• Direct2Wheels

AWD, RWD, 4x4 and FWD: What’s the difference?

When shopping for a new vehicle there are many important aspects to consider and many of which could be confusing, especially for a first-time buyer. One such potentially confusing aspect of a vehicle, is understanding it’s drivetrain.

Before we go into the different types, let’s briefly go over what a drivetrain actually is.


Drivetrain Defined

The Drivetrain, simply put, is the group of components in a motor vehicle that deliver power to drive or move the wheels. You may have heard of the more popular term, “Powertrain”? This includes both the engine and the drivetrain. The engine being the component to produce the power and the Drivetrain which delivers that power to the wheels to rotate the axle. How that power is delivered to the wheels is where we find the different types of drivetrain.

There are four different types: All-Wheel Drive, Rear-Wheel Drive, Front-Wheel Drive and Four-Wheel Drive.

Front-Wheel Drive

With a front-wheel drive (FWD) drivetrain, the power from the engine is delivered only to the front wheels of your vehicle. This means the front wheels are pulling the car and the rear wheels don’t receive any power on their own.

FWD vehicles typically get better fuel economy and emits less carbon dioxide. Since the weight of the engine is located over the driving wheels, the vehicle can maintain better traction in the snow.

However, performance enthusiasts have claimed FWD vehicles are less fun to drive.


Rear-Wheel Drive

As opposed to FWD, rear-wheel drive (RWD) means the power from the engine is delivered to the rear wheels to push the car forward. The front wheels don’t receive any power and are free to maneuver the vehicle.

The weight distribution is considered better with RWD, as more evenly spread across the vehicle. This is why sports cars, like Mustangs, Corvettes and Camaros are RWD.

The disadvantage of RWD is that they do not perform well in rain or snow because they are more prone to loss of traction on slick roads.


Four-Wheel Drive

Four-wheel drive (4WD or 4x4) means the power from the engine is delivered to all four wheels when 4X4 is engaged, otherwise it operates in the RWD format to conserve fuel. Engaging 4x4 is almost always done manually by the driver, rather than automatically.

It is often found on larger SUVs and trucks, and provides great traction in poor weather conditions, and for off-roading. You’ll also find that vehicles equipped with 4x4 will offer a choice between 4 High and 4 low. Depending on the terrain you are trying to navigate you would make your selection. If you find yourself in very deep snow or extreme muddy conditions (true off-roading), you’ll choose 4 low. You’ll have to have the vehicle in park to make this shift and it should only be operated at very low speeds. For driving in icy or slippery road conditions you can shift to 4 high “on the fly” (while the vehicle is moving but under 60 kms/hour). This setting is used more commonly.

All-Wheel Drive

All-wheel drive, (AWD) is often confused with four-wheel drive. Both engage all four wheels, however there are key differences between the two.

AWD sends power to all sets of wheels but the driver does not engage it manually. This gives you better grip, but it does reduce fuel economy a bit.

There are actually two types of drivetrains called AWD. One does sends power to all the wheels continuously; some manufacturers refer to this as full-time AWD. The second, often called part-time AWD or automatic AWD, operates most of the time in two-wheel-drive mode, most often Front-wheel drive. With an “automatic AWD” the power is delivered to all four corners only when needed. Using sensors, the vehicle will engage all four wheels when the vehicle begins slipping under two-wheel-drive, delivering power to other wheels to regain traction control.


There's so much to think about and consider when in the market for a new vehicle. At Direct2Wheels, we will help you find the right car for your driving lifestyle. Whether it is traversing the snow-covered Canadian roads, enjoying an off-road adventure, or just getting to and from work… the right vehicle makes a big difference in your ownership experience.

Our goal is to help you on the way to credit recovery while also finding you the perfect car to fit your needs and budget. We are Albertans working for Albertans. Your business is safe with our comprehensive, professional and discreet team.