GHENT, WV (WVNS) — As the weather changes and the chances of driving in bad weather increase, some people may wonder about the differences between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.

The differences between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive can be confusing. According to Edmunds, here are some things to know about the differences between all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD).

AWD can help give a car all-weather traction all the time, and 4WD is a bit better for off-road terrain. While there are some similarities between the two, they do have their differences.

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive power the front and back tires all the time, however there are different drivetrains in AWD. Full-time AWD will drive all wheels constantly, and part-time AWD, sometimes called automatic AWD, usually focuses on front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive depending on the way the car’s drive system is made. For part-time AWD cars, all four tires will get power when extra traction control is necessary.

Full-time and part-time AWD works without work from the driver, however there are some options where the driver can choose certain modes that give them some control of the amount of power and where it goes.

For full-time AWD, the front and rear axles are driven all the time. On dry roads, this allows for better handling, and with snowy, icy, or muddy roads it helps with traction for safer handling. In cars that have part-time AWD, depending on the type of car you have torque will be sent to either the front or rear wheels, and the other two wheels will engage automatically when extra traction is needed. Many current AWD systems use sensors that send information to a computer that proceeds to control the amount of power that is sent to each wheel.

Although there are advantages to having an AWD car, it does not mean that there are not any disadvantages. AWD cars tend to have higher prices due to needing more hardware and computing power. In addition to that, they are often heavier and can affect fuel economy by around one to three miles per gallon. All-wheel drive also works well in weather such as snow and rain, however it cannot handle slippery, rough, and uneven terrain as well as four-wheel drive can.

For many people, the benefits are better than the downsides for AWD, including not having to consciously change the system because the wheels are driven full-time and can send power where needed if a loss of traction occurs. AWD is also available in various types of cars which leaves people with many choices to pick from.

Four-wheel drive

Four-wheel drive is what comes to mind for many people, and even though it is often associated with trucks and off-road use, there is a wider range of cars that have 4WD. 4WD can have maximum traction under many different conditions.

Traction is maximized in 4WD systems, similar to AWD, as well as having full-time and part-time systems. However the difference between them is that 4WD tends to handle rougher terrain than AWD.

Full-time 4WD works similar to full-time AWD, as all wheels get constant power. Some 4WD have the option for drivers to control how power is sent to the front and rear axles. Part-time 4WD is more often associated with cars such as trucks and SUVs that are meant to be driven in extreme conditions.

For these types of cars, their default is usually rear-wheel drive and the driver will need to manually switch to 4WD. These manual options allow the drivers to select settings where the rear wheels can constantly get power, or even lock both the front and rear wheels to where it is very difficult to get stuck unless all four tires loose traction.

Much like AWD, 4WD has its pros and cons. 4WD is very useful in rough terrain conditions, however they can be stiffer than two-wheel drive cars, as well as have high purchase prices and bad effects on fuel economy.

Both AWD and 4WD are good for driving in snow and have an advantage in snowy and icy weather, but any car can loose traction given the right conditions and handling. While the front and rear wheels can help with traction, winter tires are especially helpful in winter weather.

Combined with winter tires, AWD are able to act faster than drivers depending on the situation, but 4WD can handle deep snow and severe weather conditions better than AWD. Whether one is better than the other or not, for both to work at their best the car needs to also have winter tires.

Between AWD and 4WD what works best is up to what weather conditions you deal with and where you live. AWD leaves a wide variety of cars to choose from, as well as not needing the driver to manually switch to 4WD. 4WD can be the better option for people that deal with extreme weather or off-road adventures, want higher ground clearance, and gives people the choice of where they want power delivered to the front or rear tires.