All-Wheel Drive: I Bet You Didn’t Know This!


All-wheel drive (AWD) cars are becoming more common, but if you’ve never owned one, then you might have some questions. In this article, we aim to answer as many questions about all-wheel drive cars, SUVs, and trucks as possible, so that you can understand them better.

We have compiled the following list of frequently asked questions about AWD systems. It summarizes what most AWD drivers or prospective drivers may be wondering, but if your question isn’t answered below, post it in the comments!

Is AWD Always On?

AWD vehicles provide traction to all four wheels all the time (hence the name) and usually require no intervention from the driver. So, you don’t have to worry about pushing buttons or levers to activate AWD and send traction to all four wheels when you’re driving. 

But you might be wondering if it’s safe to drive like this all the time. Let’s find out. 

Can You Leave AWD On All The Time?

In short, yes! All AWD systems have specially designed front and rear differentials that control how much each wheel has to turn. So, when you’re driving in a tight bend, your vehicle knows which wheel to spin more and which to spin less. 

Plus, since most AWD cars are decision-free, you don’t have to choose to turn it on or off, which leads us to the next point. 

Can You Turn AWD On and Off?

No, you cannot turn AWD on or off. Vehicles with this configuration will not have a way for you to turn them off, and it’s better this way. Having constant traction all the time means you will have the most grip for safer driving. 

To prevent any damages to the vehicle’s transfer case and transmission, manufacturers do not include any way for curious owners to disable the AWD. 

As you can see, AWD differs from RWD, FWD, and 4WD in that you cannot “turn off” traction on all four wheels. But, it’s crucial to find out if they differ on other things, such as cost. 

Are AWD Vehicles More Expensive To Insure?

Since AWD systems include front and rear differentials and a transfer case, they are more complex than FWD and RWD vehicles. Therefore, they cost more to repair, which in turn increases the insurance cost. 

If you put any AWD and FWD versions side by side, you’re most likely to pay higher insurance for the AWD version. This increase in cost is an essential factor to consider when purchasing a new vehicle. 

Is AWD Worth The Extra Money?

AWD is worth spending more money if you’re going to drive in areas where there is less traction. Remember, however, that AWD doesn’t mean that the vehicle has low range, so it might not handle extreme terrains like mud or heavy snow. 

These vehicles offer grip on all four wheels all the time so that they can start from a complete stop on icy surfaces, gravel, and rain better than their FWD or RWD counterparts. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to take special considerations when it comes to maintenance. Let’s find out. 

Do You Need To Rotate The Tires On AWD Vehicles?

Yes, you should rotate tires on AWD vehicles, even if the drivetrain continually sends power to all four wheels. There’s a common misconception that this means that the tires wear out simultaneously, which isn’t true. 

In normal driving conditions, the vehicle’s computer might choose to send more power to the front wheels to save fuel. But, on slippery surfaces, it might send traction to all four wheels. So, they don’t necessarily wear out evenly. 

To maximize your tire’s life and maintain traction, you should rotate tires every 5,000 to 6,500 miles, in the following order (known as cross-pattern rotation): 

  • Left rear goes to the right front
  • Right rear goes to the left front
  • Right front goes to the left rear
  • Left front goes to the right rear

Does AWD Help With Hydroplaning?

Having AWD does not prevent hydroplaning from happening, but having traction on all four wheels might regain traction faster than RWD or FWD vehicles. Hydroplaning occurs in wet conditions when there is a water layer (rain, river, or otherwise) thick enough to lift the tires off the ground. 

In this situation, the best thing to do is remain calm, ease off the throttle, and let the tires grip naturally. Please do not use the brake pedal, as it will only worsen the situation. If your vehicle is AWD, it could regain traction faster. 

Is AWD Good For Rain?

Having constant traction on all four wheels means AWD is better for situations with less grip than, for example, RWD or FWD. Take, for example, a steep asphalt incline with heavy rain. If you’re driving a front-wheel-drive car, it might struggle to get up since only the front tires are moving. On the other hand, an AWD will also use the rear wheels to get over the incline. 

While AWD provides more grip, remember that it doesn’t mean you can drive hazardously. This system is an additional feature for safer driving. And, you might not even be aware that it’s working. 

How Do I Know If My AWD Is Working?

With most vehicles, you will not know when your AWD is working. First of all, let’s remember that, with these drivetrains, the wheels have power all the time. 

But, if the vehicle is choosing where to send power, chances are you won’t notice. Technology has advanced so much that cars can distribute power faster than a human can perceive. 

Also, should there be a problem with your AWD system, the vehicle’s computer will let you know through the dash display or onboard screen. 

Is There A Difference Between AWD and 4WD?

Yes, the main difference between AWD and 4WD is that drivers can choose when to activate a 4WD system while the AWD system is always on. Also, some 4WD vehicles might have the option to engage low-range gearing, which increases torque, to tackle extreme terrain. 

On the other hand, an AWD vehicle cannot be activated or deactivated and cannot increase its torque. 

Is 4WD or AWD Better In The Snow?

For deep snow, sludge, and muddy snow, a 4WD vehicle with low-range gearing will be better than its AWD counterpart. Thanks to a heavy-duty transfer case and lower gear ratios, 4WD vehicles can tackle more challenging terrain. Plus, the driver can choose when to have the power go to all four wheels. 

Just as drivers can choose when to activate 4WD, they must also be careful when to deactivate it. But, with 4WD and AWD vehicles alike, there are other precautions you must take. 

Can You Put Two New Tires On An AWD Vehicle?

The best way to ensure that you have the most traction and maximize your tires’ life is to change all four wheels instead of only two. If you choose to do so, it’s more likely that they will wear out unevenly. 

Remember that a used tire is thinner than a new one. If you only install two new tires, the older rubber will cause the car to have uneven traction, which could cause premature damage to mechanical components and leave you with less grip. 

Does AWD Help On Ice?

Thanks to having power on all four wheels, AWD vehicles will have more grip when starting from a complete stop on surfaces such as ice or snowy roads. It’s a great system to get rolling, but it will perform similarly to any FWD or RWD vehicle when it comes to turning and braking. The key to icy surfaces is the right tires. 

If you were to have a FWD vehicle with season-appropriate tires against an AWD model with the wrong set of rubber, chances you’re better with the FWD in this example. So, we’ve seen that driving on ice might be similar, but what about in other driving situations? 

Is AWD Safer Than 4WD?

An AWD vehicle is safer than a FWD if you need to tackle surfaces with less traction, and you do not want to be deciding when to have power to all four wheels. But remember that most of these vehicles can’t handle extreme terrains, such as deep mud.

Plus, your AWD car will be able to get out of snowy inclines with more ease than any FWD counterparts. The disadvantage is increased fuel consumption due to the engine having to move all four wheels. However, there’s another drawback to AWD vehicles, and it’s related to towing. Let’s see why. 

Can An AWD Vehicle Be Towed?

You shouldn’t tow an AWD vehicle if any of the four wheels are touching the ground. Doing so can damage components like the transmission, transfer case, and differentials. The best way to tow an AWD is by using a flatbed truck

Here’s our article on which vehicles (2020 edition) you can flat tow, including some tips for the safest way of doing so. 

There’s one way to do so, and that’s with those vehicles that can shift the transfer case to neutral. To know whether you can or cannot tow your AWD car, read the owner’s manual, as it will also give you all the instructions and precautions. 

This article aimed to answer as many questions as possible about AWD vehicles. You might not have known some of the topics we covered here, so we hope you’ve learned more about these vehicles so you can have safe, happy driving.

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

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