It’s not “Four Wheel Drive” . . . Even Though it Also is

  • June 25, 2023

Definitions matter because without precise meaning it is difficult to know what you’re talking about, exactly. Or even what’s being talked about, at all. It is why talking about “vaccines” that neither prevented those who took them from getting sick nor spreading it was both confusing and misleading.

It is also why it is confusing – and misleading – to speak of “four wheel drive” when what you’re really talking (and trying to sell) is all-wheel-drive.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Well, with all-wheel-drive.

In fact, there is a lot that is very good about all-wheel-drive that is specific to all-wheel-drive. For example, there is less weight to lug around all the time – and most of the time, when that weight is deadweight, in that it serves no purpose. All-wheel-drive does not usually include a transfer case, which is used to engage the four-wheel-drive Low range that most AWD systems do not have (Jeep and some others use the transmission in some of their models to serve a similar gear-leveraging function, but it is not the same thing).

4WD Low range is very useful off-road and when there is heavy, unplowed snow on the road. But it is useless when you are on dry, paved roads. And heavy. It reduces fuel efficiency – so you pay more for gas. And it adds to the cost of the vehicle. Which is fine, if you need 4WD Low capability.

But if not, why pay for it? Why pay to lug it around all the time?

All-wheel-drive hasn’t got a transfer case/Low range gearing. But it does have the ability to transfer engine power to all four wheels in varying ratios, according to the available traction. All-wheel-drive systems are usually power-flow-biased toward the front wheels, which are the main drive wheels. Most of the time, almost all of the engine’s power gets to the road via the front wheels, which pull rather than push the car – as in a rear-drive car and in four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs, which route all (not some) of the engine’s power to the rear wheels until the four-wheel-drive is engaged.

All-wheel-drive automatically meters engine power from front to rear (and rear to front) as driving conditions – as traction – warrant. As determined by wheel slip. Sensors note that – as an example – the front wheels are slipping because they are rotating faster; power is routed (automatically) to the wheels that are not slipping. Some all-wheel-drive systems can meter power to individual wheels, which can be and is used to aid traction/stability during high-speed cornering.

Four wheel drive is not meant to aid handling/high-speed cornering. It is designed to split power front to rear in a 50-50 ratio when the four-wheel-drive is engaged. It is not supposed to be engaged unless the vehicle is being driven off-road or on roads covered by snow, with the object being to keep the vehicle from getting stuck – as opposed to going around corners quickly.

In summary, all-wheel-drive is the better system for on-road driving and for fast driving – with the additional benefit of greatly increasing traction in the snow, sand and rain. This is not to deny the different merits of four-wheel-drive (and Low range gearing).

The point is the difference.

So why do so many manufacturers of all-wheel-drive-equipped vehicles (e.g., certain Jeep models, Subarus, Hondas, etc.) that are not equipped with four-wheel-drive market them as having “4WD”?

It is probably because the general perception is that four-wheel-drive is more capable than all-wheel-drive. More rugged. More macho. In fact it is differently capable, as explained already. And it is more rugged, in the sense that the system components tend to be made of heavier-duty bits and pieces, precisely because they are expected to be able to deal with heavy-duty conditions, such as those that obtain off-road, without breaking.

But as regards more macho – well, ask a Rally driver about that.

AWD on the left; 4WD on the right.

There is nothing wimpy about all-wheel-drive. But it is not four-wheel-drive, except in the sense that all four wheels are driven. The same is true of four-wheel-drive (when the four-wheel-drive is engaged). That similarity does not make them the same, however.

Using the same term to describe these two different things confuses things.

Kind of like the way people were confused about the “vaccines” they were led to believe would prevent them from getting sick – or spreading it. Vaccines are understood to do exactly that – i.e., prevent you from getting or spreading the sickness you just got vaccinated for. Instead, people were misled into believing the drugs they were pressured to take were in fact vaccines, in the common understanding of the term.

That was malicious.

This appears to be just marketing.

Still, it would be nice if it were not misleading – so that people understood what they were buying. As well as what they were (and were not) getting.

. . .

If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos. 

We depend on you to keep the wheels turning! 

Our donate button is here.

 If you prefer not to use PayPal, our mailing address is:

721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079

PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)

My eBook about car buying (new and used) is also available for your favorite price – free! Click here.  If that fails, email me at and I will send you a copy directly!


The post It’s not “Four Wheel Drive” . . . Even Though it Also is appeared first on EPautos – Libertarian Car Talk.

Spread the love