The Difference Between 4WD and AWD

The difference between four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) can be confusing. All vehicles have four wheels, so surely both terms mean the same thingNot quiteWith major differences in each system, it’s important to learn what type best suits your lifestyle. 

Silver Nissan Navara driving down a sand dune.
Blue Volkswagen Touareg driving on gravel mountainous road.


If you spend most of your week in town but enjoy a mountain tramp over the weekend, AWD is for you. Perfect for helping you out of slippery conditions and providing extra power only when necessary is AWD’s jam. It’s also celebrated for its practicality and fuel efficiency 

The AWD system is mostly controlled by computers, meaning you won’t need to think – or anticipate – when you might need an extra boost, as your vehicle will do it for you. Typically, an AWD system will change between powering two or four wheels, depending on where traction is needed. On wet or slippery roads, you’ll have more traction than a front- or rear-wheel-drive vehicle 

AWD is ideal for those who live around town, but sometimes need a little extra push. 

Blue Nissan Qashqai SUV driving on paved road in forest.


4WD is intended for more extreme conditions, with lots of off-road driving. 4WD systems work to keep wheels engagedhelping vehicles out of ultra-slippery conditions. 4WD offers a chance for more driver input, which makes it more suitable for tougher terrain. 

It’s important to note that driving a vehicle in 4WD mode is not intended for paved roads, and this can actually damage the vehicle and increase fuel costs. If your vehicle is used specifically for tougher terrain, like hilly farmland or dirt mountain roads, 4WD is for you. If you intend to take it elsewhere often, AWD may be a better option. 

Whether you’re considering a run-around-town car or one that’ll ford rivers and climb mountains, it’s worth understanding the difference between 4WD and AWD. Being realistic about the expectations of your vehicle, and your lifestyle, will be a great part in helping you make the right decision for you.  

These systems can vary based on manufacturer, so talk to a sales team member about what suits your needs best.  

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