Skip to Content
Back

All About All-Wheel Drive

While we all may have heard this term more times than we can count, how many of us actually know all about all-wheel drive?

If you’re looking for a deeper dive into this modern automotive mainstay, look no further: here is your guide to all-wheel drive.

The Definition

All wheel drive (shortened as AWD) is the powertrain capability that provides a vehicle with power to all of its wheels – rather than just two – either on-demand, or at all times.

The Way it Works

But how does all-wheel drive actually work?

The main component of the all-wheel-drive system is called a center differential. This is a combination of gears that actually divides and directs the power in your vehicle from the transmission, all the way to the rear and front axles.

Another component in this scheme is the wheel sensors. These act as an assisting mechanism to the center differential, and detect wheel speed, loss in traction, and other important data points.

The way that all of these parts work together is what makes AWD so valuable: when you step on the gas, power flows to all of your wheels. If one of them is not receiving traction – if it’s caught in the snow, for example – all-wheel drive will come to the rescue.

The wheel sensors detect this traction loss, send this information to the car’s computer, which then will adjust the levels of power that it sends to each wheel, sending more power to the wheels that are properly gripping the road so that they can get you moving again.

The Different Types of Drive Wheels

You might be wondering: but what about two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive?

As opposed to four-wheel-drive, two-wheel drive (shortened as 2WD) only send power to two wheels at a time, either the front pair – for front-wheel drive (or FWD) – or the back pair, called rear-wheel drive (or RWD.)

Most of the cars you see on the road today are front-wheel drive vehicles – out of all the SUVs you might see driving down the highway, the vast majority are equipped with FWD.

On the other hand, sports cars, luxury and high-performance sedans, pickup trucks, and older SUVs are the types of vehicles most likely to be equipped with rear-wheel drive.

What about four-wheel drive? Although the terms four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are often used interchangeably, they’re not the same. Unlike all-wheel drive, four-wheel drive (shortened as 4WD) is not always on – you must engage the system for all four wheels to receive power.

Is AWD Actually Safer?

You might think that all-wheel drive is the safest option out of all of the above – this is not necessarily true!

While all-wheel drive does improve traction, it doesn’t necessarily provide any additional safety when it comes to braking and cornering. And while AWD makes it easier to accelerate and stay moving on slippery and snowy roads, it doesn’t necessarily improve your handling on slick roads.

What’s more, it may even give many drivers an over-inflated sense of their available traction. Many drivers have a false sense of security when driving with AWD or 4WD in slippery and snowy conditions. This leads them to drive too fast, thinking that their all-wheel drive system will help keep them safe in case they need to make a sudden brake.

The best thing you can do to combat harsh winter driving conditions? Winter tires, of course! Equipping your vehicle with four winter tires is more important than the type of drive wheels it’s sporting, because winter tires actually help you stop and turn on slick and snow-filled roads.

What You Need to Know

After reviewing all of this information, you may still be left with the most important question of all: which one of these is right for me and my vehicle?

The best thing you can do to answer this question is consider your own driving needs and circumstances.

Do you live in a very snowy, harsh climate? Will you be driving in many off-road situations? Or would you like to pursue off-roading as a hobby? In this case, four-wheel-drive is your best option.

If, on the other hand, you will only be using your vehicle on regular roads, and live in an area that only receives rain and light snow, you don’t need anything more powerful than two-wheel-drive.

If, like many Canadians, you must compete with normal levels of snow in winter, and only sometimes venture off-road, you should opt for all-wheel drive.

Being informed about your vehicle is only half the battle. Besides knowing the ins and outs of your trusty vehicle, it’s vital to keep it properly maintained, and protect it with the proper auto insurance coverage to suit your needs.

All About All-Wheel Drive

Whether you drive a car or a truck, drive for personal or business purposes, or don’t even drive at all, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term all-wheel drive a million times.