All-Wheel Drive vs. 4-Wheel Drive – Which is Right for You?

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All-wheel drive (AWD) and 4-wheel drive (4WD) are so synonymous that even Craigslist, one of America’s favorite ways to sell and buy cars, lumps the two drivetrains together. In reality, the two technologies are quite different, but choosing between the two doesn’t have to be. We’ve worked up a quick primer on the pros and cons of each drivetrain to make sure you choose the right vehicle for your needs.

All-Wheel Drive:

All-wheel drive vehicles utilize sensors to determine which wheels a car’s power are sent to. AWD systems are typically always engaged, which means you don’t have to worry about flipping a switch or pushing a button every time you need to conquer the elements. AWD works well at all speeds, and on wet roads where different wheels need different amounts of traction at any given moment, it’s hard to beat AWD vehicles for dependability.

4-Wheel Drive:

4-wheel drive vehicles are more at home in muck and mud than any vehicle on the road (or off the road, where 4X4s are happiest!) 4WD vehicles rely on the driver to turn on the 4WD system, at which point all four tires start working in unison. 4WD vehicles are great at off-roading, and are especially adept in areas that experience large amounts of snowfall.

So, which drivetrain is right for you? Well, first thing’s first: if you live in an area with very little snow and rain, and never take your vehicle off-road, you may very well prefer a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive vehicle. They’re typically less-expensive, both at the point-of-sale and at the gas pump. But if you’re deliberating between AWD and 4WD, here’s a helpful primer:

All-Wheel Drive –

Pros: Always active, works well at all speeds and on paved roads, no driver-involvement

Cons: Reduces fuel economy, can add weight and expense, doesn’t work as well off-road

4-Wheel Drive –

Pros: King of mud, deep snow, and unpaved roads, can be turned off to improve fuel economy

Cons: Grip worse than normal cars when not in 4WD mode, added weight costs you money year-round
Happy car-shopping, and remember: AWD, 4WD, FWD or RWD, when it comes to bad roads and worse weather, always drive carefully!