Car Buying Tips

How to Tell If Your Car is AWD

By TheCarzingTeam November 19, 2021 | Car Buying Tips

Car Buying Tips

Every vehicle is equipped with a drivetrain, which is a system that sends power from the engine to the wheels. One type of draintrain system is known as all-wheel drive, or AWD.

An AWD system is capable of sending power to all four wheels of the vehicle. Most AWD systems are designed to primarily send engine power to either the front or rear wheels. However, if one set of wheels starts to lose traction, the system will automatically send power to the other set of wheels. No driver input is required to operate this system.

It’s important to know what type of drivetrain your vehicle has, especially if you are purchasing a new part for your car, going on a road trip, performing maintenance on your vehicle, planning on getting your car towed, or selling it to a private party.

There are a number of ways to identify the drivetrain system your vehicle is equipped with. Here’s how to tell if your car is AWD:

How to Tell If Your Car is AWD

Learn the Basics

There are several different types of drivetrain systems, including AWD, four-wheel drive (4WD), front-wheel drive (FWD), and rear-wheel drive (RWD). Knowing what type of drivetrain system is typically used on the type of vehicle you have may help you determine whether your vehicle has AWD.

For example, a 4WD drivetrain system is used to help vehicles safely travel over boulders, through deep water, and in other off-roading situations. For this reason, most vehicles that are designed for off-road use are built with 4WD drivetrains. If you own a Jeep that is primarily used for off-roading adventures, it’s very likely that the vehicle has 4WD rather than AWD.

On the other hand, if your car was made before 1990, chances are it has a RWD drivetrain. Prior to the 1990s, RWD was the most common type of drivetrain system in passenger vehicles.

This method won’t give you a definitive answer, but it will help you narrow down the possible drivetrain systems your vehicle may have.

Check the Owner’s Manual

The next method you can use to determine whether your car has AWD is checking the owner’s manual. The type of drivetrain system your vehicle has should be listed in the “Features” section of the owner’s manual. But if you can’t find it there, skim through the rest of the owner’s manual to look for other references of the drivetrain system.

A good place to start is the table of contents. Many owner’s manuals include sections that are dedicated solely to information on the vehicle’s drivetrain.

For example, the owner’s manual for the Ford Edge SUV has a section called “All-Wheel Drive.” This section includes a brief explanation on how AWD works, safety precautions, and the limitations of this type of drivetrain system.

If your owner’s manual includes a section on AWD, it’s likely that your car has this type of drivetrain system. But this is not always the case. For instance, the Ford Edge owner’s manual includes a note that not all Ford Edge vehicles are equipped with AWD. So, if you see this section in your owner’s manual, it could simply mean that your vehicle could come with AWD. But if you did not pay extra for this optional feature, your vehicle may not be equipped with it.

How to Tell If Your Car is AWD

Pull Up Information Using the VIN

Every vehicle has a unique vehicle identification number, or VIN. Think of the VIN as an automotive fingerprint–no two vehicles have the same one. The VIN is a string of 17 numbers and letters that can be found on the driver’s side of the windshield. If you can’t read the VIN on the dashboard, check your vehicle registration instead.

Because it is unique to every vehicle, the VIN can be used to pull up information about a specific car.

For example, if you are buying a used vehicle from a private party, you can use the VIN to pull up the vehicle history report, which will tell you more about the vehicle’s history of accidents, repairs, and previous owners. If you take your vehicle in for repairs, the auto shop will most likely use the VIN to access information about the vehicle’s transmission, engine, and repair history.

You can also perform a VIN search to learn about your vehicle’s features, including its drivetrain system. To obtain this information, you can either pay for a vehicle history report or conduct a free search using one of the many tools available online.

Simply enter your VIN into the search bar to get started. The tool will then generate information about your vehicle. There should be a section of the report titled “Vehicle Specifications.” In this section, look for the “drive type” or “drivetrain” header. If it says AWD, this means your vehicle has an AWD system.

Look Under Your Car

Besides performing a VIN search, looking under your car is the best way to determine if your vehicle has an AWD system.

To begin with, let’s use the process of elimination by checking if your vehicle uses RWD.

Start with the front wheels of your car. Find the wheel knuckle, which is located on the backside of each wheel. Then, look for a metal rod that attaches in the center of the wheel knuckle. There should be a cone-shaped piece of rubber where the metal rod meets the wheel.  If you see this shaft, this means your vehicle sends power to your front wheels, so you can eliminate the possibility that your vehicle is RWD.

Now that you know that RWD is off the table, you need to figure out if your vehicle is FWD, 4WD, or AWD.

To do this, head to the back of your vehicle. See if your vehicle has a rear differential, which is about the size of a pumpkin. The rear differential should be located right in the middle of the two rear wheels. There should also be one metal rod extending from each side of the rear differential. Each of these rods should connect the rear differential to one of the rear wheels. If you see this configuration, this means your vehicle sends power to your rear wheels.

Now, you know your vehicle sends power to both the front and rear wheels, so it is either AWD or 4WD. To figure out which one it is, pop the hood and locate the engine. If your engine is transversely mounted, which means it sits sideways under your hood, this means your vehicle is AWD, not 4WD.

How to Tell If Your Car is AWD

Look For Other Clues

Pulling up information using your VIN or looking under your vehicle are the best ways to determine if your car has AWD. However, there are other clues you can look for to confirm that your car has AWD.

The next time you start your car, pay close attention to the lights in your dashboard. All of the lights should turn on for a few seconds when you first start your vehicle. When these lights turn on, look for an AWD light. In some vehicles, the AWD light is simply an illuminated “AWD.” But in other cars, the icon features two car axles with the word “LOCK” underneath them. If you see this light turn on when you start your car, this means your vehicle has an AWD system.

You should also take a look around the interior of your vehicle, specifically the center console. Some AWD vehicles have AWD lock buttons that allow the driver to manually keep the AWD system on to maximize traction when climbing steep hills or driving on muddy or sandy roads.

The AWD lock button typically looks similar to the AWD light dashboard. That means it will either say “AWD” or feature two car axles with the word “LOCK” underneath it. If you spot an AWD button on your center console, this means your car has an AWD system.

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