You may think you know what a four-wheel drive vehicle does, with images of heavy-duty trucks off-roading through the wilderness in your mind. Yet when you hear terms like “all-wheel drive” or “4x2,” you may get confused and question what you really know. The truth is, that drive systems are more complicated than they first appear, and knowing the difference between them can help you find the right vehicle to suit your needs.
A four-wheel drive vehicle gets power to all four wheels equally. The engine transfers power to the transmission, where a transfer case divides power equally to the front and rear axles. All four wheels have the same power, which makes the vehicle better able to power through tough conditions, such as unpaved roads, muddy ditches, and hills. Four-wheel drive, or 4X4, is ideal for tough situations and those with low traction.
Many vehicles that are advertised as four-wheel drive actually are only part-time four-wheel drive. They usually come with a button or switch that lets you turn the four-wheel drive mode on or off. The reason is that four-wheel drive is not ideal for use in all situations. For example, if you have to make a tight turn, the system would make that very difficult. The inner wheels, which have to cover more ground, would have the same power as the outer wheels, and that would cause them to slip. Therefore, you need the ability to turn the system on or off to get optimal performance in every scenario.
Many four-wheel drive systems also have a “high” or a “low” setting. 4WD High is designed to compensate for the different rotational rates of the tires when you make a turn or you are driving at higher speeds. The mechanism is called “limited slip,” and it typically accounts for the differences between the inner and outer wheels. 4WD Low is designed for more power at lower speeds, such as if you are trying to get out of mud or you are climbing a rocky hill.
Besides four-wheel drive, or 4X4, and all-wheel drive, you may see other drive trains, such as 4X2 or IWD (individual wheel drive). A 4x2 drivetrain is what you find in most vehicles. It means that there are four wheels, but only two of them are getting power. You would usually think of this as rear-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, meaning that only the rear wheels are powered or only the front wheels are powered.
Individual wheel drive is similar to all-wheel drive in that each of the wheels gets power based on their needs, but the wheels are powered by different motors that are working independently. A major benefit of this system is that if one wheel fails, the other wheels can still drive the vehicle to a repair shop.
At Tim’s Truck Capital, we really know trucks, and we can help you find the right truck for you, including the right drive train. We’ll help you think through how you want to use the truck and then find the perfect model to fit your needs and your budget.
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*By appointment only