4WD vs AWD: What You Need to Know

Ever wondered what the difference is between 4WD and AWD? Find out here.

As the seasons change, it may have crossed your mind to change up your vehicle to match the incoming weather. But how do you know what drivetrain to choose? Here’s a quick explanation of what 4WD and AWD are and how these two choices can affect how you drive in the long run.

What’s the Difference?

4WD and AWD both allow your vehicle to drive with all four wheels, but there’s a slight difference. AWD allows your vehicle to have control of all four wheels all the time, while also allowing the wheels to move independently of each other. While 4WD requires a mechanical system that is engaged by the driver when 4WD is necessary.

Why Aren’t All Vehicles AWD?

With all that said, there’s not much of a difference between the two. Why isn’t every vehicle all-wheel drive? While AWD is great, it does lack one thing that 4WD has. Sure, it would be nice to have control and power to all four tires without having to press a button or pull down on a shifter, but 4WD has something that AWD doesn’t, 4L or 4Low.

4Low selector in 4WD vehicle

4Low is a setting that 4WD vehicles can engage to lock the wheels together in unison, leaving them to spin at the same rate and power until 4Low is no longer engaged. 4Low is the best setting for those who find themselves stuck in snowdrifts or deep mud as it gives the tires all the power to pull the vehicle out of a sticky situation. AWD doesn’t offer this type of wheel engagement, which can make getting out of hairy situations a little more difficult.

All-wheel drive is a great option for those who want to accelerate more quickly while in bad weather or over rough terrain.

How to Choose Between 4WD and AWD

Most likely, you won’t have to choose if you are interested in a specific type of vehicle. Many manufacturers only offer 4WD or AWD for each of their models. But there are specific types of vehicles that are more likely to have 4WD or AWD.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Large SUVs, often built on a truck chassis, are more likely to have 4WD, just like trucks do. Subcompact SUVs and some smaller cars are equipped with AWD for better acceleration in road conditions like snow or dirt.

How 4WD and AWD Affects Your Driving

Overall, there isn’t much that will affect your driving heavily. If you want a faster acceleration when driving, AWD is the better choice. If you want to roam in the backcountry, getting stuck every which way, then you may want to look for a 4WD vehicle with 4Low capabilities.

At the end of the day, 4WD and AWD are your best bets for driving in harsh weather conditions. Either one will take you where you need to go around town or on the highway. It just depends on what you prefer: fast acceleration or more power when you need it most.

AWD Nissan Murano in the snow

Does your vehicle have 4WD or AWD? Let us know what you drive in the comments below and what drivetrain you prefer.

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Erin Maxson

Erin loves nothing more than a good road trip. To her, getting behind the wheel is one of the biggest adventures you can take because it can lead to anywhere. Alongside her Toyota Tundra, you'll find her co-pilot pup, Rory, and a 1976 Airstream Argosy in tow. Her motto: Life is a scenic road, take your time and enjoy the ride.

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