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All Wheel Drive Vs. On-Demand 4 Wheel Drive

by Catherine Gilbert

The terms All Wheel Drive (AWD) and Four Wheel Drive (4WD) indicate that vehicles with these designations are powered by all four wheels, unlike two-wheel drive vehicles where either the front two (front wheel drive) or back two ( rear wheel drive) wheels are powered.


Having all four wheels powered assists the vehicle in poor driving conditions like going through deep snow or in any other inclement weather. There is a difference between an AWD vehicle or a 4WD vehicle, and the choice depends on the driver's needs.

Difference Between AWD and On Demand 4WD

All Wheel Drive is generally found in cars, vans or crossover sport utility vehicles (SUVs). It indicates that the transfer case is distributing power evenly to both the front and rear axle of the vehicle at all times. On-demand Four Wheel Drive means that for regular driving the transfer case is distributing power to just either the front or rear axle as in a two wheel drive vehicle, and the 4WD feature has to be engaged by the vehicle's operator in order to have all four wheels powered.


Having all wheel drive means the driver can go safely over terrain that a two wheel drive vehicle cannot. However, it isn't recommended to take an all wheel drive vehicle off-road. Vehicles that have 4WD, usually seen in trucks and SUVs, have an extra setting, "4-L", or "4 Low", not found in an AWD vehicle. This setting is ideal for off-road driving and is used when towing or driving up or down steep hills. The settin should not be engaged when driving on pavement.

About the Author

Catherine Gilbert has been a writer/researcher since 2000 and is based on Vancouver Island, B.C. She writes on many topics and has been published in “Island Word," “Be Wild In B.C.” and the "B.C. Historical Federation Journal." She has studied journalism and has an honors bachelor's degree in history and French from York University in Toronto.

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