Buying a car can be needlessly complicated and confusing. Adding to that confusion is the fact that many vehicles, especially SUVs and trucks, are available in 2-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive versions. Naturally, each system has its own strengths and weaknesses.
When we talk about 2-wheel drive vehicles, we refer to both front-wheel drive (FWD) and rear-wheel drive (RWD). These two also have different advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that FWD vehicles tend to be cheaper, lighter, and have better traction in rain and snow, whereas RWD tend to be able to take a lot of abuse and offer better balance. The disadvantages of FWD is that the system is not great for sports cars because the wheels accelerate and steer the car at the same time, which makes high speed handling awkward, and that the vehicles tend to be more fragile. RWD’s main disadvantage is that it doesn’t do well in poor weather, so if you live in an area with heavy rain and snow, you may want to opt for a different system.
Since FWD and RWD have major disadvantages, car companies offer vehicles with 4-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD). Unless you’re a serious car enthusiast, you’re most likely thinking, “Aren’t those the same thing?” No, they aren’t. Don’t feel bad, a car salesman may not know the difference either.
Both 4WD and AWD provide power to all 4 wheels. 4WD provides power to all 4 wheels evenly, which can create problems. Modern vehicles lessen those problems by letting the driver exert control over when the car is in 2WD or 4WD. AWD vehicles usually keep AWD on at all times and typically have sensors to determine where power goes. They are also not as sturdy as 4WD, which is ideal for those who go off-roading often.
It may be tempting to suggest that AWD is the best driving system out there, but it all depends on how you use your car. Some people may find FWD delivers the performance they need, while others may find they need the control 4WD provides. In the end, it comes down to personal preference.