There always seems to be a good bit of confusion as to the difference between 4×4’s and four wheel drive cars (non 4×4). A look at the difference and what it means to the purchaser can help to clear up some of the concerns.
The four-wheel drive 4×4 Difference
Normally, the term 4×4 refers to a four-wheeled vehicle that has a special kind of drive train. This drive train allows each of the four wheels to receive rotating force (or torque) simultaneously from the vehicle’s engine. This type of independent wheel function means that 4×4 vehicles have much better control on different kinds of road conditions, from pavement in inclement weather to off-road traveling.
On the other hand, a vehicle with “four-wheel drive” is not necessarily the same thing as a 4×4. Traditionally, the term “four-wheel drive” is used to refer to larger vehicles (usually passenger vehicles) that come with the option of allowing the driver to switch (either manually or automatically) between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive when conditions such as slipper roads, gravel or dirt roads are encountered.
On top of this you have the term “All wheel drive” which is what you get when a regular passenger vehicle has full-time four-wheel drive. All wheel drives are four-wheel drive vehicles that can be used on regular dry pavement without the risk of harming the vehicle’s differentials. This is possible because all wheel drive vehicles use a different kind of center differential. This new kind of center differential means that each of the vehicle’s axles can rotate independently and at different speeds.
The all-wheel drive systems have plenty of problems, however. Because of the nature of the axle rotation differential they may be looking at significant torque reduction when it comes a wheel loosing traction. In fact, they depend on very complex traction control systems to keep them from becoming immobilized.
A way around the all-wheel drive problem is to have part-time four-wheel drive systems. These are much less complex and considerably less expensive to install, meaning that the cost of the vehicle to the consumer will cost less as well.
The problem, of course, comes when trying to figure out which cars actually have four-wheel drive as compared to those that have all-wheel drive or those that are considered to be 4×4’s. Some manufactures use the terms interchangeably and it can be a hard subject to sort out since there is no legal requirement for using different terms in different situations. If you have any concerns, however, as to which the car you are considering uses, you may want to ask your dealer for clarification.
The choice of four wheel drive cars (non 4×4) can significantly reduce the cost of your new car purchase while still providing you with a measure of four-wheel drive protection, safety and dependability but without the dangers and concerns that you might have with a regular 4×4 cars.