MUNDANE MYSTERIES: 4-Wheel Drive Vs. All-Wheel Drive

With the weather we’ve had lately, you may be thinking more about your car’s ability to get up & down snowy, icy, or muddy roads. And, while you might know that 2-wheel drive isn’t the best option for driving in harsh weather, some other terms may be more confusing. Such as, all-wheel drive versus 4-wheel drive. Don’t all cars have 4 wheels? What’s the difference between all-wheel drive & 4-wheel drive?

It’s actually more than just semantics, and which one you need relies heavily on the kind of driving you regularly do. 2-, 4-, or all-wheel drive refers to the tires powered by the engine. With 2-wheel drive, the engine powers either the front or the back axle of the car, moving only the front or back tires. Meanwhile, when 4-wheel drive’s engaged, the engine rotates all 4 wheels, which gives you extra traction on slippery surfaces, so that, even if one set of wheels can’t get traction on a slippery surface, the other wheels might be able to.

The key word here is “engaged.” Usually, 4-wheel drive means your car can drive with all 4 wheels, but you have to manually choose that option. The rest of the time, you’re in 2-wheel drive mode. Meanwhile, with all-wheel drive, the car itself figures out what kind of traction you need, all by itself. Sensors determine how much power should go to each wheel to get the best traction.

There are some downsides to all that extra traction, though. Your engine has to work harder to power all 4 wheels. And, since those engines are heavier, it takes more power to move. So, as a result, 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles usually need a lot more fuel than a 2-wheel drive model.

You don’t necessarily have to spring for all-wheel drive just because you live somewhere with snowy winters. If driving in inclement weather is a frequent occurrence for you, winter tires may actually be much more important than which wheels the engine powers. But, at least now you know what all of that means, so you can make the best decision for you.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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