What Does AWD Mean On A Car?

Have you wondered, “What does AWD mean on a car?” There seems to be more to a car than most car owners know. The various vehicles’ makes and models have different features that guarantee a satisfactory driving experience under specific conditions. One of those varying features is the AWD system.

At a time, only full-size SUVs and large trucks that were used for rugged off-road adventures and other work chores had AWD systems in them. But it seems to be a new dawn in the automotive industry as more vehicles are now carrying AWD in them.

More than 50% of new cars manufactured and sold in the United States are fitted with All-Wheel-Drive or Four-Wheel-Drive. There is a possibility that you drive an AWD car. Now, let’s see what the AWD system is in a vehicle when considering all-wheel drive Vs. 4-wheel drive.

awd meaning

What does AWD mean on a Car?

AWD – All Wheel Drive cars are vehicles that have a system that powers both the front and rear wheels simultaneously. The system ensures that it delivers equal torque to all four wheels of a car to increase traction when necessary.

The all-Wheel-Drive (AWD) system consists of two drivetrains, which are full-time AWD and part-time AWD. The full-time all-wheel drive works on all four wheels continuously, while the part-time all-wheel drive (sometimes referred to as Automatic AWD) mainly operates in two-wheel drive mode.

The AWD system operates without any input from the driver, as all the vehicle’s wheels receive torque via a series of differentials, multi-plate clutches, and/or viscous coupling, which are responsible for distributing power to each of the four wheels to enable the vehicle to optimize traction. 

However, some AWD system provides selectable modes to allow the driver a degree of control over the extent of power that goes into the various areas. All of these do not affect the smooth running of the vehicle under normal conditions as the case may be. Let’s see how the two drivetrains of the AWD system work.

Full-time AWD

Under the full-time AWD, the system drives the front and rear axles all the time. It helps the vehicle run better by ensuring that full power gets to the road when on dry pavement. It also provides torque for additional traction to enable confident and safe handling of the wheel in situations where the driver drives on a slippery surface such as ice or snow.

Part-time AWD

Meanwhile, in part-time AWD, the system provides torque to two driven wheels (either front or rear) depending on the vehicle’s make and model. Then, when a condition demands extra traction, the system releases the other two wheels to enhance traction.

Modern cars with part-time AWD are fitted with electronic sensors responsible for sending information to the computer system regarding the extent of power provided to each of the vehicle’s four wheels.

There are pros and cons to the All-Wheel-drive system that you must juxtapose to determine whether it suits what you need in a vehicle because AWD Vs FWD pros and cons differ. See them below.


  • The AWD system automatically engages without the driver’s decision about where power goes.
  • It sends torque to each of the four wheels to enable traction when necessary.


  • It isn’t considered a better choice by serious off-roaders
  • It reduces the fuel economy potency of the vehicle.
  • It increases a vehicle’s cost.

all wheel drive advantages and disadvantages


What is better, FWD or AWD?

Suppose you are contemplating between FWD Vs. AWD: Front-wheel-drive (FWD) cars are more efficient at climbing hills and driving on slippery roads. They are efficient in using space and pretty cheap to manufacture. At the same time, All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) cars are pretty similar to Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD) cars. 

AWD system powers each corner of the car by powering one set of axles (front or rear). Suppose there is traction loss in one axle; the system automatically compensates for the traction loss by sending more power to the other axle. 

However, manufacturers claim that Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD) cars are better than All-Wheel-Drive because of their ability to work efficiently in almost every condition, including hill climbing.

Is AWD good or bad?

It depends on what you want in a vehicle. The AWD system offers more confidence when driving on a slippery road by providing extra traction that shifts power to slipping wheels to run efficiently.

However, AWD cars are more expensive to maintain because of the several components involved in their functioning. If you own an AWD car, you now know why it costs more to maintain your vehicle than a 2WD car. Well, I think it’s worth it.

What is AWD good for?

All-wheel-drive (AWD) cars are good for the ability of the system to feed power to each of the four wheels of the vehicle and provide traction in a situation where one of the wheels slips while you are driving on a snowy road or any other slippery surface.

AWD is very helpful when driving on a sloppy road and over a moderate off-road area. It provides maximum forward traction when the vehicle is accelerating so that there is no slippage.

What are the disadvantages of AWD?

When considering 4WD Vs. AWD and all-wheel-drive vehicles seem to have some disadvantages, irrespective of their ability to send torque to the various wheels to provide traction. Some of the disadvantages are;

  • AWD adds more weight and reduces fuel efficiency.
  • It has limited off-road capabilities.
  • The system doesn’t get much life out of the vehicle’s tires because it powers all four wheels simultaneously.
  • Since AWD involves a more complex operation, it increases the vehicle’s cost.

Is AWD worth the money?

Yes, AWD cars are worth the money because they offer a better resale value than two-wheel-drive cars. Since AWD cars cost more in advance, it enhances the capability of the vehicle.

Whenever you choose to sell your AWD car, you will surely realize a reasonable amount from the sales. Unlike the two-wheel-drive counterparts that may not amount to much resale value if you have to sell them later after usage.

Does AWD use more gas?

Yes, AWD cars consume more gas than their 2WD counterparts. The complexity of the components involved in the AWD makes it heavier, and because of the weight, they do really have bad gas mileage compared to two-wheel-drive vehicles. That’s a setback when considering FWD Vs. AWD.

If you are looking for a vehicle type that offers fuel efficiency, then it’s certainly not one with AWD. Maybe you could consider a 2WD car for better fuel efficiency. However, it depends on what your priorities are for choosing a kind of vehicle, make, and model.

Final Words

If you were wondering, “What does AWD mean on a car?” All you need to know have been unveiled in this article. It is your choice to decide whether it is the kind of car that suits your needs. Since most recent vehicles are now equipped with AWD, there is a need for car owners to understand its dynamics to enable them to maximize their usage. 

All-wheel drive advantages and disadvantages have also been addressed in this article; hence, you may want to weigh the advantages against the disadvantages to know whether they are worth it for you. If you were asking, “What is the difference between AWD and 4WD, and 4×4?” this article must have clarified your contemplations.

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Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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