Lots of car experts use all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive interchangeably without knowing there's an actual difference. I bet you never knew that either. Knowing the difference between both types will actually go a long way in helping you determine which you need, for what kind of road and what to expect. Even though the difference between the all-wheel-drive vs four-wheel-drive are more technical than plain, Naijauto will try to explain it in the simplest terms for easy understanding.
The AWD and 4WD have their uses and benefits
1. What is a four-wheel drive?
You may have come across the acronyms "4X4" or "4WD" written on the body or tyre areas of the Toyota Landcruiser, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Jeep wrangler and others. If you have ever wondered what it means, it simply means they are 4-wheel-drive. The idea behind the production of these types of cars is to maneuver smoothly off-road and on untarred (unpaved) roads. This is perhaps why you find a lot of Jeep cars, G-wagons and the likes, on major Nigerian roads. But how exactly do 4WDs work?
When you rev the engine, it transfers equal amount of power to all the four wheels of the vehicle. This means the front wheels won't rotate faster or better than the rear. This process is fine without the system rationing the delivery between the axles or the wheels. So the transmission transfers the power which it gets from the engine to a transfer case, which splits the power equally to all the car's four wheels.
The good thing about all the wheels getting the same amount of power is it makes it easy to maneuver situations where traction is low. If you're driving on a muddy road, sandy terrain or over rocks and gravel, you can get away easily. But definitely there's a disadvantage if you're driving along narrow streets with sharp bends. The four-wheel drive won't easily turn on a sharp corner. The tyres would turn at the same time and you would have to go a lot of forward and backward movement so you don't hit an object or enter a side gutter. And, absolutely, four-wheel-drive cars require more maintenance cost.
The 4WD system supports the offroading capability
For turning, it's always best to have a car where the front wheel turns first and the rear wheels follow suit. The front wheel rotation also somewhat determines that at the rear. This is probably why car brands make part time and full time four-wheel drives. A part time four-wheel drive is one that can be disabled and changed to a two-wheel drive. But the four-wheel drive system is totally dismantled. It still comes into play when you need traction especially on unpaved roads.
The Mercedes Benz G-Class can be considered a part-time four-wheel drive. This is because you can actually change from four-wheel-drive to two-wheel-drive by simply tweaking a button. In fact, you can choose between a high and low four-wheel, depending on what speed you wish to drive on.
Some cars come with a 4 wheel drive selector-switch
The full time four-wheel drive can't switch to two-wheel drive all of sudden. It remains a four-wheel drive everytime. This can be found in old Toyota Landcruiser cars made in the 1990s and four-wheel drives made before 1980. The inside and outside wheels of these cars rotate at the same time and the same rate.
>>> A 4WD car can get stuck in the mud sometimes, check How to get your car out of mud in Nigeria
2. What is an all-wheel drive?
An all-wheel drive is a part time four-wheel drive. But this time, you don't need to make the adjustments yourself - as the car knows what to do when it senses the kind of environment it's in. All-wheel drives actually started becoming a thing recently and can be found on the latest Mercedes-Benz AMG cars, Mazda CX-3, Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Tahoe and Honda CRV.
Majorly, the all-wheel drive idea is to have a car that can run on any and every road - paved, unpaved, rocky, smooth or narrow. All-wheel drive is not peculiar to SUVs only like four-wheel drives. You can also find the system in crossovers, trucks, wagons and even sedans. But how does it work?
An all-wheel drive is a part time four-wheel drive
The four-wheel drive sends the same amount of power to each wheel for better traction, while the all-wheel drive sends just the right amount of power each wheel needs to gain traction. It's also automated and the driver doesn't need to put in extra work or turn on some switches for the all-wheel drive system to come alive.
For instance, when the rear wheels of your all-wheel drive is stuck in mud, the engine automatically transmits power to the front wheels to help get the car out. The idea is for the wheels with more grip to assist the wheels with low traction from slipping away.
Video: AWD vs 4WD - What's The Difference?
3. 4WD vs AWD: Which should you go for?
Definitely the all-wheel drive, for a number reasons.
Firstly, you would want a car that knows what to do in a given situation. When you're turning in a sharp bend, it allows the wheels spin accordingly like a two-wheel drive for easy maneuvering. If your car gets stuck in rugged terrain, it delivers the right amount of power to the wheels with more grip, to get you out. Even though all-wheel-drives are definitely more expensive (as they can be found mainly in the newest car models), they are a better option.
When you decide whether an all-wheel-drive vs four-wheel-drive to purchase, you can check out the latest Subaru, Mercedes-Benz AMG, Volvo, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Chevrolet and Mazda cars.