What is the difference between all-wheel and 4×4 drive?

By Product Expert | Posted in Technology, Tips and Tricks on Wednesday, October 25th, 2017 at 2:43 pm
2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee among rocks with the words What is the difference between all-wheel and 4x4 drive?

While we’ve already tackled the differences and advantages of rear-wheel drive vs front-wheel drive, today we want to look at something a little different. While most cars on the road (and the majority of vehicles in our used vehicle inventory here at Third Coast Auto Group) are two-wheel drive models, drivetrains that send power to more than two wheels have plenty of positives, especially in bad weather or rough terrain. What is the difference between all-wheel and 4×4 drive? Keep reading for a few highlights.

Read More: Can you drive on a flat tire?

How do all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive work?

Both all-wheel drive and 4×4 drive direct power from the engine to all four wheels of a vehicle, but how they do it is very different. Four-wheel, or 4×4, or four-by-four directs the power evenly to each wheel so that they turn at the same speed without slipping (which isn’t how cars generally work). This is great when you are driving straight, but can actually damage your vehicle on turns, because the wheels have to go at different speeds in order to turn effectively.

In contrast, all-wheel drive uses computers and sensors to monitor the behavior of each wheel and send the optimal amount of power to that wheel. Usually all-wheel drive is on all the time, while 4×4 drive is activated with a lever, switch or button.

Bad Weather vs Off-Road

All-wheel drive is great for difficult road conditions, whether that be heavy rain or a muddy country path. Four-wheel drive is ideal for serious off-roading needs. Especially at low speeds, it offers the best traction.

low view of tires driving in snow

Complexity and Cost

Both all-wheel and 4×4 drive will cost more to buy than two-wheel drive, but there are other costs that drivers should be aware of. All-wheel drive is more complex, and if it breaks down it will cost more to fix.

Should you get all-wheel drive or 4×4 drive? That all depends on your budget, your driving needs, and what you are going to use it for. For city and suburb driving, in a climate like Texas, you probably won’t need all-wheel drive more than a couple times in you life. However, those times it may be very nice to have.

2 Responses to “What is the difference between all-wheel and 4×4 drive?”

  1. Mark Murphy says:

    I really appreciate your tip on how four wheel drive is very useful when it comes to off-roading. My wife and I have been thinking of getting a new house, and we want to move into a house that is only accessible from a dirt road. I will be sure to tell my wife that we should try and find a car with four-wheel drive!

  2. Dave Anderson says:

    That is interesting that four-wheel drive directs power evenly to each wheel. That sounds like something I would want to have if I were going up a hill and wanted more traction. Maybe it would be good to look for a car or truck that has four-wheel drive.