What is the difference between 4WD vs. AWD, and where CR fits in? In this article, we delve into the similarities and differences and how to decide which suits your vehicle needs best.
Traction is Vital in Canada
When buying a car in Canada, you have to expect to drive it in bad weather for most of the year, so you’d be remiss not to pay attention to how much traction is offered in the models you’re considering.
Traction is critical because it determines how well your tires grip the road. When all 4 tires normally spin while you’re driving, your car moves the way it should without any surprises. Good traction is handy during inclement weather, less-than-ideal road conditions, and when your car travels on dirt or gravel roads.
What Determines the Traction and Stability of Your Car?
Your vehicle’s drivetrain is the system that transfers power from the engine to the wheels, allowing it to move forward or backward. As such, its components affect the car’s ability to maintain traction and move safely and efficiently on the road:
- The engine generates power by burning fuel in the combustion chamber, which creates a rotational force called torque.
- The transmission is responsible for controlling the torque sent to the wheels by selecting and changing gears. The gears in a transmission are arranged in a series of ratios determining how much power is transmitted to the wheels.
- The driveshaft is a long metal tube connecting the transmission to the differential located at the rear axle.
- The differential is a gear mechanism that distributes power to the two rear wheels. It allows the wheels to turn at different speeds when the vehicle is turning or when one wheel is on a slippery surface.
- The axles are the rods that connect the wheels to the differential, allowing the wheels to rotate and move the vehicle.
- The wheels are the circular components that contact the ground and allow the vehicle to move forward or backward.
- Vehicles come in various drivetrain configurations, including front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) – each one a different way to apply traction to the ground.
- Traction control systems, required on all model cars 2012 or newer, gauge how much power each wheel gets when you’re driving. This automatic, computer-controlled system adjusts how the wheels turn based on changing road conditions. The idea is to prevent tires from slipping during acceleration and deceleration. Traction control systems help your car stay on the road.
When it comes to traction control vs AWD or 4WD, the systems all help improve a vehicle’s traction and stability. But they work in different ways and may be more or less appropriate depending on the driving conditions and the type of vehicle.
For the most traction control, you’ll want either AWD or 4WD, but those terms are often confused.
Here is what you should know about the matter.
AWD vs. 4WD: Similarities
All-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive are similar in many respects regarding traction control. Vehicles with either option send power to all 4 wheels when you hit the gas. In a 2-wheel drive vehicle, the front or back wheels turn when you put your foot on the accelerator, but not all four. AWD and 4WD cars generally accelerate better in slippery conditions compared to 2-wheel drive cars. This comes in handy when it rains and snows. Think about getting an all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle in hilly areas where your vehicle may have a tough time going up a hill in inclement weather.
When all four tires receive power, you have better towing ability on your truck or SUV. One situation that works well with this system is if you have a boat you put in at a boat ramp. Your truck or SUV has a much easier time accelerating out of the boat ramp at an incline, when all 4 wheels get power simultaneously. Consider purchasing an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle when you tow a fifth-wheel camper down the dirt or gravel roads in the wilderness or along backroads. Otherwise, you may find it hard to leave your prime camping spot.
You’ll also want to consider buying a vehicle with all-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive if you regularly drive on dirt or gravel roads. When rain turns that dirt to mud, having the power to all four wheels helps prevent you from getting stuck in the mud. Having the power to all four wheels can help keep you from getting stuck in snow on rural roads that don’t get plowed.
4WD vs. AWD: Differences
4-wheel drive equally distributes accelerating power to all four wheels at the same time. Drivers have direct control over 4-wheel drive, usually by pushing a button or flipping a switch on the dashboard or gear shift. Once activated, a light appears on your dashboard, showing that this system is active.
Some vehicles have part-time 4WD or full-time 4WD:
- Full-time 4WD engages power to all four wheels all of the time.
- A part-time 4WD system is designed to be engaged manually by the driver when needed, such as when driving on rough terrain or off-road.
Part-time 4WD vehicles list includes the Jeep Gladiator and Wrangler, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, Ram 1500, and Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra.
Some systems allow the driver to set low and high ranges for this feature. While both are used to increase traction and control in situations where additional torque and power are needed, there are differences in 4WD low vs 4WD high:
- 4WD low shifts the vehicle’s transfer case into a lower gear ratio while providing more torque and slower speed. Thus, it is used for more extreme off-road conditions, such as deep mud or steep inclines, where slow and steady movement is needed. Driving fast in a 4WD low setting can break certain axle components.
- 4WD high shifts the vehicle’s transfer case into a higher gear ratio providing less torque and higher speed. The high setting is used for less challenging off-road conditions or for on-road driving in slippery or unstable conditions, such as snow, ice, or gravel.
Vehicles with 4WD may say “four-by-four” or “4×4” in their sales materials. When shopping for 4WD vehicles, think of a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Land Cruiser. You’re ready for serious off-roading with a 4-wheel drive vehicle as you climb over boulders, ford a remote stream, or traverse a mountain pass.
All-wheel drive vehicles automatically adjust to driving conditions and slippery traction instead of constantly applying power as in 4-wheel drive. Cars do this physically, with transfer cases and differentials on each axle, or electronically by applying the brakes on one or more wheels. Sensors on each wheel monitor traction and wheel speed hundreds of times per second and transmit information to the car’s computer. Called brake vectoring, many modern cars have this system to improve handling in all types of weather conditions.
Under normal driving conditions, most AWD systems send power to just two wheels, either the front or back. When the car detects slippage in a wheel, it sends power to that wheel to find better traction. AWD vehicles don’t need the driver’s input to activate, unlike manual 4WD options. If there’s ever a problem with your all-wheel drive system, a warning light may show up on the dashboard alerting you to a potential problem. AWD systems are ideal when you have rapidly changing conditions, such as when it first starts raining or if you have light snow on the road.
While many models are two-wheel-drive, you often find AWD options on road-going sedans, wagons, SUVs, and crossovers (CR). Anything from a Dodge Charger and Subaru WRX to a Mazda CX-3 and Toyota RAV-4 all have AWD systems. These vehicles adapt to road conditions as they change, making your transit to and from home safer.
Remember that AWD and 4WD vehicles improve traction on road surfaces and prevent your car from slipping on roads and getting stuck in mud and snow. Traction control does not help your car steer better, brake more efficiently or take corners better. Even with top-of-the-line traction control systems, drivers must still remain completely alert during bad weather conditions. You should still drive carefully at all times.
Make an Informed Purchasing Decision
When deciding on AWD vs. 4WD in your vehicle, consider some factors before purchasing. Since components of 4-wheel and all-wheel drive systems add weight to a car, fuel economy dips by 5-10%. Over the lifetime of a vehicle, those fuel costs add up.
Up-front costs of vehicles with all-wheel traction control systems go up. Expect to pay an extra $1,300 on a Honda CR-V or $3,500 on a Ford F-150 pickup equipped with 4WD or AWD. Maintenance costs also increase because the differentials on each axle require oil changes that can run anywhere from $40 to $150. If you don’t change the oil regularly, repairing the differentials costs more than the oil changes. Repairs may be more complicated with all-wheel drive systems because they have more electronic components versus 4-wheel drive cars. If finances are a concern for you, do the math when it comes to AWD vs. 4WD before buying a car.
When it comes to 4WD vs. AWD, automakers keep improving these systems with each new model year. These options are just one of many factors to consider when buying your next car, so take your time and choose a vehicle that fits your lifestyle.
To find the perfect used luxury vehicle for you, visit our Cambridge, ON showroom and pick out your next automotive pet. Our consultants are ready to help you choose between CR v AWD vs 4WD. Get in touch with CRS Automotive today!
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