What's the difference between AWD and 4WD?

I've seen cars with all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, but I always assumed they were the same thing until recently. Someone tried to explain the difference, but I still don't get it. What's the difference between AWD and 4WD?

“These two systems both provide more traction, stability, and handling, albeit in different ways.
If you want to think about it more generally, all-wheel drive (AWD) is more for everyday driving, while four-wheel drive (4WD) is more of a rough-and-tumble off-roading option.
As far as how they work, that’s a bit more complicated, but here’s a quick breakdown:
  • AWD is always engaged and requires no input from the driver.
  • AWD drives both axles and relies on an internal computer to shift torque and power to each wheel as necessary.
  • 4WD is typically selected by the driver with a knob or lever.
  • Once engaged, it turns both axles at the same speed, which translates to more torque.
  • True 4WD systems aren’t meant to be used on pavement, as doing so can damage the drivetrain.
Hopefully, that makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, just remember: AWD is for daily driving and commuting; 4WD is for the adventurer in you.
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Eric Schad
Answered on Aug 03, 2021
Eric Schad has been a freelance writer for nearly a decade, as well as an SEO specialist and editor for the past five years. Before getting behind the keyboard, he worked in the finance and music industries (the perfect combo). With a wide array of professional and personal experiences, he’s developed a knack for tone and branding across many different verticals. Away from the computer, Schad is a blues guitar shredder, crazed sports fan, and always down for a spontaneous trip anywhere around the globe.

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