Pros and Cons of 4WD and AWD

You’re ready to shop for the vehicle that’ll drive your dreams, but the choices are endless. One important decision has to do with the drive system — do you need all-wheel drive (AWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD)?

We’ll fill you in on the difference between all-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive, as well as highlight some pros and cons for each system to help you decide which vehicle is right for you.

What’s the Difference between All-Wheel Drive and 4-Wheel Drive?

Many people are confused about the difference between all-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive — and rightfully so. But we’re here to help clear up any confusion. For starters, the simplest way to tell the two driving systems apart is to remember that all-wheel drive systems are always on, while 4-wheel drive is typically disengaged and needs to be turned on. But there’s more behind these two systems to understand before you decide which is right for you.

All-Wheel Drive

All-wheel drive, as a whole, is one of the safest and most capable vehicles on the market. Most cars and crossovers are equipped with AWD.

AWD Pros

  • Many folks like AWD because the vehicle needs almost no input from the driver due to the computer-controlled system always being on.
  • AWD automatically adapts to road conditions to send more or less power to each wheel and axle as it determines its needs.
  • All-wheel drive is suitable for both slow or highway speeds.
  • Has sportier handling and improved traction to keep you safer on the road.

AWD Cons

  • AWD typically doesn’t get as much life out of the tires because they are always being driven on all four wheels.
  • Adds weight and reduces fuel efficiency.
  • Limited off-road capabilities.
  • A more complex system, which raises the cost of a vehicle.

4-Wheel Drive

4-wheel drive is for the rough and rugged, offering awesome off-road capabilities. It’s a pure mechanical system, compared to the computer operated AWD. Pickups trucks, Jeeps, Range Rovers and other off-road vehicles are usually equipped with 4WD.

4WD Pros

  • Superior traction and control in off-road conditions to help overcome tough obstacles, like snow, mud and other rugged off-road conditions. For example, if one wheel gets stuck in the mud, the other three wheels care engaged and can help pull the vehicle out.
  • Higher vehicle clearance, so if you’re off-roading you’ll typically clear larger objects underneath the body of the vehicle.
  • You can turn 4WD on or off depending on the terrain. When 4WD is disengaged, only the back two wheels move the vehicle forward while the front two spin freely.
  • Can be switched off so you can increase fuel efficiency.

4WD Cons

  • Shouldn’t be engaged on dry pavement. Keep in mind, 4WD can be turned on and off, so even if your vehicle is equipped with 4WD, you can have it disengaged in order to drive on pavement.
  • Not suitable for all driving conditions.
  • Adds weight and increases fuel usage when engaged.

Hopefully these help you lean one way or another, but before you decide, think about your driving style. Are you more of an off-road type, or do you want something sportier? Are you looking for an everyday vehicle, or more of a recreational ride? Ultimately the decision is yours. If you’re really on the fence, your local car dealership may be able to give you more details.

In the meantime, talk to your American Family Insurance agent about making sure you have the right car insurance coverage in place — because whichever vehicle system you decide, it’s important to have the right protection.

Related Topics: On The Road , Car Buying , Car Safety , Safe Driving