AWD Vs. 4WD – The difference and which one to choose

4Wd Vs Awd

It can be confusing to choose between an AWD and a 4WD.

The two terms appear similar. There was a time when most vehicles had front-wheel drive, but modern SUVs opened up the market for 4WD.

Cars have become more and more sophisticated and this has led to car users finding the boundaries between AWD and 4WD blurred. In this article, we will examine how the two transmissions work.


Awd Vs 4Wd

An AWD car supplies all the wheels of the vehicle with electricity. It is driven by both the front and the rear wheels. In some cars, manufacturers let the car run with front wheel drive, but then it powers the remaining wheels when traction is needed. This is referred to as automatic or partial all-wheel drive. With an AWD you have two drive trains.

With a permanent AWD, all wheels are powered at all times. The wheels of the vehicle are driven by multiple clutches, viscous clutches, and differentials. With an AWD, the driver does not need to engage the other wheels for operation. This happens automatically.

Many vehicle users decide to buy a vehicle with AWD because of the additional traction control. The car is easy to drive in snow and muddy areas because the front and rear axles are supplied with power. Vehicles with all-wheel drive allow you to experience the full power of the vehicle. Some people may prefer a car with partial AWD. In this case the front or rear wheels are powered and you can switch on the other two wheels depending on the terrain you are driving in.

  • More power is supplied to the car wheels
  • Improved traction control makes the car suitable for navigating muddy and snow areas
  • AWD is available for all vehicle types – sedans and station wagons
  • Most of the models are not pure off-road cars
  • The cars are not fuel efficient



A four-wheel drive works very similar to the AWD. They have two drive trains at the rear and front. With AWD, the driver has little control over the wheel controls. With four-wheel drive, the driver can control traction and power through a range of vehicle settings. If you want more traction, you can select a low setting, while a high setting is ideal for snow conditions. Just like with all-wheel drive, you have a permanent or partial 4WD.

With a permanent four-wheel drive, all the wheels of the vehicle are constantly supplied with power. However, the driver has better control over which tyres get more power. Cars with partial four-wheel drive are driven either front or rear. If you need permanent four-wheel drive, simply press the button and all the tyres are supplied with power. The market for 4WD cars has changed from trucks to luxury cars. However, they are more expensive than traditional 2 wheel drive cars.

In a 4WD, power is delivered uniformly to all wheels of the car. This eliminates the need for vectorization. The power is supplied by the engine and then transferred to the wheels via the transmission.

All the power is evenly distributed to all the wheels via a transfer box. With these settings, the car offers excellent manoeuvrability off-road. However, this is not a great car for everyday use. Steering is tiresome as the power is distributed to all wheels.

  • High ground clearance cars
  • You can drive in all-weather terrain
  • Most 4WD are spacious
  • Expensive
  • Reduced fuel economy

Which is better AWD or 4WD?

Like I said, there’s not much difference between the two. In fact, the names are used synonymously. AWD can be installed in a variety of cars – especially in sedans and SUVs. The cars are ideal for those who need light off-road capabilities. If you use your car in city traffic, you can choose the option that allows you to change your settings to AWD. This is partial AWD.

If you are looking for an enhanced off-road experience, we recommend a car with four-wheel drive. This offers more off-road capabilities and the car often has a high ground clearance. You can drive a 4WD car in snow or slippery conditions.

Most AWDs on the market are partially four wheel drive. This makes them ideal for city traffic. When driving off-road you can switch on the four-wheel drive. With most 4WD vehicles you often have the possibility to switch on 4 low or 4 high settings. If you switch on all wheels, slip often occurs due to the high speeds. The 4 high settings compensate the change of the rotation differential in the wheels.

In the 4-high setting you can drive at high speeds on slippery surfaces. When the 4-wheel drive car is set to 4 low, you can manoeuvre on rocky surfaces at low range. In 4-Low, you cannot drive very fast without damaging the car. 4WD offers more off-road capability than AWD.

If a 4WD vehicle has partial 4-wheel drive, you can lock and unlock the car’s differentials intermittently. When you lock a differential, you prevent the wheels on that side from slipping. Most trucks with four-wheel drive have a central locking differential. This allows the car to transmit power evenly between the front and rear axles.


AWD is often associated with cars that are a crossover between an SUV and a sedan. These cars have part-time AWD. When driving in the city, the car functions as either a front- or rear-wheel drive car.

If you are driving off-road, you can switch on the AWD. Vehicles with four-wheel drive are fully off-road and therefore suitable for any terrain. You can set the wheels for 4 low and high. The disadvantage of 4-wheel drive is that it makes the car unnecessarily heavy and most cars are not fuel efficient. Your decision for a 4WD or AWD depends on your primary terrain. With some cars, car manufacturers have chosen to equip them with 4WD because of the high horsepower, so that the power is distributed evenly over the wheels.

Written by: Magnus Sellén

Founder, owner & main author of Mechanic Base. I have been repairing cars for more than 10 years, specialized in advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting. I have also been a drifting driver and mechanic for over 7 years.