So you need a vehicle with more than two-wheel drive! During your car search, you’ve probably seen all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive listed as features. Your car probably has four wheels in total, so what’s the difference? Well, although many people use these terms interchangeably, they actually work very differently. Both of these features use different systems to bring you a different kind of capability. Here’s what you should know if you’re shopping for a multi-terrain or all-weather vehicle!
Four-wheel drive, often noted as 4WD or 4×4, is the old-school version. Most of the time, you can find it on off-road vehicles, or vehicles with all-terrain capabilities. It’s one of the features that makes a Jeep, for example, really good at rock-crawling and off-roading! 4WD systems send power to a transfer case, which splits your vehicle’s power between the front and rear axle. It applies torque evenly to each wheel. This makes sure that all your wheels have equal power and traction to help you climb over off-road obstacles.
Now, due to the 4WD transfer system, it gets hard to maintain momentum and make turns at higher speeds. For that reason, most modern 4WD systems are activated instead of constantly engaged. This means that your SUV can probably cruise along in 2WD on the highway, saving fuel. Then, when you hit low-speed, low-traction conditions, like snow or mud, you can engage 4WD. Many modern 4WD systems have buttons or switches so you can easily activate 4WD mode. However, some come with a manual lever to engage instead. Some people find it fun to manually engage their 4WD mode when they hit the off-road part of their adventure!
All-wheel drive, or AWD, is a newer feature. It’s found more often on cars and crossovers, or SUVs that are meant to drive to soccer practice rather than the campsite. AWD works to get power to the wheels with the most traction. It goes further than 4WD by splitting torque between the front and rear axles, and then splitting it again between right and left wheels. This is extra useful in slippery conditions like ice, where different wheels might have different amounts of traction as you drive along.
These days, many AWD vehicles get computers involved, too. Monitors on each wheels keep track of wheel speed, traction, and other data points hundreds of times per second. That way, the car’s computer can adjust power distribution almost immediately if any of your wheels lose traction. This kind of torque vectoring system gives you a huge improvement in handling and all-weather capability over 2WD models. Not only does it give you better grip in poor road conditions, it promotes sportier handling in many vehicles, too!
When you’re looking for a new car, always keep in mind what you want to use it for. If you’re planning on taking your vehicle off-road pretty often, experts say to go with 4WD. It mostly appears on pickups and truck-based SUVs, and they’re often rugged and durable as well as capable. On the other hand, if you’ll need a vehicle that can cope with heavy snow and ice on your commute, an AWD system gives you quick, safe traction responses. In the wide world of cars, trucks, and SUVs to choose from, make sure you’re looking for the features that are right for you!
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