4-Wheel Drive and All-Wheel Drive

Posted on 05 January 2012 by Tony Santos

With how many 4-wheel drive systems on the market today, it’s not only common to get confused, it’s expected. Like insurance quotes, terms like torque and traction get thrown around with little clarification. Car sellers bank on this ambiguity and couch their services with misleading phrases and disingenuous claims, assuming (usually rightly so) that the consumer will not know the difference. But for the sake of clarity and utility, here’s a quick breakdown of the four major varieties of four-wheel drive: 

Part Time 4 Wheel Drive

Though a little outdated, the original four-wheel drive is still useful if you frequently encounter off-road conditions. PT 4WD allows vehicles likes the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Tundra greater traction when traversing tricky terrain. It’s important to keep in mind though that PT 4WD can not be used on regular dry roads, so it’s not too useful if your own driving conditions are paved suburban roads in an area with virtually no annual precipitation.

Full Time 4 Wheel Drive

FT 4WD (popular in the Mercedes G500, LandRover and RangeRover) can be used on all pavements and road conditions, offering permanent traction, and of course operates at maximum capacity when axle differential locks are added. The main structural difference between it and the part time 4 wheel drive are the addition of a the center differential. This is its secret weapon. There are two main settings here, 4Hi and 4L (low). The 4L creates more torque power while the 4Hi creates more traction. For icy conditions you would want to use 4Hi, unless the snow is deep, in which case you will need the added torque to make forward progress.

Full Time All Wheel Drive

Intended primarily as a safety feature, FT AWD vehicles like the later Mercedes M-class fleet and the Audi Quattro don’t have the low range torque action of 4WD and are therefore not recommended for off-road driving or to transport incredibly heavy loads. Despite these limitations, cars with full time All Wheel Drive provide superior on-road performance. If you get nervous driving in the rain, this is what you want.

Automatic All Wheel Drive

Sometimes called “intelligent All Wheel Drive,” the relatively newer Automatic AWD is essentially a part time 4 wheel drive with superior capabilities. Again, it is not recommended for off-road terrain or carrying big loads, but on pavement it gives you the security of AWD while removing some of the hassle of switching between modes. Because it goes into AWD selectively, this is a better fuel-efficient option.

Still confused? Just remember this: for off-road terrain or heavy loads you want 4WD (full-time for more options); for regular pavement and on-road conditions you’re probably better off with AWD. Italy Car Hire features some of the best 4WD/AWD for you to try on check it out.

Categorized | Car Insurance, Car News, Car Tips

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