 4WD, though, is hard on tires and other parts of the vehicle and is not recommended for mild, dry conditions.

Full-time 4WD

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All four wheels are driven, but not locked together. You have the ability to lock them together to proceed in true 4WD. You can find this on the Land Rover Discovery, some Audis from the 80s and Suburu STIs with DCCD.

Part-time AWD

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Power goes either to the front or to the rear wheels. If the vehicle detects the normal drive wheels are slipping, it will send power to the other end. On Ford Focus RS, Mini All4s and VW Synchros.

Full-time AWD

Power goes to both front and rear wheels all the time, but the power will vary. AWD makes the car less likely to skid and safer to drive in most conditions, from normal to tricky. Most Suburus feature this.

So  – the next time you are faced with buying a car, think about what your worst-case driving conditions might be and how you want your vehicle to handle them. Then, when the sales person starts throwing around 4WD and AWD, you will know what you need and what you don’t need. And that makes for a more intelligent buying decision that’ll still let you handle any road, any time.