A four wheel drive vehicle can be switch between a 4wd and a 2wd, an all wheel drive vehicle can not be switched from 4 to 2 wd it will stay in 4wd. The tern all wheel drive may also be used for certain vehicles with more than four wheels as well.
Colleen McGee, Driving Instructor at Americas Driving School answered on Jan 18th, 2012
I have been told that the main difference between all-wheel-drive vehicles and four-wheel-drive vehicles is the determination of when all wheels are engaged. An all-wheel-drive vehicle has electronic sensors that automatically determine if all 4 wheels should be engaged based on the road condistion, but with a four-wheel drive vehicle, the driver decides to engage the four-wheel-drive option by swithching on that option to give power to all four wheels.
Georgia Brown, Director of Education at National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIADA) answered on Jan 18th, 2012
There really is not much of a difference between the two designations. As of the past 10 years or so we have heard more and more manufacturers say, “all wheel drive,” when in the past we used to always hear “4 wheel drive”.
The term 4 wheel drive used to be only associated with pick up trucks then later large SUVs. When you say “4 wheel drive,” most people think of trucks or large vehicles. Once the smaller SUVs and crossovers started becoming popular along (with better 4 wheel drive technology) they started labeling it “all wheel drive” which doesn’t sound so “trucky”. The fact is many all wheel drive vehicles today have sophisticated traction systems that allow them to switch between 2 wheel drive and all wheel drive automatically and the driver can’t even tell it is happening.
To summarize, these 2 terms really say the same thing; the need for two different ways to say it, I believe, is based mainly on marketing and perception.
I hope that helps!
Stephanie Gutierrez, Marketing Communications Coordinator at Victory Auto Service & Glass answered on Jul 9th, 2012
Thank You for writing into AskPatty!
To address your question; yes there is a difference between 4-wheel and All-wheel drive.
4-wheel drive systems are typically more heavy-duty than conventional all-wheel drive systems, and are more geared for off-road driving situations where terrain environments calls for the complete engineering of four-wheel drive.
Most 4-wheel drive systems permit shifting from 2 to 4-wheel drive ), all-wheel drive is second generation of a 4-wheel drive, requiring the driver to do just that "drive". An all-wheel drive system houses engineering directing power to the wheel, or wheels, that have the most traction so that you get optimum road grip at all times.
The nature of the all-wheel drive system is really "best-wheel drive," since it's more of an electronic intelligent drive system. Instead of delivering power simultaneously to both the front and rear axles, if only the front wheels have traction, then the all-wheel drive design transfers the predominant power where it is required the most.
The important thing to note about all-wheel drive is that it does not necessarily mean four-wheel drive, as it can engage either front wheels or rear wheels.
Hope this helps!!
A. J. Valle
Amanda J Valle, Dealer, Certified Mechanic at AMSOIL answered on Jan 18th, 2012
This is a pretty good article and should answer your questions.
Lori Johnson, Owner and Instructor at Ladies Start Your Engines answered on Jan 18th, 2012
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