How Does All-Wheel Drive Work?

By | January 12, 2023

We have seen, heard or even driven AWD cars. But how does all-wheel drive work? Have you ever thought about the technology behind it?

If you know a bit about cars, then you definitely know that we have different types of cars for different terrains.

When it comes to torque in cars, there are different ways cars are made to improve torque. There is the front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. All these are to aid boost the movement of the vehicle.

Front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive mean exactly what their name is. You can’t quite say the same for four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) without explanation.

Four Wheel Drive (4WD)

Four Wheel Drive means the vehicle is able to drive on all four wheels. Yeah!, all cars drive on four wheels but what I actually mean is that it helps engage all wheels to the torque. It is the same with All Wheels drive but there is a slight difference.

In 4WD cars, a mechanism is built inside the car which allows the driver to only initiate all four wheels when needed. The systems in 4WD are part-time and don’t stay always on. It means most of these 4WD cars are only front-wheel drives until the driver hits that button.

The reason why 4WD cars drive only front is mostly that the car can not move faster on all four wheels. In most of them, the four wheels are only engaged when tackling rough terrains with a specific speed limit. As soon as the speed increases, the rear wheels will disengage from the torque.

How does all-wheel drive work?

All-Wheel Drive (AWD) might sound almost the same as the 4WD but there is a vast difference between them. In AWD cars, there are complex structures everywhere including the inside of the differentials to help all wheels drive.

The system works in a way that it distributes the force from the engine to all four wheels and balances the force to aid turns and traction.

In all wheels drive, the system is always online and distributes the force as programmed. Some can distribute 50/50 meaning all four wheels will turn at the same speed. Others distribute 60/40 meaning the front wheels will get faster turns than the rear wheels. Some of these systems can even distribute more force to a single wheel if that is the wheel that needs to turn faster to move the vehicle.

This is how all wheel-drive work.


I will try my best to answer a few questions you might have about the 4WD and the AWD. If you have a question that has not been answered, kindly leave it in the comment box and I will answer it as early as possible.

Is there a downside to all-wheel drive?

Yes! There is nothing that is perfect. One of the major issues with AWD is its fuel economy. It might not but much but it is definitely not impressive. The systems that make torque engagement possible are very expensive so AWD cars become expensive on sale. They also get really expensive to fix. There are many other downsides to AWD vehicles.

Is AWD always on?

Yes! AWD is always on when the engine starts. Unlike 4WD which are part-time system, the AWD is a full-time system that doesn’t stop.

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