Four-Wheel Drive vs. All-Wheel Drive

August 24th, 2016

Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are terms that can easily be mixed up. They sound similar, but they aren’t the same thing.

At first, I thought they were just terms that could be used interchangeably, since using FOUR of your wheels would be using ALL of them… but as it turns out, they’re different. They accomplish similar tasks, but the systems used to implement them are quite different. Both are complex systems that may not be for everyone, but let’s take a look at the two and compare them.

Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)

Also known as 4×4, four-wheel drive is the oldest of the two systems. This is usually used on off-road vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler, and it’s also commonly seen on towing vehicles. Basically, 4×4 is ideal for SUVs and trucks.

How does its system work? To put it simply, the power gets transferred from the transmission to a thing called a “transfer case” within your vehicle. From there, the maximum amount of torque – or power – gets distributed to each wheel, making it easier for those stock Wrangler wheels to get over the snow or mud! The problem with this? Well, since you’re getting the same amount of speed and power to each wheel, this makes any kind of turning difficult. To help you visualize this a little better, keep in mind that in order for your car to perform turns, the inside wheel must be spinning slower than the one on the outside.

A car that’s bad at making turns? You might think that doesn’t sound good at all; why should you even bother, right? That was my initial thought anyway, but manufacturers have remedied this problem in a couple of different ways. One of these is through an on/off switch, either one that’s physically on your car somewhere, or a digital switch within your car. This way, you have the option of turning on the 4WD when you really need it. Another feature manufacturers have implemented is having different 4WD settings, such as high and low, allowing you to raise and lower the intensity of the 4WD as needed.

Is 4WD right for you?

The choice is always up to you, but consider the following and allow these simple guidelines to help your decision:


  • Good at getting over tougher terrain
  • Can be turned on and off
  • Older, trusted technology


  • Not great at making turns when on
  • More expensive

All-Wheel Drive (AWD)

AWD is a newer system that is pretty much automatic, switching on whenever it’s needed. Earlier, we said that 4WD can normally be associated with SUVs and trucks – and by the same token, we can associate AWD with high-performance cars such as the Audi R8. However, unlike 4WD, the power is not always going to be evenly split while you’re driving on those factory R8 rims.

Due to this reason, it can be said that AWD is essentially a “less-powerful” version of 4WD. Since the same amount of torque won’t be going to every wheel like it does with the 4WD system, it could be harder to get over certain terrain. It relies on sensors within the car to send a signal to the wheel that needs the most power at that moment.

However,  it is said that AWD is better-suited for all environments than 4WD. If you’re not going to be driving over mud or snow or through any kind of off-road terrain, getting 4WD for the extra cost may not be worth it, causing you to opt for the AWD.

Is AWD right for you?

The pros and cons for AWD are as follows:


  • Automatic system that works when you need it to
  • Offers better handling and traction to more sporty cars
  • Good for more types of terrain, not just extreme conditions


  • Not great if you’re going to do serious off-roading
  • Adds to the vehicle’s weight with its complex system


No matter which system you decide is better for you, we’re always ready to help you out with getting some OEM wheels for your 4WD or AWD vehicle. Call us toll free at 1-800-896-7467 – we have the expertise to assist you!


Which will you end up choosing?
– Kathy


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