Cut out of drive train with white background and text saying "AWD vs. 4WD Explained"

All-Wheel Drive versus Four-Wheel Drive Explained

What is the Difference Between AWD and 4WD?

When shopping for a vehicle, the terms all-wheel drive (or AWD) and four-wheel drive (or 4WD) continuously pop up. Is there even a difference? Yes. If you want the clear distinction, take a seat and let us explain.

Vehicles with AWD and 4WD are common in places with more demanding road conditions, like sand, rain, gravel, snow and ice. AWD is typically seen on cars, sedans and smaller SUVs, while 4WD is more common on off-roading SUVs and trucks.

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All-Wheel Drive

Full-time all-wheel drive is constantly engaged and uses all four wheels all the time, while part-time AWD normally uses two wheels in either the front or rear and automatically engages the other two when the road becomes more demanding and requires extra traction. All-wheel drive is really only necessary when doing light off-road driving, braving storms or when you need more traction and control. If you stay in the Sunshine State and never leave the paved road, AWD is not an essential feature to have.

Four-Wheel Drive

Four-wheel drive or 4×4 also comes in either full-time or part-time options that you can engage whenever Red 2020 Jeep Wrangler from Front Right Angle on rocks with mountain in the background_oyou need more traction—part-time is more common than full-time. Four-wheel drive is available in low and high settings; low is better when you are driving at a lower speed and need more traction in an off-road setting, while high is useful for slippery on-road conditions when you travel at a higher speed. Four-wheel drive proves to be useful if you find yourself doing more off-road driving or driving in unplowed snow—something that is not very common in Florida.


  • All-wheel drive is more common in cars and small SUVs
  • Four-wheel drive is more in medium and large SUVs and trucks
  • Both have full- and part-time options, which are either automatically or manually engaged when more traction is needed
  • Both are necessary in demanding driving conditions, like off-road trails and slippery weather

Hopefully this post helped you figure out whether you should get AWD or 4WD. Are you wondering if you should get a manual or automatic transmission? Click here to figure out which is best for you.