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AWD, RWD, 4X4 and FWD: What's The Difference?

When shopping for a new vehicle there are many important aspects to consider and many of which could be confusing, especially for a first-time-buyer. One such potentially confusing aspect of a vehicle, is understanding it's drivetrain. 

Before we go into the different types, let's briefly go over what a drivetrain actually is.

Drivetrain defined...

The drivetrain simple put, is the group of components in a motor vehicle that deliver power to the drive or movement of the wheels. You may have heard of the more popular term, "Powertrain"? This includes both the engine and the drivetrain. The engine being the component to produce the power and the drivetrain which delivers that power to the wheels to rotate the axle. How that power is delivered to the wheels is where we find the different types of drivetrain. 

There are four different types: All-Wheel-Drive (AWD), Rear-Wheel-Drive (RWD), Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD), and Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD or 4X4).


With a FWD drivetrain, the power from the engine is delivered only to the front wheels of your vehicle. This means the front wheels are pulling the car and the rear wheels don't receive any power of their own. 

FWD vehicles typically get better fuel economy and emit less carbon dioxide. Since the weight of the engine is located over the driving wheels, the vehicle can maintain better traction in the snow. 

However, performance enthusiasts have claimed FWD vehicles are less fun to drive. 


As opposed to FWD, rear-wheel-drive (RWD) means the power from the engine is delivered to the rear wheels to push the car forward. The front wheels don't receive any power and are free to maneuver the vehicle.

The weight distribution is considered better with RWD, as more evenly spread across the vehicle. This is why sports cars, like Mustangs, Corvettes and Camaros are RWD.

The disadvantage of RWD is that they do not perform well in rain or snow because they are more prone to loss of traction on slick roads. 

Four-Wheel-Drive (4X4 or 4WD)

Four-Wheel-Drive means the power from the engine is delivered to all four wheels when 4x4 is engaged, otherwise it operates in the RWD format to conserve fuel. Engaging 4x4 is almost always done manually by the driver, rather than automatically. 

It is often found on larger SUVs and trucks, and provides great traction in poor weather conditions, and for off-roading. You'll also find that vehicles equipped with 4WD will offer a choice between 4-Hi and 4-Lo. Depending on the terrain you are trying to navigate you would make your selection. If you find yourself in very deep snow or extreme muddy conditions (true off-roading), you'll choose 4-Lo. You'll have to have the vehicle in park to make this shift and it should be only operated at very low speeds. For driving in icy and slippery road conditions you can shift to 4-Hi "on the fly" (while the vehicle is moving but under 60 kms/hr). This setting is used more commonly. 

All-Wheel-Drive (AWD)

AWD, is often confused with 4WD or 4x4. Both engage all four wheels, however there are key differences between the two. 

AWD sends the power to all sets of tires but the driver does not engage it manually. This gives you better grip, but it does reduce fuel economy a bit. There are actually two types of drivetrains called AWD. One does send power to all wheels continuously; some manufacturers refer to this as full-time AWD. The second often called part-time, automatic or intelligent AWD, operates most of the time in two-wheel-drive mode, most often front-wheel-drive. With an "automatic AWD" the power is delivered to all four corners only when needed. Using sensors, the vehicle will engage all four wheels when the vehicle begins slipping under two-wheel-drive, delivering power to other wheels to regain traction control. 

Depending on your driving lifestyle, finding the right vehicle with the right drivetrain will make a big difference in your overall ownership experience. Maintenance can also be slightly different depending on drivetrain. Talk to one of our Quick Lane Tire and Auto Experts or a member of our Sales team to learn more. We're here to help you with the best experience possible. 

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