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Differentiating All-Wheel-Drive from Four-Wheel-Drive

We get to hear terms like AWD (all-wheel drive) and 4WD (four-wheel drive) all the time, whenever it comes to drivetrain configuration of vehicles. We also know that with this configuration a vehicle gets to manage the off road driving with better efficiency. But how many of us know, that AWD and 4WD are not synonymous terms, nor do they imply the same functionality in a vehicle? Well, if you too were a bit confused about the significant and usage that these terms refer to, here we are sharing the knowledge on the same that we got to learn from the experienced mechanics of the service center of a famous Mazda dealer near Houston

The Basic Facts

The vehicles configured with AWD system are basically run with a front-wheel-drive layout in which the power gets redistributed automatically by parting ways from the wheels to generate sufficient amount of traction. 

On the other hand, the vehicles that come with 4WD configuration employs a rear-wheel-drive system that includes a system of “dual-range transfer case” along with a 4-Lo mode ideally engineered to drive at lower speeds that often is required for any off-road work. 

We know this much of description will raise your eyebrows still higher, and that’s why we feel like delving deeper into the subject to make things clear in your mind. 

How Does a 4WD (Four-Wheel Drive) Car Work?

When we mentioned dual-range transfer case a few minutes back, when we discussed the system of 4 Wheel Drive, we actually referred about a device that can “transfer” power directly from the transmission and can send to both the front and rear axles.

How Does an AWD (All-Wheel Drive) Car Work?

Vehicles that are configured as All-wheel-drive, on the other hand, is to serve the purpose of monitoring the level of traction at the all four wheels. An AWD will always be ready to transfer the engine power at a very short period of time, whenever there is a shortage in the traction. 

 Which is More Performance Oriented?

We need to clarify at this point that though vehicles can be configured with any of these two drivetrain options, the only determining factor to decide whether it will be better to go for a 4WD vehicle or an AWD one, only your practical necessity can say. 

However, if you look back at the history of automotive industry, you will find the 4WD vehicles dominating their AWD counterparts especially when faced with off-road driving conditions. Moreover, trucks and other heavy duty vehicles usually are configured as 4WD because of their variety of components that are beefed-up to suit every off-road usage.

Who Needs an AWD Then?

The primary downside of the 4WD vehicles is that the hardware used for them adds an extra amount of weight hence gets to fetch only average fuel economy. 

 The Bottom Line

Our discussion with the experts of the Houston Mazda dealership concluded with the fact, that it is your own set of priorities matched to your driving style that can determine if a 4Wd vehicle will be more oriented towards your family outing or if the AWD will help you have the desired control on the vehicle when driving on slippery surfaces. .


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As a mechanical engineer turned blogger, Charlie provides readers with a technical, yet accessible look into the world of automotive engineering and design. His insightful posts make complex car technologies understandable.