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What Is the Difference Between 4WD and AWD?

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The differences between all-wheel drive and four-wheel driving systems explained

The Jeep brand is known for offering a variety of AWD systems that allow its vehicle to thrive in harsh environments
Photo: © Greg

In case you didn’t already know, there are considerable differences between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive systems, so it’s important not to use these terms interchangeably when describing vehicles.

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To provide a general explanation, four-wheel drive is the older of the two driving systems and it is also referred to as 4WD, 4×4, and Four by Four. Four-wheel drive can typically be found in larger vehicles in order to provide additional traction in off-road situations, such as traveling across a rocky terrain, through thick mud, or in deep snow. As its name suggests, power is applied to all four wheels at the same time. But, when it’s not needed, drivers can turn off four-wheel drive via an electronic button, switch, or secondary lever. The 2016 Ford F-150, 2016 Chevrolet Silverado, and 2016 Jeep Wrangler are three vehicles that are available with four-wheel drive.

All-wheel drive is a more recent automotive innovation. Instead of simply providing power to all four wheels evenly, an all-wheel drive system can distribute power between wheels at varying levels, depending on the vehicle’s traction, speed, and other factors. Unlike four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive systems are on almost all of the time. All-wheel drive systems are beneficial because they improve traction during slick conditions such as snow, ice, or wet pavement. However, AWD will not help a vehicle in rocky terrain or thick mud. The 2016 Ford Fusion sedan, 2016 Toyota RAV4 crossover, and 2016 Volvo XC90 SUV are a few vehicles offered with all-wheel drive.

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the differences between 4WD and AWD.

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Video: Primary Differences Between AWD and 4×4

News Sources: Digital Trends, Consumer Reports