November 17, 2011  |  Comments
Is four-wheel drive the best?

Photo By  Nick Taylor

Inarguably, 4WD is best for serious off-roading, like on the Halfmoon Creek trail in Colorado. / Creative Commons photo via Flickr.

Is four-wheel drive the best?

While shopping for your next automobile, you may be considering a vehicle with four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). If this option is on your must-have list, you owe it to yourself to know the lowdown on these traction enhancing systems.

What is 4WD and how does it work?

During normal use, 4WD vehicles transfer the majority of engine power only to the rear wheels. When additional traction is required however, a lever can be switched that then transfers power to all four wheels providing ultimate grip. This ability to switch in and out of 4WD makes these vehicles more maneuverable in rough terrain and bad weather.

AWD is a form of 4WD where power is transferred to all four wheels simultaneously – there’s no lever flipping involved. AWD also employs a center differential that allows each tire to rotate at different speeds. This independent rotation eliminates problems associated with basic 4WD systems when driven on pavement, such as driveline binding and wheel hop. AWD is not only useful in the rain and snow, it is also great on dry pavement as well, improving handling and stability.

Additional drive options

Front-wheel drive (FWD)

In this system, power from the engine is transferred to the front tires, offering increased traction and safety. FWD provides easier handling, especially in harsher weather and snow.

Rear-wheel drive (RWD)

With RWD, power from the engine is transferred to the rear tires, splitting the weight of the vehicle evenly between the front and back ends. This allows for better cornering and stopping power, and a smoother ride. Most pickup trucks, sports cars, and luxury sports sedans have RWD. The downside is that RWD cars are harder to handle in poor weather and are prone to spinouts.


While 4WD and AWD systems enhance a vehicles traction capabilities and helps to instill driver confidence, these systems are usually a bit more expensive and can be less fuel efficient. Which system is best is probably a matter of opinion; however, the system that is right for you depends on your specific needs and comfort levels.

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