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AWD vs 4WD : Learn What The Difference Is

Updated: Jul 27, 2021

AWD vs 4WD

AWD vs 4WD. The main difference is that AWD is always on and 4WD can be turned on and off. Another good rule of thumb is that 4WD is usually meant for trucks as where AWD is usually for cars. There is also a grey area for SUV's. Some SUV's use 4WD and others AWD. Below we will define each one and then explain the differences, advantages, and disadvantages. AWD stands for All Wheel Drive. 4WD stands for Four-wheel Drive. These two definitions imply that both vehicles are powered by all four wheels instead of just two therefore they must be the same thing. That may be true but the way they distribute power to all four wheels is what makes the two systems completely different.


In 4WD trucks, you will see a lever or switch that says 4WD Hi and 4WD Low. 4WD Low is for very low speeds when you need the most power and traction. This is done by evenly distributing power to all four wheels. This is good for low speeds but won't work for higher speeds because when a vehicle turns the outside wheels need to turn at a higher speed since they are covering more ground. Therefore if all four wheels are spinning at the same rate through turns the inside wheels will lose traction and start spinning freely. This is where 4WD High comes in handy. 4WD High allows power to be split between the inside and outside wheels called a "limited slip". This allows for higher speeds while using 4WD.


AWD vs 4WD is that AWD is on all the time. There is no way to turn it off like you can with 4WD. Like 4WD Hi power is split between the left and right side as well. Although AWD takes it a step further. AWD drive has three differentials. Differentials are basically gearboxes allowing the wheels to turn at different speeds. Below is a video explaining how it works. AWD drive vehicles have a differential in the center of the car to split the power from the front and back and one each on the front and rear axles distributing the power from left and right. Distributing different amounts of power to each wheel helps to gain traction at all speeds in all conditions. AWD drive is used on many types of vehicles from sports cars to SUV's.

AWD with Honda

Honda takes it a step further with its Real-Time AWD. With Real-Time AWD the vehicle is front-wheel drive when conditions are safe. When driving conditions become slippery or you start to lose traction the AWD system automatically turns on using its Multi Plate Clutch System. This system provides for a seamless transition that the driver will not even notice providing the ultimate traction for every situation while saving gas. Honda's that offer AWD include the CR-V, Pilot, HR-V, and Ridgeline

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