AWD vs 4WD text with 2020 Jeep Renegade driving through stream

Compare All-Wheel Drive vs Four-Wheel Drive

What are the Differences Between AWD and 4WD?

If you have been in the market for a used automobile, especially a truck or an SUV, you have likely seen the terms all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) thrown around. These days, you will even see these terms for more cars than you might have seen in years past. It is easy to think that they are interchangeable terms, but they are actually a bit different from each other. What are the differences between AWD and 4WD? We break it down below. 

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AWD vs 4WD 

While both of these systems use all four of the wheels to power the vehicle, it is the way in which those wheels are used and engaged that makes a difference.  


All-wheel drive automatically powers all four of the wheels on the vehicle without any driver intervention all of the time. With AWD always being engaged, that means when the conditions suddenly take a turn (no pun intended), the driver doesn’t need to worry about engaging a system to ensure better gripping on slippery roads. The system will work to ensure that the wheels are powered as necessary automatically depending on the situation. 

2020 Chevy Silverado 3500 exterior front


Four-wheel drivetrains are more frequently found on SUVs and trucks than cars. Unlike AWD, 4WD requires the driver to actively engage the system from two-wheel drive to 4WD to go off-road or better negotiate tougher terrain. While it won’t be activating automatically, these systems usually have more power than your typical AWD system since they are generally expected to have more demanding conditions on trails and off the beaten path. 

The distinction here is not huge. Ultimately, both systems are a way of saying that all four wheels will be used to power the vehicle, just that the manner in which that is done is different.  

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