Car Buying Tips

What Does AWD Mean On A Car?

By TheCarzingTeam December 2, 2021 | Car Buying Tips

Car Buying Tips

If you’re shopping for a car, it’s important to compare your options before deciding which one to purchase. This means you must learn about each car’s features to see which one has the most value and is best for your lifestyle.

But it’s not always easy to learn about your options since automotive companies often use various acronyms when describing a vehicle’s features. If you aren’t familiar with these acronyms, it can be hard to make sense of what you are reading.

One of the most commonly used acronyms is AWD, which stands for all-wheel drive. AWD is a type of wheel drive system that describes how the vehicle drives. But what does AWD mean on a car? What other options are available? Here’s what you need to know:

What is AWD?

As its name suggests, AWD is a wheel drive system that sends power from the engine to all four wheels.

The purpose of every wheel drive system, including AWD, is to increase traction as the car accelerates. Because an AWD system sends power to all four wheels, the car is able to accelerate faster. All four wheels are working together to move the vehicle, which reduces the workload for each individual wheel.

What Does AWD Mean On A Car

How Does AWD Work?

Now that you know what AWD means, it’s important to understand how it works.

There are two main types of AWD systems on cars today. The first is referred to as either full-time or all-time AWD. A car with this type of system always sends power to all four wheels when in motion.

The second type is referred to as part-time or automatic AWD. Unlike all-time AWD, automatic AWD only sends power to all four wheels when it is absolutely necessary.

But how does a vehicle determine when AWD is necessary? Here’s how it works. For most of the time, the vehicle operates in two-wheel drive, which means it primarily sends power to either the front two or back two wheels. Operating in two-wheel drive, regardless of whether the power is sent to the front or back wheels, saves fuel.

If the vehicle determines that one axle is losing traction, it will automatically switch to AWD and send more power to the other axle.

For example, a vehicle’s automatic AWD system may be designed to only send power to the front wheels unless AWD is necessary. With this type of system, the vehicle will only send power to the front wheels unless it determines that the front wheels are losing traction. If this happens, the vehicle will automatically switch to AWD and send power to the rear wheels to increase traction. This makes AWD ideal for driving over slippery roads covered in ice or snow.

The system is automatic, so you won’t need to manually switch back and forth between AWD and two-wheel drive. Every automatic AWD system is designed with countless sensors that help your vehicle determine when more traction is needed so it knows to switch to AWD without your input.

AWD vs. 4WD vs. FWD vs. RWD

AWD is not the only wheel drive system available. There are three other options: four-wheel drive (4WD), front-wheel drive (FWD), and rear-wheel drive (RWD). Before buying a car, you need to know the differences between these systems so you can determine which one is right for you.


AWD and 4WD may sound like the same thing. After all, both of their names suggest that power is sent to all four wheels of a vehicle. But AWD and 4WD refer to two completely different wheel drive systems.

Like AWD, 4WD is a wheel drive system that sends power to all four wheels of the vehicle. But unlike AWD, 4WD requires driver input. In other words, the driver must manually switch in and out of 4WD. The vehicle will not automatically turn this system on and off.

You can typically activate 4WD by turning a knob or pushing a button inside your car. Doing this will lock the driveshafts and ensure the front and rear axles are spinning at the same speed. This gives your vehicle more traction to safely drive over rough terrain or slippery surfaces such as ice or snow. This is why 4WD is typically found on vehicles that are designed for off-roading or rugged adventures, including some pick-up trucks and Jeeps.

You should not operate a vehicle in 4WD when driving on normal paved roads. In fact, operating your vehicle in 4WD on a paved road can seriously damage your drivetrain.

What Does AWD Mean On A Car


FWD is a wheel drive system that only sends power from the engine to the two front wheels. Power cannot be sent to the two rear wheels even if one of the front wheels begins to lose traction. Because of this, FWD is not ideal for people who frequently drive over slippery roads covered in ice or snow. However, FWD does improve your vehicle’s ability to climb steep hills since all of the power is sent to the front wheels as the car accelerates.

FWD systems are becoming increasingly common because they are less complex, cheaper to produce, and more fuel efficient than other wheel drive systems.


The final wheel drive system is RWD, which only sends power from the engine to the two rear wheels. Weight is distributed more evenly across a vehicle with a RWD system. Because of this, vehicles with RWD often have better handling.

Most vehicles in the 19th century were designed with RWD systems. But now, these systems are typically only found in sports cars, select pick-up trucks, and certain high-end luxury sedans.

What Does AWD Mean On A Car

Do You Need A Vehicle With AWD?

It’s important to choose a vehicle with the right wheel drive system for your lifestyle. So how can you determine if you should get a vehicle with AWD? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you drive over slippery road conditions? If so, you should consider a vehicle with an AWD system. AWD can provide more traction when you are driving over snowy, icy, or rainy roads. 
  • Do you plan on going off-roading? If you typically go on off-roading adventures that require driving over rugged terrain, you may want a vehicle with 4WD rather than AWD. An AWD system can handle slightly rough conditions, but a 4WD system is better equipped to handle rugged off-road terrain. 
  • What type of vehicle do you want? AWD is an option on most cars and crossover SUVs, but it may not be an option on off-road SUVs or certain pick-up trucks. These vehicles are typically designed with 4WD systems instead. 
  • Do you want an automatic system? AWD systems are automatic, so the vehicle will shift into AWD whenever it is necessary. However, 4WD systems are usually not automatic, so you will need to know when to make the switch.
  • Are you concerned about fuel efficiency? Two-wheel drive systems are more fuel efficient than four-wheel drive systems. If you are concerned about fuel efficiency, look for a vehicle with an automatic AWD system. Remember, these vehicles only switch to AWD when it is absolutely necessary. When it’s not necessary, the vehicle remains in two-wheel drive. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of AWD and the fuel efficiency of two-wheel drive.
  • Are you willing to pay? Many vehicles come with AWD as an option, which means you will need to pay more to get a car with this system.

Now you should have the information you need to understand the different types of wheel drive systems and determine which one is right for you.

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