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What Is the Difference Between Powertrain and Drivetrain?

Powertrain and drivetrain are some pretty common terms that get tossed around in auto industry jargon. But what do each of these words actually mean? Are they the same or different?

Ford GT with it's innovative lightweight drivetrain on the track
New 2019 Ford GT Carbon Series is the lightest car in the company’s GT lineup, saving nearly 40 pounds with lightweight innovations such as carbon fiber wheels and a polycarbonate engine cover | Ford Motor Company

It can help to know various terms that are common in the industry. Whether you are reading up on a certain vehicle as a potential buyer or planning to take your current vehicle into the shop for maintenance. Knowing and comprehending some of the basic lingo is very beneficial in either situation.

The words drivetrain and powertrain are so widely used it’s important to understand what they mean––including how different or similar those meanings are. But understanding these terms can also help you with your next visit to the mechanic. Additionally, the more you understand about the way in which an automobile is powered, the better you appreciate the actual wonder that it is.

Blue 2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo driving down the road
2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo | Porsche

Powertrain: explained

One of the easiest ways to explain the powertrain is to parallel it with the human body. Samantha Stevens with Which Car also used this correlation to explain powertrain. Basically, if the bones of a car are its chassis, then the muscles, ligaments, and other components of mobility within the body are the powertrain.

The powertrain includes all the pieces and parts which convert combustion from the engine into actual motion to propel the vehicle. The powertrain works with the power from the engine to put power to the wheels. According to Gene Messer Volkswagen, “its sole objective is transforming kinetic energy into propulsion motion.”

Ford Ranger Off-Roading in the desert shows one benefit of an all-wheel-drive powertrain
Ford Ranger | Ford

Drivetrain definition

The drivetrain isn’t a singular part of your vehicle, meaning it isn’t a stand-alone part. It’s several parts that all work together and move your car’s wheels. drivetrain parts literally drive a car into motion.

Toyota Previa drivetrain
Toyota Previa drivetrain | Bring a Trailer

There are quite a few parts that you have also probably heard many times before. In fact, there are many common car parts that are included in the drivetrain. Drivetrain parts include familiar components such as the transmission, the differential, axles, wheels, CV joints, and driveshaft.

1. The engine will create power to power a flywheel

2. That flywheel works with the transmission to manage the amount of power distributed to various other parts of the drivetrain

3. The driveshaft rotates to produce power to a differential

4. After that the differential delivers power from all those driveshaft parts and boom … your wheels are in motion

BMW of El Paso
the AWDe is a great example of why knowing what drivetrain and powertrain mean is important
AWDe Toyota Prius | Toyota

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Wait, so what’s the difference?

Although we often see the terms used interchangeably, powertrain and drivetrain are in fact two different terms. The powertrain includes the engine. If the term powertrain is used, it should refer to the power going to the wheels.

The drivetrain includes the kinetic parts, but not the engine. The drivetrain is the term for all of the parts your vehicle’s mechanics employ in order to move. But it doesn’t mean the actual power that is generated.

The mechanics of both the drivetrain and powertrain vary greatly. This will depend, of course, upon how your vehicle is configured. The powertrain and drivetrain for a rear-wheel-drive vehicle are different than a front-wheel-drive car. Additionally, they are different between two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. It’s also important to remember that––as far as the warranty is concerned––the powertrain and drivetrain are whatever they are defined as in the text of a warranty.