Is All-Wheel-Drive Safer Than 4WD or 2WD?

When you’re shopping for a new SUV or truck, there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind. While some of them may be overwhelming, they may also be essential. One of these is whether to buy an SUV or pickup truck with all-wheel-drive (AWD), four-wheel-drive (4WD), or two-wheel-drive (2WD). In the battle of AWD vs 4WD vs FWD, is one safer than another? Let’s take a look.

A dark colored Chevy Suburban outside of a house.
2023 Chevy Suburban | GM

How does AWD work?

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All-wheel-drive also sends force to both the front and rear axles. Unlike 4WD, where this torque is applied evenly, AWD “allows for a variation in the power that’s sent to each axle which allows the wheels to rotate at different speeds, providing better handling on dry pavement, too.” When thinking about AWD vs. 4WD vs. 2WD, remember that AWD is always on.

How does 4WD work?

Four-wheel-drive, or 4WD, is generally found in pickup trucks and serious SUVs like the Ford Expedition or Chevy Suburban. According to Driveway, “4WD sends power to both front and rear axles, but 4WD locks the front and rear driveshafts together.” That means that the front and rear axles are both receiving the same amount of power, and the SUV or truck can handle tough terrain.

4WD is typically turned on by a button. This is different from AWD, which is always on. Because 4WD is so good on off-road conditions, it’s generally too much for regular driving, and you won’t want to have it on when you’re taking your kids to school or commuting to work. Driveway points out that some SUVs and trucks have a high or low setting and the “high setting may help with slippery on-road conditions while the low setting gives max traction when off-roading.”

How does 2WD work?

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2WD encompasses both front-wheel-drive (FWD) as well as rear-wheel-drive (RWD). FWD is popular among passenger cars because the power from the vehicle’s engine goes to the front wheels. They are inexpensive, save space, and allows for decent traction. Sometimes AWD can be used in conjunction with FWD.

RWD is generally used in full-size pickup trucks and truck-based SUVs. It also can be found in sports cars and luxury cars. While it isn’t great for slippery roads, RWD can be good for vehicles that need to handle a large load, according to Consumer Reports. It also can help sports cars because it balances the front and back weight of the car.

AWD vs 4WD vs 2WD: is one safer than another?

Consumer Reports says that while many people believe that AWD or 4WD are safer than another, that isn’t necessarily the case. “Though having power delivered to all four wheels increases straight-line traction, it does nothing to improve braking, and most systems have little to no effect on cornering.”

In addition, people with AWD or 4WD may believe that their vehicle is safer than it really is in tough conditions. This may lead to overconfidence among drivers, which can lead to dangerous consequences. In addition, it is possible to end up in a worse situation while going too fast because of the traction that 4WD and AWD offers. In fact, what Consumer Reports says is more important than what kind of drive your vehicle has is what tires it has. Invest in good tires and keep up on their maintenance to put yourself in the best position for safety.

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