End The Confusion – AWD vs. 4WD and All Variations!
Most people understand what 4-Wheel drive is, but what about All-Wheel drive or part-time 4WD or Automatic AWD?
Use this little guide to understand what these different types of drive are and how they work so you know what you’re getting when you go looking for an off-road vehicle.
4-Wheel Drive - 4WD
Most desired by anyone who enjoys off-roading almost as much as steel bumpers, 4WD is a drivetrain designed to keep all four wheels receiving power from the differential equally to limit wheel slip and gain the best traction.
It is what most people think of when referring to 4WD trucks.
Available in two different types, 4WD is the drivetrain that will get you up and over when you’re off the pavement and driving on the trail:
===> Full-Time 4WD - Full-time 4WD is a 4WD system that can be turned on and used on any surface.
It’s a desirable system for off-roading when you come across a variety of obstacles in a day while also driving on the pavement or a trail that’s not so rough.
These systems are designed with a differential that can accommodate for the difference in power going to the wheels so there is no problem using them on higher-traction surfaces.
FT-4WD vehicles have a 4WD-low gear that has more torque for negotiating obstacles and trails at slower speeds, and a 4WD-high gear that has less torque but maintains traction at faster speeds.
===> Part-Time 4WD - Part-time 4WD systems have to be turned on to go into 4WD and are unsuitable for full-time use because they do not have a differential that can accommodate high-traction conditions like one in a FT-4WD.
A PT-4WD system is more powerful off-road than a FT-4WD system and can gain more traction when equipped with a locking differential.
Vehicles with PT-4WD are generally used by more serious off-roaders into more extreme activities where the locking differentials and higher low-end torque comes in handy.
All-Wheel Drive (AWD) is popular in passenger vehicles as it offers a lot of the traction benefits of 4WD; however, it is limited in other areas.
Available under many different names that suggest it is the same as 4WD, AWD is not actually suitable for off-road driving.
Also available in two different types, AWD provides improved traction in a variety of pavement settings so you can drive your truck over wet, snowy, or icy roads more easily with less tire spin:
===> Standard All-Wheel Drive - AWD is a drivetrain system that functions the way 4WD does by powering all four wheels at the same time when it is activated.
In doing so, slipping and tire spin is reduced which makes it ideal for driving on slippery roads or over mildly bumpy roads or trails.
The critical difference between 4WD and AWD is the gearing.
While there is a 4WD high gear in an AWD system, there is no 4WD low gear.
Essentially, AWD is designed for use driving at speed rather than using low-end torque to negotiate off-road obstacles.
===> Automatic All-Wheel Drive - Frequently touted as on-demand or part-time 4WD, automatic AWD is basically a 2WD system with traction control that will switch itself into 4WD during moments of instability to prevent tire spin.
Like standard full-time AWD systems, automatic AWD systems have 4WD high gears but no 4WD-low.
Different Types of Drive for Different Uses
Now that you know the difference between 4WD, AWD, as well as full and part-time systems, you can choose the one that will best fit your needs.
If you simply want your truck to have good road traction in low-traction conditions, AWD or automatic AWD are your best options.
To head to the trails with your daily truck, a full-time 4WD system is best.
If you are more serious about off-roading and want the whole package like steel bumpers and open fenders, and the ability to handle more challenging trails and obstacles, you should invest in a vehicle with part-time 4WD that can be turned on and off as needed and enhanced with a locking differential!