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Four-Wheel Drive: Advantages And Disadvantages

Vehicles these days are usually designed to work as either two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). Both of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. 

However, does having more always the better choice here? Is a four-wheel-drive a prime choice even if they are more expensive than their counterparts? Learn the answers to these intriguing questions by understanding the pros and cons of these drivetrains. 

What Is A Drivetrain?

First, you need to understand what a drivetrain is. Specifically, the powertrain is the one responsible for moving the vehicle, and that includes the drivetrain and the engine. Meanwhile, the drivetrain is the one behind that, making the wheels move–excluding the engine. 

Interestingly, there are three types of arrangements for a drivetrain: rear-wheel drivetrain, front-wheel drivetrain, and four-wheel drivetrain. 

Four-Wheel Drivetrain (4WD)

Keep in mind that a four-wheel drive is different from an all-wheel drivetrain. However, both of these two have a mechanism where they transfer power to the front and back wheels. Such a design enables the vehicle to move during snowy, muddy, and rainy conditions. They are perfect for dealing with challenging terrains. 

Because of this capability, it is common to see a four-wheel-drive system on large vehicles that are designed for all-terrain adventures, such as SUVs, trucks, and other off-road units. 

The primary difference of a four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive lies in the components they use. The typical design of four-wheel drivetrains usually involves a transfer case and two differentials. Meanwhile, an all-wheel drivetrain utilizes center, rear, and front differentials. 

How Does 4WD Work?

Every time that four-wheel drive is engaged, the engine transmits power to the transmission, which, in turn, is being split to the wheel axles. Once this happens, the torque is shifted to the wheels. However, it is essential that the wheels have enough traction to the ground so that the vehicle can move properly. If it does not have traction, the tires will just spin but will not be able to move the vehicle. 

Let us assume that the rear wheels of your vehicle got stuck in the snow or the mud. If your vehicle has just a two-wheel drive, then your wheels will spin and spin without moving you at all. In this situation, having a four-wheel drive is quite beneficial. After all, it can also power the front wheels so that it can get sufficient traction on the ground. It will help you get out of any sticky predicament. 

Essentially, this is the role of four-wheel drives: they are the ones that give you traction whenever you need it. Of course, the mechanism of a four-wheel drive is more sophisticated than that. But that’s the fundamental aspect that you need to learn about this drivetrain. 

Do you need the service of a four-wheel drive all the time? Based on the explanation here, you don’t need to. In fact, most of the time, you only need a two-wheel drive, especially if you are just driving on concrete surfaces. You only need to activate the four-wheel-drive when you encounter situations where extra traction and power are needed. 

When To Use A Four-Wheel Drive?

There are specific situations where a four-wheel drive is needed. Here are some of them:


  • When you need extra torque for certain applications (such as heaving large objects at slow speeds)
  • When you are descending slowly while hauling a heavy cargo
  • When you are traversing steep declines and inclines, especially if the road is rocky or muddy
  • When your vehicle is stuck in mud, sand, or snow

Disadvantages Of Four-Wheel Drives

Many don’t think that four-wheel drives have disadvantages, too. One of its drawbacks is that it uses too much fuel. It also makes drivers complacent and over-confident when they are driving. 

Of course, the primary disadvantage of a four-wheel drive is the extra cost for its maintenance and fuel. You also need to change their differentials and transfer cases. When they get damaged, expensive repairs are necessary. 

They are not always needed. If you only drive on concrete roads, then a four-wheel drive is not that efficient. Two-wheel drives are perfect for regular use. 

The additional traction enhances your control and traction. However, it also increases the braking distance of a vehicle before it makes a complete stop.