4WD vs AWD; What is the Difference?

Four-Wheel Drive vs All-Wheel Drive

4-wheel drives (4WD) and All-wheel drives (AWD) are both vehicles designed specifically for driving in tough conditions. The terms are thrown around and sometimes used interchangeably, which can cause confusion. Below we have outlined the key differences between the two, and possibly help you to decide which one may be best for you.

What is the Difference?

The main difference between the two is that they distribute power differently. A 4WD provides equal amounts of energy to each of its wheels, while the AWD provides a varying amount of energy to each wheel, according to which wheels require the most traction.


  • A Four-wheel drive system works by transferring power from the engine to the transfer case. The power is then divided between the front and rear axles so the torque is equally distributed to the four wheels.
  • Drivers have the ability to switch between two-wheel drive (2WD) and 4WD, depending on road conditions. Most of the 4WD systems are primarily part-time. On normal road conditions, the 2WD mode is recommended as it improves on-road driveability. The front wheels rotate freely, while the rear wheels drive the vehicle forward. When rounding corners, the wheels of a car spin at different speeds. If the 4WD mode is operating, the system tries to get each wheel spinning at similar speeds, which makes on-road cornering difficult.
  • When driving on unpaved roads and rough terrain, the 4WD mode can be turned on to gain more torque and traction.
  • The 4WD offers better fuel efficiency, since power is not permanently distributed to all four wheels.
  • A 4WD is the best vehicle for extreme off-road conditions, such as rugged landscapes, rocky hills, sandy or muddy areas. This is because whichever tyre has the most traction is guaranteed to get the power it needs, helping to prevent the vehicle from getting stuck or bogged, and is most suited for those who use a vehicle off-road regularly.


  • An AWD system employs a rear, a front, and a centre differential to distribute the engine’s torque. The power is transmitted to the wheels that require the most traction, and the driver doesn’t typically control this. The brakes of an AWD are used to slow down a specific wheel due to traction loss.
  • The AWD has a higher fuel consumption and maintenance of AWD systems can be more expensive, although essential.
  • Unlike a 4WD, an AWD is not suited for rocky or hilly roads since it was designed to enhance traction on slick or icy roads, as it has great traction and road grip.
  • Modern AWD systems are installed with electronic sensors in each wheel that monitor any issues. A technique called ‘torque vectoring’ involves an engine control unit which decides which wheel will receive power in the case of traction detection.
  • The all-wheel drive is a great choice for those who live in cold climates, as the AWD system can respond quickly to road conditions or hazards without the driver’s input.

Service you can trust

When it comes to choosing the right vehicle for you, it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle choices. Either way; Burleigh’s Mobile Mechanic will take care of all your car servicing and repair needs. Give us a call on 0412 161 776 if you have any questions. Remember to head over and follow us on Facebook for information, tips and specials.