Advantages & Disadvantages Of A 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) Vehicle
29 Jan 2021
These days, you have more options than ever when choosing your next car. You’ll see a variety of choices on the market, with each one possessing certain traits. One thing you have to decide is what drivetrain system you want to use. Mostly, this falls into two categories:
• Two-wheel drive (2WD)
• Four-wheel drive (4WD)
As you can tell by the title, we’re looking at the second of these options in today’s article. What is four-wheel drive, how does it differ from two-wheel drive, and does it have pros and cons? All of your questions are answered below.
What is a 4WD vehicle?
Firstly, the drivetrain system of a vehicle is everything that makes the wheels move – not including the engine. 4WD – sometimes referred to as 4×4 – is a system where all four wheels of your car receive an equal split of power from the engine. It goes through the rear and front axels, engaging all four of the wheels and making them spin.
This differs from the 2WD system where power only gets sent to either the rear or front wheels. Most cars actually have a 2WD system, and four-wheel driving is usually reserved for certain types of vehicles. You’ll learn more about this as we go through the advantages and disadvantages of this drivetrain system.
What are the advantages of a four-wheel drive vehicle?
When you look at the 4WD system – particularly in modern cars – you notice a few big advantages. Here are a few reasons you may be inclined to purchase a vehicle with this system in place:
A choice between systems
A common misconception is that you have to drive your car in the 4WD mode at all times. This may have been the case with older generations of cars, but the reality is far from it nowadays. In fact, you can actually switch between a 4WD and 2WD system as and when you please. Modern 4×4 cars let you press a button that engages or disengages all four wheels. So, in circumstances where you might not need all four wheels working at once, you can simply drive around using the 2WD system.
If your car only has 2WD, then you don’t have this option. You get the benefits of 2WD, but never get to see the advantages of a 4×4 drivetrain.
Improved traction and grip on the road
The undeniable benefit of owning a 4×4 vehicle is that you get vastly improved traction and grip on the road. This is simply because you have four wheels that can spin and attempt to grip the surface. For this reason, 4WD cars are known to be good at handling harsh driving conditions. Many people will get a set of solid 4×4 rims, then head off-road to deserts or rocky mountain areas. The added traction means you can navigate these awkward driving conditions without skidding out of control or getting stuck. You have more control over it, and there’s usually extra weight in 4×4 cars that further improves the grip.
The same goes for when it’s wet or icy on the roads – switching to 4WD lets you have more control over what you’re doing. It can prevent the car from skidding and sliding around, or getting stuck! 2WD is fine in regular driving conditions, but if you’re keen to go off-road or want more safety in the snow, four-wheel driving is the best bet.
Similarly, the added traction combines with increased power from the engine. After all, power is getting sent to all four wheels, instead of just two. This gives 4×4 cars the extra boost needed to climb over obstacles and go up steep inclines. Again, this is perfect for off-roading, but it’s also useful if you live in a particularly hilly area!
What are the disadvantages of 4WD?
Believe it or not, there are some disadvantages of four-wheel drive systems. If there wasn’t, every car would surely be equipped this way! So, what are the possible drawbacks?
Installing a 4WD system is more expensive than a 2WD one. This is because extra parts and technology are required to make it work. It makes the vehicle a more complex entity, which costs more for manufacturers to produce. This is one of the main reasons 4WD is seen as a luxury extra, rather than standard practice.
Provides bad fuel economy
Furthermore, the added weight of the 4WD system – combined with the extra power generated – leads to a worse fuel economy than 2WD systems. You will simply burn through more fuel by driving your car with all four wheels generating power at once. This is why modern 4x4s implemented a system where you can switch between 2WD and 4WD, letting you save fuel when you’re driving in normal conditions. Ultimately, the lack of fuel efficiency also adds to the overall cost of 4×4 vehicles.
Potentially leads to more accidents
This is a contentious point that’s based on the assumption that a 4WD system creates overconfidence in drivers. When you know you have more power and traction, it might make you do things that are slightly dangerous. For instance, you might not reduce your speed in wet or icy conditions because you think your car has the technology to handle them. As a result, you could get involved in accidents that put yourself and others at risk.
Additionally, 4×4 systems make a car heavier, which also could lead to more accidents. While you get better traction control while driving, the added weight does increase the braking distance. In short, if you had two identical cars – but one used 4WD and the other 2WD – the 2WD car would come to a complete stop before the 4WD.
Four-wheel drive cars do have a place in this world. However, this isn’t a feature that you necessarily need. If you enjoy driving off-road or have to navigate tricky driving conditions every day, a 4×4 is a good purchase. But, if you just want a standard car to drive to and from work, don’t assume you need 4WD.