Is 4WD the same as 4×4?
You head out to a car dealership in search of that perfect car for road trips. There’s an array of cars to choose from, in different sizes, colours, makes and models. Then, there are all the different features available for each. The options are overwhelming, so you decide to narrow it down to a 4WD (Four Wheel Drive). You know you can comfortably take 4WDs off the beaten track.
Then the dealer points out a 4×4, and the picture gets cloudy. You wonder, what’s the difference? Then they show you an AWD (All Wheel Drive). Now you’re confused. If all wheels are being used, doesn’t that just make it a 4WD?
At this point, you scratch your head and accept the offer of that complimentary cup of dealership coffee. And while the dealer gets it, you pull out your phone and start googling.
What’s the difference?
In essence, a 4WD and a 4×4 vehicle are the same thing, and an AWD isn’t much different. They all offer 4WD traction on the road, with differences in how they operate mechanically, and how the driver needs to operate them.
4WD (Four Wheel Drive) and 4×4 (Four by Four)
A 4WD is any vehicle that powers all four of its wheels at the same time. A 4×4 is another name for it.
Most 4WDs/4x4s require the driver to manually switch from 2WD (Two Wheel Drive) to 4WD, according to the terrain.
Being in 2WD is more fuel-efficient, as the vehicle is powering fewer wheels. But having the ability to switch to 4WD is a good option in challenging terrain.
Powering all four wheels (4WD) gives better traction on the road. Wheels are less likely to spin, so it’s safer for the vehicle to move on slippery roads and easier to move the vehicle when it becomes stuck in mud, sand or snow.
4WDs often include the option of low-range gearing, which is useful in steep terrain.
AWD (All Wheel Drive)
An AWD powers all four wheels at once, but it does this automatically—the driver doesn’t switch modes. In fact, the driver can’t choose between 2WD to 4WD in an AWD vehicle.
Some AWDs automatically run just two wheels when there is good traction, and switch to 4WD in microseconds, when better traction is required. This decision is still out of the driver’s hands and is computer generated.
AWDs don’t include low-range gearing.
What’s the difference mechanically?
4WD and 4x4s have what’s called a transfer case which contains numerous sets of gears. When the system is turned on (when it’s in 4WD mode), the gears in the transfer case mesh together. When it is turned off (in 2WD mode), they disconnect.
4WDs with low range gearing have extra gears in the transfer cases.
AWDs have either a limited slip ‘differential’, or an electronically controlled clutch, which allows power to flow to the axle, or stop power flow, according to conditions. In most AWDs, the differential or clutch is controlled by a computer system, so it employs at very fast speeds.
Basically, if your vehicle has a transfer case, it’s a 4WD/4×4, and if it uses a limited slip differential or electronically controlled clutch, it’s an AWD.
What is best? 4×4/4WDs or AWDs?
Both 4WDs and AWDs allow the vehicle to drive with all four wheels powered at the same time, so they both do the job at hand.
In terms of safety, an AWD is a safer bet, as the vehicle is already operating with four wheels powered, so there’s no intervention required on your part. If slippery conditions present themselves, you won’t have to flick a switch. This is beneficial if your reflexes aren’t fast enough to change modes in time to deal with potentially hazardous conditions.
If you know you’re going to be regularly handling a range of road conditions, however, you might feel comfortable to make the manual adjustments between 2WD and 4WD required in a 4WD/4×4.
Your decisions will also come down to the size and make of vehicle you want. 4WD/4×4 is normally found on larger, heavier SUVs and trucks. AWD can be found in any type of vehicle, but more so, in smaller SUVs.
Pedders stock parts for 4WDs, 4x4s and AWDs. Check out our website.
Pedders Suspension & Brakes – TrakRyder 4WD Parts Range
Pedders offer a range of off road vehicle parts from its range called TrakRyder. You can find TrakRyder suspension, brakes and GVM upgrades at your local Pedders outlet. Find out more, visit our TrakRyder products page here and be sure to check out TrakRyder Brochure. With over 120 outlets across Australia, there is bound to be a store near you.