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Choosing between 2WD, AWD and 4WD

It doubtful that there is any vehicle characteristic laden with more confusion and conjecture than the type of drive the vehicle has. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the merits of 2WD vs AWD vs 4WD vehicles and some of these opinions are quite entrenched. In this article we will take a quick look the three different systems so you have some objective data to consider on this subject.


2WD drive systems do exactly what you would think. The engine power is distributed through just 2 of the vehicle’s wheels. Most smaller vehicles today are 2WD with the front wheels being driven (FWD). FWD configurations benefit from having the engine weight balanced over the front wheels. This allows for superior traction and steering.

Another type of 2WD are Rear-Wheel Drive vehicles. RWD is commonly found on pickups and truck-based SUVs, as well as high-performance sedans. For trucks, RWD allows the use of bulky, heavy-duty components, and it provides better traction with a heavy load. RWD wheels are somewhat less competent in slippery conditions because the mass of the vehicle is not located over the wheels.

All-Wheel Drive

Like the name implies, all-wheel drive (AWD) configurations feed power to all four wheels on a car or truck. This requires many more drivetrain parts but it provides maximum forward traction during acceleration and is especially helpful in wintry condition. Most AWD systems deliver power primarily to one set of wheels, front or rear when slippage is detected. AWD systems are especially helpful in rapidly changing conditions or when driving on a road with intermittent snow and ice. It is commonly used for most car-based SUVs, as well as many cars and minivans.

Four-wheel drive

Although four-wheel drive (4WD) and AWD are designations that are often used interchangeably, there is a difference. Generally, 4WD is optimized for rugged off-road driving situations. Most 4WD systems have high and a low gear range, the latter used to increase low-speed climbing power.

Modern 4WD systems are either full-time, which means they stay engaged; automatic, where the vehicle automatically switches between two- and four-wheel-drive mode; and part-time, which require the driver to manually shift between two- and four-wheel drive.

Aside from serious off-road enthusiasts, most drivers never come close to needing the capability that 4WD systems provide over and above AWD systems.

What to Buy?

For conditions involving rain and light snow, 2WD will likely work fine, and for most vehicles, front-wheel drive is the preferred setup. AWD provides an added margin of road-holding ability especially in inclement weather. If you’ll be driving in severe snow or true off-road situations, or if you’re interested in pursuing off-roading as a hobby, you should opt for a vehicle with 4WD.

Important Caveat

One of the reasons many people buy a traditional sport-utility vehicle is for the extra security and traction of four-wheel drive. But any drivers don’t realize the limitations of AWD and 4WD. Though having power delivered to all four wheels increases traction, it does nothing to improve braking. Drivers often make the mistake of feeling over confident with AWD or 4WD vehicles, and they can pay the consequences by sliding off the road when the going gets tough. Slippery conditions demand extra caution, no matter what you drive.

Thanks to: URSE Jeep – Used Cars

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