FWD, RWD, AWD, 4WD: Making Sense of the Four Types of Drive Systems


When searching for a new vehicle, you may have the option to choose between FWD, RWD, AWD or 4WD. Don’t let the acronyms stress you out. Check out our Brown Motors handy dandy guide on deciphering what all of these different drive systems are and discover which one is right for you.

FWD: Front-wheel drive, as the name implies, is the system in which the front wheels are supplied with the power. The engine and drive axles and transmission (transaxle) are located in the front of the vehicle, meaning most of the weight is up front. The front wheels are simultaneously responsible for steering. This popular system provides for maximized use of space within the vehicle’s cabin as well as improved fuel efficiency and increased traction on slippery roads.

RWD: Rear-wheel drive is often the car of choice for driving enthusiasts. A more complex system sends power from the vehicle’s engine to the rear wheels, dividing it between the transmission, driveshaft and rear axle with most of the vehicle’s weight toward the rear. The division of power between these parts allows for greater horsepower. Because the wheels are no longer responsible for propelling the vehicle as well as steering, handling generally seems more responsive.

AWD: All-wheel drive systems send power to all four wheels every time the brakes are released and the vehicle accelerates. This is to prevent the wheels from slipping. If they don’t slip, then the system automatically transfers to FWD or RWD, depending on where the engine is mounted. The increased traction makes AWD a good option for those who plan to drive on moderate off-road terrains such as grass, mud, gravel, sand, etc.

4WD: No, four-wheel drive is not the same as AWD, offering high and low ranges to supply maximum traction. Often, 4WD systems act as RWD vehicles until added traction is needed at which point the driver activates the system’s high or low range. In some cases, the high range is automatically engaged when slippery roads are detected, but the driver still selects the low range. This drive system is typically found in larger SUVs and trucks and is a great option for off-road enthusiasts.

Hopefully, this will make the four types of drive systems sound a little less like a foreign language and prove helpful as you search for the best vehicle for your needs. Happy shopping!

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