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AWD 4WDIf you've shopped for a car or truck in the last decade, you've probably heard the terms "all-wheel-drive" and "four-wheel-drive" used quite often. Common sense would suggest that the two terms are identical. After all, a car only has four wheels, so why wouldn't this be considered all-wheel drive (AWD)?

In this post, we'll clear up the confusion by highlighting the differences between four-wheel drive (4WD) and AWD vehicles.

What is AWD?

In an AWD vehicle, engine power is sent to all four wheels at the same time. As a result, each wheel can rotate at its own speed, which can offer better efficiency and control depending on road conditions. In inclement weather, AWD can help to ensure that tires continue to turn properly, aiding acceleration on slick surfaces.

Many of today's AWD systems can shuffle torque between front and rear wheels and can even switch to two-wheel drive when appropriate. This can result in better overall performance, as well as increased fuel economy.

Finally, because AWD is optimized for road use, it's becoming a very common feature for today's passenger cars, SUVs, and even some pickup trucks.

What is 4WD?

If AWD is optimal for driving on the road, 4WD is usually associated with off-road use. In a 4WD system, the front and rear driveshafts lock together so that they operate at the same speed and deliver equal amounts of power. This is ideal when driving in sand, mud, or snow because it means that engine power is always being sent to at least one front wheel and one rear wheel.

Unlike AWD systems, though, 4WD needs no computer to predict slippage.

These advantages, though, make 4WD a poor option for traditional road surfaces. Tires can even bind when making turns in 4WD mode. Driving in full-time 4WD mode can stress the driveline and can cause tires to wear unevenly, while also causing balancing issues in the vehicle's alignment.

For this reason, 4WD is intended to be a temporary drive mode, usually activated with a lever or switch. When it's not active, the vehicle operates within its ordinary two-wheel drive mode; however, as we'll observe, some vehicles are beginning to merge these features together.

The Best of Both Worlds

Some modern manufacturers are offering both AWD and 4WD systems in the same vehicles. This is particularly true for many full-size trucks, which operate like a traditional AWD vehicle until the 4WD setting is activated by the driver.

It's very important for owners to understand the differences between these driving modes so they maximize the safety and efficiency of their vehicles. Your owner's manual will provide fuller insight as to the driving modes included in your vehicle.

On-Road vs. Off-Road

The crucial difference between 4WD and AWD is the intended driving surface. Four-wheel drive is intended to be a temporary driving setting optimized for off-road use, while AWD is intended for use on a variety of road conditions. All-wheel drive vehicles may also rely on computerized technology to determine optimum performance and increase engine efficiency.

Check Your Warranty

Because 4WD and AWD vehicle contain certain components that other vehicles do not, you should check your warranty information regarding coverage of these systems. If you are looking to purchase a vehicle warranty, more popular options include Ford Protect Extended Service Plans (ESP) and Mopar Vehicle Protection Warranty Plans.