You may have heard about the all-wheel-drive option offered on many vehicles. All-wheel drive is almost a must-have for drivers who live in areas with severe weather conditions. So, what is all-wheel drive and what are the benefits to it? If you think you may need it, will it be worth it?

How Does it Work?

all-wheel driveAll-wheel drive works with some extra equipment not found on front- or rear-wheel-drive vehicles. Unlike front-wheel-drive vehicles, where power is sent to the front wheels from the transmission, or rear-wheel-drive vehicles where power is sent to the rear wheels via a driveshaft to a rear differential and to the wheels, all-wheel-drive vehicles come with a center differential. It’s responsible for allocating power from the transmission to the front wheels, the rear wheels, or even all four wheels. How it does this depends on which system is being used: all-wheel-drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).

All-wheel vs. Four-wheel

All-wheel and four-wheel-drive systems aren't the same thing. The biggest difference between them is how often they’re being used. AWD is on all the time, and is typically found on vehicles that are otherwise front-wheel drive. 4WD systems typically only work “part-time,” and vehicles with this system normally operate in rear-wheel-drive mode, only switching to four-wheel drive when selected by the driver.

Since most crossover SUVs use all-wheel-drive systems, it’s also important to know the different types of AWD systems.

AWD Types

There are three different types of all-wheel-drive systems a vehicle could have:

  • On-Demand All-Wheel Drive – As stated previously, this system sends all of the power to the front wheels during normal driving situations. Because this system is found on vehicles with front-wheel drive, when a slip is detected, the system will send power to the rear wheels in order to improve traction.
  • Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive – This system sends power to the front and rear axles at all times. When a loss in traction is detected, power is sent to the axle that needs it the most.
  • Torque-Vectoring All-Wheel Drive – Similar to symmetrical, torque-vectoring provides power to the front and rear axles. What’s unique about this system is its ability to split power between the wheels and axles — giving more power to the outside rear wheel.

Bottom Line

Understanding all-wheel drive is important when picking a car. If you know you’ll be driving in heavy snow and harsh weather, consider getting a vehicle that supports all-wheel drive.

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