With gas prices as high as they are right now, many people might be wondering if 4WD is even worth it.
Is it just a waste of money? Is there that much difference between 2WD and 4WD vehicles?
There are some differences, so let’s look at those differences and whether the extra cost of getting a four-wheel-drive vehicle is worth it.
When Buying a New Vehicle, Is 4wd Really Worth It?
If you spend a good deal of time driving on dirt roads or in the snow during the winter months, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is the best choice for those looking to buy an all-purpose vehicle that can be used year-round and driven through any road conditions.
That’s not all; 4wd vehicles also tend to get better gas mileage than two-wheel drive vehicles.
Is that worth it? You bet! Read on for more information.
What Is a 4WD and How Does It Compare to 2WD and AWD?
A four-wheel-drive vehicle is basically a 2WD vehicle with both front and rear axle connected to the transmission.
It works the same way as the four-wheel-drive in your truck or SUV.
The capabilities of a 4WD vehicle are better than that of an AWD vehicle because the wheels on both front and back axles get power.
How Is 4WD Different From a 2WD?
A two-wheel-drive (also known as rear-wheel or RWD) consists of only one axle connected to the transmission, which means it can send all its power to either the left side of the car or the right side.
The absence of another axle allows for more trunk space in many cars, resulting in less traction while driving.
Is that worth it? If you live where there is little snow, then probably not, but if you plan on using your new ride during snowy winter months, getting extra traction with tires touching ground could be very important.
Keep in mind that four-wheel-drive vehicles have been known for better gas mileage than two-wheel cars.
How Is 4WD Different Than an AWD?
An all-wheel drive (also known as an AWD) is slightly different from a four-wheel drive.
It can send power to each wheel on either side, but it generally only sends about half the engine’s power to the front axle and half to the rear.
Is that worth it? If you live where there are never any snow or dirt roads, then not really, unless the car has performance with off-road capabilities, which many vehicles do these days, especially cars like Jeeps.
AWD is also a bit more fuel-efficient than four-wheel-drive vehicles because it doesn’t require the extra weight of a transfer case, which distributes power between axles in a four-wheel vehicle.
Pros of 4WD
The advantages of 4WD include:
- Better control during inclement weather and better traction when driving on unpaved roads.
- Better gas mileage than their two-wheel drive counterparts.
- Good capabilities for off-road driving.
- During a storm, the shocks improve handling and driving.
Cons of New Four-wheel Drive Vehicle
While new four-wheel drive vehicles do offer many advantages, they also come with a few disadvantages:
- Four-wheel drive vehicles usually weigh more than their two and all-wheel drive counterparts.
- It does not do well on the highway when driving for an extended period.
- It tends to be more expensive than two and all-wheel drive vehicles.
Is 4WD faster than 2WD?
There is no difference in terms of speed between four-wheel drive, two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
The speed is determined solely by the engine’s power output.
The only difference is how the power gets to the wheel.
With four-wheel drive, all wheels simultaneously receive torque from both axles through a transfer case and differential assembly.
With two-wheel-drive vehicles, typically only one axle receives torque, which transfers it to its corresponding tire on that side.
An example would be a truck with a big engine in the front and smaller tires on the back.
This is usually done to improve handling or fuel mileage.
All-wheel drive vehicles are typically built for better performance, especially off-road.
They send power from both axles through all four wheels at different torque levels depending on traction conditions.
Are 4WD Better Than Winter Tires?
In general, winter tires are better than four-wheel-drive when driving in snow and ice conditions.
However, many new vehicles today come with a system known as electronic stability control or ESC that helps to reduce the risk of skidding during sudden maneuvers on slippery roads.
This technology is standard equipment for all 2012 models from major vehicle manufacturers such as Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.
A four-wheel-drive vehicle is better than a two-wheel-drive one only when the road surface has low traction, such as dirt or gravel roads.
However, if you live where there are more snow storms throughout the winter months, then investing in an all-wheel-drive car, instead of paying for extra gas to use your four-wheel drive would be a better choice.
Is It Better To Have 4WD for Towing?
Having four-wheel drive only helps the vehicle perform better on low traction surfaces.
Towing is one of those cases where it would be beneficial to have either two or all-wheel drive but not just a four-wheel-drive system by itself.
If you tow often, then having an all-wheel-drive may provide some benefits over two and four-wheel-drive systems.
A four-wheel-drive vehicle is not better for towing simply because the additional weight of the transfer case, driveshaft, and rear differential required in a true four-wheel-drive system makes it harder on gas mileage.
The only difference between tow capabilities with four-wheel drive vs two or all-wheel drive is the stress placed on the engine and transmission.
It really depends on what you are using your vehicle for, such as pulling a boat or trailer with heavy loads.
In this case, it would be better to have a four-wheel-drive system over two-wheel, but if not, then having an all-wheel-drive may suffice.
4WD Is a Plus for Racing, Isn’t It?
For racing purposes, a four-wheel-drive system does not provide any advantage over two and all-wheel drive vehicles.
The only time that having a true four-wheel drive is an advantage for racing would be if the racetrack had low traction, such as dirt or gravel roads.
If it has high traction surfaces like asphalt, then it will simply use up more fuel for no good reason.
If you are racing, having either two or all-wheel drive would be better because it does not put extra strain on engine and transmission components.
What Type Of 4WD Do I Need?
The type of system you need depends on the road conditions where you live.
If your area has lots of snow and slippery surfaces in winter, having either an all-wheel-drive or an alternative option is better.
All-wheel-drive systems are standard equipment on some high-end luxury models such as Porsche, BMW, or Audi but can be found on some mid-level models such as the Subaru Outback, Audi Avant, and Volvo XC70.
If you need increased towing capabilities, then you would need a four-wheel-drive system.
If not, then all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive will work just fine in most cases.
In terms of racing purposes, either two or all-wheel drive is better.
The choice of a four-wheel-drive system depends on the driver’s needs regarding road conditions and how they are planning to use their vehicle.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is having four-wheel drive better for towing?
No, it is not.
I live in a snowy climate but don’t want a car with all-wheel drive or an expensive luxury vehicle. What are my options?
You can either get a two-wheel drive or buy an inexpensive used car.
I need towing capabilities; what type of four-wheel drive should I get?
If you do not need to tow, buy two or all-wheel drive instead since it does not put extra strain on engine and transmission components.
You can find out more about this here.
What is the difference between four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive?
Both systems are used for off-roading purposes, but you can find only true four-wheel drives on high-end luxury vehicles.
Is having a four-wheel-drive better to race with or do I need two or all-wheel drive?
If you are racing on high traction surfaces such as asphalt, having either two or all-wheel drive would be better.
I am planning on buying a used car, but it is hard for me to tell if the four-wheel-drive system works or not. What should I ask?
You can test out the vehicle yourself and see if the four-wheel-drive system works or not.
If it does, that is great, but ask a mechanic if you are still unsure how to tell for sure.
When buying a new vehicle in determining if the four-wheel-drive system is worth it, you must consider your specific needs and what type of road conditions exist where you live.
If all-weather or no winter conditions are prevalent, then either an all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive may be better since they do not put extra strain on engine and transmission components.