Are you a car enthusiast that wants to navigate off the beaten track, but you are unsure whether or not you should opt for a 4WD or AWD vehicle? It can be confusing since to the novice, both vehicles look like they will provide similar functions and benefits to the driver. However, depending on the situation the driver is faced with, the type of driving ability can make a substantial difference to overcoming driving challenges and maintaining your vehicle. EnduroCo, who are the Toyota coaster conversion specialists provide insight into the key differences between AWDs and 4WDs, and why it matters to you!

AWD versus

The difference between 4WD and AWDs

4WD is typically an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) that uses a driver selectable system that mechanically engages to drive all four wheels. AWD drives all of the wheels all of the time.

Wheel rotation

The wheels in an AWD vehicle can rotate at different speeds. AWDs are good off road vehicles and are great for going around corners since the outside tyres will rotate quicker than the inside tyres, making it very good to handle. Due to their gear driven nature, 4WD wheels typically rotate at the same speed, regardless of driving straight or around corners. 4WD require identical tyres on all four wheels.

Also see: Cargo Weight Smarts: Avoiding Rollover Risks in Your SUV


There are key differences between the traction that different vehicles offer. AWDs and 4WDs give the driver the extra traction and torque to navigate difficult terrains. AWDs can perform to a similar level to that of a 4WD in dry off-road terrains, however the 4WDs tend to provide the best performance across challenging terrains.

Power application

Power is distributed differently in the front and rear axles on AWDs and 4WDs. 4WDs power is distributed equally at all times between the front and rear axles. This is accomplished through the use of gears or chains. AWDs distribute the power differently since it is determined by the computer in the vehicle. The differential could see the power split in the vehicle being 50/50 or 60/40 or another type of split. Majority of AWDs use a viscous fluid to couple the front and rear axles.

Pavement handling

Generally, AWDs handle pavements better than 4WDs. This is because AWDs allow slippage between the front and rear axles to counter the distance difference between the front and rear wheels. Because 4WDs don’t make up for this differential, which occurs when the vehicle turns corners, 4WDs don’t end up performing as well on the pavement as their AWD counterparts. The drive train on the 4WD is always engaged and will wear down if driven at speed, opposed to AWDs which won’t be affected by abnormal wear at all.

Off-road handling

If you plan to use your vehicle to climb steep hills, go through deep mud, to go through streams or navigate other forms of difficult terrain, then a 4WD at a slower speed will deliver. The vehicle’s ability to move all four wheels in unison allows the driver to climb rocks, plough through mud and other difficult terrains. This is because all four wheels will spin in unison which is the fastest way to get high centred. An AWD still performs well off-road and up dry hills, however 4WD is much more superior in off-road conditions.

Beware of the ‘ground clearance’ myth

Many people believe that 4WDs are superior in ground clearance compared to AWDs. The fact is that the ground clearance is typically determined by the diameter of the wheel. The ground clearance can be raised by increasing the diameter of the wheels and raising the axles higher to give the vehicle better ground clearance.

Things to bear in mind when deciding whether to opt for a 4WD or AWD.

An AWD is a good vehicle to invest in if you know you will be:

  • Spending most of your time driving on local roads.
  • Spending most of your time driving on highways.
  • Mainly navigating through steep terrains.
  • Not doing much off-road driving.

A 4WD is a good vehicle to invest in if you know you will be:

  • Driving your vehicle in off-road conditions.
  • Navigating steep terrains.
  • Doing minimal driving on highways and local roads.

When deciding whether to opt for a 4WD or AWD feature in your vehicle, consider your intentions for how you will use the vehicle and the benefits of each.