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All Wheel Drive vs 4 Wheel Drive – What Are The Differences?

One of the most important components that any off-roading truck must have is some type of four wheel drive. This is a type of transmission system that delivers power to the 4 wheels in the drive train, as opposed to either the front two wheels or rear two wheels as is common with most other cars and trucks.

It gives off-road trucks and Jeeps the power required to climb obstacles and get through mud and water. Although all wheel and 4 wheel drive would seem to be the same thing, there is a difference between the two and one is definitely more preferred for off-roading over the other.

How Does Four Wheel Drive Work?

Four wheel drive has a number of configurations, each one giving drivers more control over the traction of their off-road truck. Whether a full-time or part-time model, the 4WD version delivers torque to all four wheels according to the type of differential. Full-time 4WD is actively engaged all the time unless the driver physically disengages it. This is the type of system used on most off-road trucks.

Part-time 4WD is common on SUVs and trucks that are used on both roadways and trails, as the driver can turn off the 4WD as desired and/or needed.

4WD shares power between the front and rear axles by locking the two drive shafts, causing all four wheels to turn equally. This provides greater traction when going over obstacles, although it does make getting around curves harder since the outside wheels cannot turn faster than the inside ones. This isn’t much of an issue on the trail, although it can be a problem on roadway driving. 4WD also tends to give a rougher ride and requires more energy to keep the vehicle moving, which considerably reduces gas mileage.

How Does All Wheel Drive Work?

All wheel drive gives a vehicle 4WD capability in a different way. AWD systems are more complicated, involving as many as three differentials; however, they do offer the benefit of providing the right traction at the right time. They are computer-controlled and work by sending power to individual wheels depending on each wheel’s need for traction. In this way, AWD systems are always engaged, reacting as necessary based on road conditions and each individual wheel’s need for more or less traction.

AWD is technically a type of 4WD, yet it is also quite different. AWD systems are complicated and generally not as durable as standard full-time or even part-time 4WD systems. AWD offers the best traction in most conditions, which is why it is a preferred traction system on passenger vehicles. AWD is not as preferred for off-roading because it is not able to supply enough overall torque to the four wheels for use over extreme terrains. Its main purpose is to prevent slipping and sliding, not climb rocks and hills or cross streams and rivers.

Though both technically offer four wheel drive capabilities, 4WD and AWD differ in how each system operates and actually powers the 4 wheels on that prized off-road truck. 4WD systems use a more direct approach in sending torque to the four wheels, while AWD systems send torque where needed, when needed.

For off-roading, 4WD is a more powerful system and also a more durable one. Although some newer Jeeps and trucks offer AWD, those who have tried it for off-roading seem to prefer a tough 4WD system for hitting the trails!

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