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AWD vs. 4WD: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 7, 2023
AWD (All-Wheel Drive) provides power to all wheels all the time, while 4WD (Four-Wheel Drive) allows drivers to switch between two and four-wheel drive.

Key Differences

AWD, denoting All-Wheel Drive, implies a vehicle that powers all its wheels, both front and back, either all the time or on-demand, based on the driving conditions. 4WD, which stands for Four-Wheel Drive, traditionally allows the driver to manually switch between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, utilizing all wheels only when enhanced traction is necessary. Both AWD and 4WD offer improved traction over two-wheel-drive systems, but they function distinctly and cater to different driving conditions.
When considering AWD, it typically delivers power to the wheels with the most traction, compensating proactively for any slipping in challenging driving scenarios. On the contrary, 4WD often enables drivers to actively engage the system when they require additional stability, such as in off-road or slippery conditions, thereby offering a degree of control to the driver. Both AWD and 4WD systems have their respective advantages, considering diverse driving needs.
In general, AWD is typically seen in passenger cars, crossovers, and some SUVs, providing enhanced stability during normal and adverse driving conditions without driver intervention. 4WD, however, is commonly found in trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles designed for rugged terrains and challenging off-road conditions, whereby the driver may choose when to employ the system. Both systems, AWD and 4WD, have found their niche in various vehicle types and driving applications.
Furthermore, AWD is often lauded for providing increased grip and control during everyday driving, particularly in inclement weather, without any input from the driver. Contrastingly, 4WD, with its selectable engagement, tends to be preferred for purposeful off-road driving, and rigorous terrains where the additional traction and power distribution can be selectively utilized. Both AWD and 4WD can significantly boost a vehicle’s capability but in notably different contexts.
In terms of fuel efficiency, AWD systems may consume more fuel than two-wheel-drive vehicles due to the constant power supply to all wheels. 4WD systems, when engaged, can also decrease fuel efficiency but may be disengaged by the driver to conserve fuel when four-wheel drive is unnecessary. Both AWD and 4WD exhibit varied impacts on a vehicle's fuel efficiency, dependent on their usage and engagement.

Comparison Chart

Full Form

All-Wheel Drive
Four-Wheel Drive

Drive Availability

Continuous or on-demand
Selectable by the driver

Typical Use Case

General & adverse conditions
Primarily off-road conditions

Fuel Efficiency

Often reduces efficiency
Can be disengaged to conserve

Common in Vehicle Type

Cars & crossovers
Trucks & rugged SUVs

AWD and 4WD Definitions


AWD adjusts the power to individual wheels automatically.
The car utilized its AWD to navigate smoothly through the snowy road.


4WD can be part-time or full-time, depending on the system.
Her vehicle, with part-time 4WD, allowed for driver-selected engagement on difficult trails.


AWD often operates without any required driver intervention.
The AWD system in her vehicle provided a confident driving experience during the rainstorm.


4WD is common in vehicles designed for rugged use and challenging terrains.
The 4WD SUV provided the necessary power to traverse the sandy dunes.


AWD can function continually or activate as required.
His AWD crossover automatically redirected power during the muddy trail drive.


4WD allows manual switching between two-wheel and four-wheel drive.
His 4WD truck navigated the rocky terrain effortlessly once the four-wheel drive was engaged.


AWD provides power to all wheels simultaneously.
Most modern SUVs use AWD for enhanced traction on slippery roads.


4WD typically provides enhanced traction in off-road situations.
The Jeep, equipped with 4WD, was ideal for their adventurous off-roading expedition.


AWD generally offers improved stability during everyday driving.
Choosing a vehicle with AWD can offer an extra layer of safety during winter months.


4WD systems can usually be turned off to save fuel.
He disengaged the 4WD to conserve fuel on the highway.


A motor vehicle with a four-wheel drive transmission system


A transmission that provides power directly to all four wheels of a motor vehicle


Is AWD always active?

AWD can be always active or on-demand, depending on the system.

What is 4WD?

4WD means Four-Wheel Drive.

Is AWD suitable for off-roading?

AWD improves traction but isn’t designed for serious off-roading like 4WD.

Is 4WD better for rugged terrains?

Typically, yes. 4WD is favored for demanding terrains and off-road conditions.

Does AWD improve safety?

AWD can enhance safety by improving traction in various driving conditions.

Is AWD better for everyday driving?

AWD is often preferred for everyday and inclement weather driving due to automatic engagement.

Can 4WD be turned off?

Yes, 4WD can often be disengaged to operate in two-wheel drive.

Is 4WD more fuel-efficient?

Not necessarily. Engaging 4WD can decrease fuel efficiency.

What does AWD stand for?

AWD stands for All-Wheel Drive.

Can 4WD be added to any vehicle?

Adding 4WD to a vehicle not initially designed for it is complex and rarely practical.

Can 4WD be used on all surfaces?

No, using 4WD on dry, solid surfaces can cause damage.

Can AWD be turned off?

Typically, no. AWD operates automatically without driver intervention.

Does 4WD improve handling?

4WD can improve traction and stability in specific conditions, like off-roading.

Is AWD more expensive to maintain?

AWD can be more costly to maintain due to the additional complexity.

Does AWD affect tire wear?

Yes, AWD can cause uneven tire wear if not properly maintained.

Is 4WD necessary for mountain driving?

Not always, but 4WD can be beneficial on steep or slippery mountain roads.

Do all trucks have 4WD?

No, not all trucks have 4WD; it's an optional feature.

Is 4WD suitable for icy roads?

Yes, 4WD can provide enhanced traction on icy or slippery roads.

Does every SUV have AWD?

No, SUVs may have AWD, 4WD, or two-wheel drive.

Is AWD common in sedans?

Yes, many sedans and crossovers utilize AWD.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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