Although trucks and SUVs are popular, they aren’t always purchased because they’re available with four- or all-wheel drive (indeed, some folks purchase the two-wheel-drive versions, where available). Many are purchased because the driver likes the additional cargo and passenger space, or the rugged looks, or the image projected by SUV ownership. Others even mock truck and SUV buyers for buying four-wheel-drive vehicles they don’t “need.” But there are some very good reasons why you might need a 4×4 or AWD vehicle.
When purchasing a new car, it’s tempting to sign up for as many extras as possible. If you’re like most people, you’re expecting this new car to last the next 11 years or so. Why get stuck with a car with basic functionality?
That’s a logical approach in most cases, but with four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), paying extra may not be worthwhile.
It’s a conundrum many potential buyers of leisure vehicles face: do I really need a 4×4 or will a 4×2 suffice? The truth is there is no simple answer; it all depends on what your individual needs are and what you intend using your new set of wheels for.
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First Things First
Before you can make an informed decision on which of the two will suit you best, there are a few things to consider. For starters, 4x4s are generally more expensive than their 4×2 counterparts. They are also heavier, tend to consume more fuel and could cost more to maintain by manufacturer specifications. Generally speaking, 4×2 vehicles are lighter, nippier and more comfortable to live with as everyday modes of transport BUT they limit you in terms of where you can go.
What’s The Difference?
So what are the main differences between a 4×4 and a 4×2?
Simply put, a 4×2 transmission means that of the four wheels on the ground, two are driven. In the case of a 4×4, all four wheels are driven. So, in theory, a 4×4 has twice the traction ability of a 4×2 when driving on an even surface.
When venturing off-road, it’s when this extra traction allows the 4×4 to grip the road surface better and continue pulling the car forward.
Horses For Courses
In short, if your idea of driving off the beaten track is parking on the pavement and you spend most of your time behind the wheel in the urban jungle, a 4×2 is probably your best option. If, however, you spend a significant amount of your free time exploring the great unknown and bundu bashing to the most secluded corners of our beautiful country and continent, you should probably go for a 4×4. Although a 4×2 (with a little more ground clearance) can handle dirt roads quite well, the 4×4 with its added traction makes for better road holding on twisty or corrugated gravel.
Many argue that a 4×2 with diff-lock – this ‘locks’ two wheels on the same axle together, so they’re forced to turn in unison – will get you most places a 4×4 can go. While this is true in some instances, there will be times when only a true 4×4 will do. It all comes down to traction, and four is better than two.
Since a 4×2 does not have a low-range gearbox (a reduction gear), it doesn’t offer the same amount of engine braking as a 4×4 with low range has, so you probably shouldn’t take it down steep inclines. This is because the front wheels could lock if you brake and the vehicle could skid. The slow speed that a low range gearbox adds allows the driver to maintain better control when tackling obstacles. Besides, two-wheel drive vehicles don’t perform as well as 4×4’s do on very loose surfaces like sand or mud. Of course, more speed could work here, but more speed means less control and most probably an expensive repair bill.
These days many off-road trail operators don’t even allow 4×2 vehicles on their routes as the rear wheels tend to dig holes and damage the tracks. The lack of low range also means that some obstacles have to be tackled at speed to get through them, and this could seriously damage the vehicle. Sure, you can do some Overlanding with a 4×2, and you’ll probably get through some obstacles along the way, but you won’t have the advantage of the added traction of a 4×4 to get you out of tight spots.
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Don’t Be A 10 Percenter
If you’re considering buying a 4×4 for the occasional off-road outing or because you dream of one day taking your family on a cross-country adventure, don’t. Your 4×4 is going to spend 90 per cent of its lifespan in traffic and on tarred roads, and that’s just wasting money. You’ll look cool driving it, but you’ll be paying for off-road capabilities that will hardly – if ever – be used, and you’ll be hurting your wallet at the fuel pump too.
If, however, you spend most weekends conquering some off-road trail and once a year you hitch the off-road trailer and head off into the untamed wilderness, go for it.
The key is to do your homework, think logically about your wants versus your needs and make an informed choice.
The pros of 4WD and AWD
Most cars have traditionally been two-wheel drive, meaning the engine propels two of the wheels and the other two are along for the ride. Usually, the rear wheels receive engine power. Though automakers experimented with front-wheel drive in the 1930s, the concept wasn’t widely available until the 1960s.
Historically, 4WD was mainly used for military vehicles. After World War II, Dodge began offering 4WD as a feature on trucks. GM and Ford outsourced 4WD to the aftermarket.
Subaru, meanwhile, pioneered AWD starting in the 1970s. The main difference between the two technologies is simple — AWD is automatically turned on, whereas the driver must initiate 4WD. The Audi Quattro also introduced AWD to many U.S. consumers in the 1980s.
The appeal of both systems is the grip. Although 4WD and AWD don’t offer protection against slipping on black ice or hydroplaning, they do offer excellent traction. That means if you’re stuck, you have a better chance of getting out with 4WD or AWD.
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The cons of 4WD and AWD
4WD and AWD are often extras and generally require several thousands of dollars more for the feature. In addition, AWD and 4WD cars and trucks have more complex drivetrains and are heavier than 2WD vehicles, so their gas mileage is worse. A 4WD or AWD system is also another component that can break down over time, adding to your repair bills.
These reasons may be why 4WD and AWD account for a minority of car sales — around 17.5%.
When purchasing a truck or SUV, many go through the internal debate of whether to buy a vehicle with a 4×4 or 4×2 drivetrain. As there is with anything, there are pros and cons to both options. Hopefully, after reading the information below, making a decision on the Drivetrain you want to or need will be much easier.
A 4×2 drivetrain (4×2) delivers drive or torque to the vehicle’s front or rear-wheel axle, so only two of the four wheels. This 4×2 drivetrain is more common than a 4×4 on almost all cars, trucks and SUVs.
Pros of 4×2 Drivetrain
In comparison to 4×4 vehicles, many of the benefits of a 4×2 vehicle are related to weight. A vehicle with a four-wheel drivetrain has extra components to deliver torque to all four wheels, and those components make a vehicle heavier, which means a 4×4 vehicle’s fuel economy and payload and towing capacities are all lower than those of a 4×2 vehicle.
Also, 4×2 vehicles have a lower starting price. The price difference between a 4×2 or 4×4 vehicle typically ranges between $1,000 to $3,000. Finally, two-wheel drive vehicles have improved handling, and they are easier to drive due to the weight balance of the vehicle.
Cons of 4×2 Drivetrain
The negatives of a 4×2 vehicle are less important for people that live in warm and flat climates, like Florida, Arizona or Texas, where there is no snow or ice. However, people that like to go off-roading or that live in mountainous, snowy or icy areas might find that a 4×2 vehicle doesn’t meet their needs.
A four-wheel drivetrain (4×4) delivers drive or torque to the vehicle’s four wheels. Most SUVs and trucks are available with a 4×4 drivetrain and some vehicles, like the Ram Power Wagon and Jeep Wrangler, come standard with a 4×4 drivetrain. You can view Driver’s Auto Mart’s selection of 4×4 vehicles here. We have quite a few options, including Ford, Ram and Chevy trucks as well as SUVs.
Pros of 4×4 Drivetrain
In terms of off-road capabilities and challenging terrains, 4×4 vehicles are much better than 4×2 vehicles, especially when it comes to mud, water crossing, or steep inclines. While a 4×4 vehicle might have a lower payload or towing capacity than a 4×2 vehicle, 4×4 vehicles offer improved towing capabilities when on slippery inclines, like a boat ramp or slick incline.
Cons of 4×4 Drivetrain
4×4 vehicles have a higher starting price, and they are slightly less fuel-efficient than 4×2 vehicles, so they are a little more expensive to own. The extra drivetrain components make 4×4 vehicles a little more expensive to maintain and harder to drive.
We hope this helped! If you are interested in a truck or SUV, we have plenty in both 4×4 and 4×2. Check our Driver’s Auto Mart inventory here, and find the perfect vehicle for you.
How to make the call
To determine if AWD or 4WD is worth the expense, ask yourself whether you’re likely to be in situations where your car gets stuck. If you frequently travel on dirt roads or live in a part of the country where it often snows, then the feature makes sense. But remember, 4WD and AWD don’t hedge against slippery conditions. Having power on all four wheels does not help with cornering or braking, for instance.
If you never travel on dirt roads and live somewhere like Los Angeles where it rarely snows, then 4WD or AWD is likely a needless expense. In that case, you might consider springing for safety features like backup cameras and tire-pressure monitoring systems instead. But if you don’t mind spending the money for these features, the 4WD Ford Explorer or the AWD Subaru Forester might help you out of a jam someday.
Here are the reasons why you really don’t need a four-wheel-drive car
Four-wheel-drive cars enable their drivers to gain traction in conditions that would otherwise leave them floundering. So, while farmers, builders, and rural dwellers might well need the security and reassurance that all-wheel-drive gives, most of us don’t.
The extra complexity of driving all four wheels often means that they are less pleasant to drive than their two-wheel-drive siblings – and they are always more costly to buy and run. Always.
I love the way a four-wheel-drive car looks, especially the elevated ride height. I like being able to slide onto the driver’s seat rather than down into it. I also like the commanding driving position that it gives, enabling me to see past traffic-jammed cars and over the top of hedgerows.
However, now that most Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers come with a two-wheel-drive option that retains the raised suspension you can enjoy all the benefits with none of the drawbacks.
The number one reason that most owners give for buying a 4×4 is to keep them mobile during the harsh winter months, imagining that all-wheel-drive will pull them through the worst that Mother Nature can throw at them.
So it’s a shame that a lot of four-wheel-drive vehicles aren’t terribly good on the snow and ice on their standard tyres; most ‘normal’ cars will keep going on winter tyres long after a four-wheel-drive on normal tyres has slipped into a ditch.
Muddy car parks and fields
I can hear you saying that winter tyres are all very well for snow, but what about muddy fields and car parks? Surely you need four-wheel-drive to cope with them?
Nope, not a bit of it. A lot of manufacturers now offer Grip Control, or something similar. This works by using the car’s anti-lock braking system to gently brake the wheel that is spinning, helping the other gain traction.
It might sound a bit Heath Robinson, but I’ve tested it on a few models, and it works well. Of course, if you’re towing a heavy horsebox out of the swamp, then you’ll need a 4×4, but for the rest of us, something with a system like this will probably be enough.
But you don’t need to buy a new car to improve its off-road ability because you can fit a set of all-terrain tyres for your car, which will make a huge difference. I’ve just bought a set of Avon Ranger ATT tyres (with my own money, I hasten to add…) and have been impressed with the extra grip they give on muddy surfaces, albeit at the expense of some extra road noise on the tarmac.
Living in the countryside
A lot of people default to a 4×4 when they move from the city to the countryside, imaging that without it they are doomed to being housebound at the first whiff of inclement weather.
Despite living in predominately rural areas for most of my adult life, four-wheel-drive has only saved me from mild inconvenience on half-a-dozen occasions – and most of those trips could have been achieved in a two-wheel-drive car with some decent winter tyres.
Reasons You Need a 4×4
Going Off-Road – For Fun
Ok, yeah, most of us never need to go off-road to get from point A to point B. Most of us live our lives in urban or suburban areas and never need to leave the pavement, save for maybe the occasional traverse across a gravel driveway or grassy area – and even then, there’s no need for 4WD. But even if you live in a densely packed city, there are likely some sort of off-road trails that are open to the public (and to 4X4 owners) within an hour’s drive or so of town, and playing in the woods or mountains can be a nice way to get away from the grind of the city and reconnect with nature.
Access to Winter Sports
If you live and/or vacation in a place where it snows in the winter, you might need a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle to get to your vacation home or ski lodge of choice. Sure, this only applies to a certain segment of the population, but for those of you who love to ski/snowboard/sip on drinks in a ski lodge, you might not be able to do so without an off-road capable vehicle. Heck, you might not even be able to get to the towns near the ski slopes in the winter, especially in more mountainous areas of the country.
So You Don’t Get Stuck
It’s not just about winter sports or cool ski towns located in the mountains. Even in the spring, summer, and fall, in almost all parts of the country, you may need four-wheel drive or AWD to avoid getting stuck when going hunting, hiking, camping, canoeing, or engaging in any other outdoor activity that takes you way off the beaten path. Even a dirt road that could normally be traversed with two-wheel drive can become a problem if a sudden rainstorm turns it to mud. This goes even for low-key activities – sometimes concerts are held at arenas with outdoor parking areas that are all grass, and an unexpected rainstorm can cause lots of problems for vehicles lacking 4WD or AWD.
We touched on it in the intro, but one reason to buy a 4X4 is space for passengers and cargo. Sure, there are crossovers out there with 2WD that offer plenty of space, and even a few wagons out there, but the extra space of these vehicles often goes hand in hand with 4WD or AWD – there are even some crossovers, trucks, and SUVs that are only available with all-wheel or four-wheel drive.
This is similar to the previous item – you can, of course, find vehicles on the market that are capable of towing that don’t have four-wheel drive. Again, though, the four-wheel and all-wheel drive usually do go hand in hand with vehicles that can tow – especially for those who plan on towing heavy loads and doing so often. If you frequently tow, be it a boat, horse trailer, race car, or something else, there’s a good chance you’ll need to pick a truck or SUV that offers four-wheel drive.
Generally, 4WD and AWD are necessary if you live in a climate where it snows and rains a lot. If you drive on dirt roads that are frequently muddy, then either can be a blessing. But if you drive mostly on the highway and live in a temperate.