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To 4WD Or Not To 4WD?



To 4WD or Not to 4WD? That is the question.

With so many four-wheel drive options and so many vehicle options, the question of whether or not to purchase a 4WD vehicle and what type to purchase gets tricky. 4WD is available on tractors, trucks, SUVs, and many cars. Depending on what you’re using the vehicle for, here are a few things that may help you decide whether you want to go the 4WD route, and what type of vehicle to choose if you do.

Lets face it – The percentage of people who use 4WD is but a small fraction of the people who buy a vehicle with 4WD. In general, most of us just don’t find ourselves in a position to need 4WD. However, if you spend your weekends racing up the side of dirt hills or you commute to work on top of two months’ accumulation of snow and ice, the question may be moot. Buy it if you can afford it. For the rest of us, the question remains..

Common Options:
For most consumers, the basic options will be Full Time 4WD, Part Time 4WD, or All Wheel Drive (AWD). Each system has its own uses, and each provides certain benefits, but all of them will have certain downsides as well. Any 4WD system will increase the weight of the vehicle it’s in, and this will decrease fuel efficiency. It will also usually make the vehicle more complicated to repair and more expensive to maintain. However, these may be worthwhile sacrifices depending on how you intend to use the vehicle.

In 2WD vehicles such as pickup trucks (unless they are front wheel drive) there is more weight over the front two wheels (because of the cab) than in the rear (where you have just the bed) where the drive wheels are. This can cause decreased traction. A common and less expensive solution is to throw bags of sand in the bed of the truck to balance out the weight.

Some consumers purchase 4WD vehicles for the added safety features, especially in snow and ice. The problem is that a car that is better equipped at handling snow and ice means there are more drivers willing to venture out into horrible and dangerous weather. While 4WD helps, it doesn’t eliminate all of the risks of driving in horrible weather (including other drivers!). While there’s no way to measure it, it’s fair to say that overconfidence causes a significant number of accidents every year, especially with drivers who haven’t learned to drive in poor weather conditions and who think 4WD is all they need.

If you do think that you want a 4WD vehicle, here’s what you need to know about the options:

4WD Part Time:
Part time 4WD provides a versatile set of options, allowing you to switch from 2WD, to 4WD high, and 4WD low. Normally in 4WD part time, each wheel will get 25% of the torque, causing less wheelspin and keeping the vehicle handling smoothly in rough conditions. However, you can’t leave the vehicle engaged in Part Time while on dry pavement, as it has a tendency to wear out the components. You would have to continually engage and disengage it based on varying weather conditions. However, this is the best type of vehicle for people who want the added safety, or don’t do much off-roading.

4WD Full Time:
Unlike its part-time counterpart, this system can remain engaged constantly. You can still choose from the same settings as in 4WD Part Time, but you can run on dry pavement without damage to the vehicle. This type of system is better for people who constantly drive in slippery conditions and don’t want the hassle of switching back and forth.

All-Wheel Drive:
Similar to 4WD in distributing power to all four wheels, this system has no 2WD function. AWD systems don’t add as much weight as 4WD systems do and are better for crossovers. They aren’t as handy for off-roading, unless they have a low 4WD option, but are great for slick conditions on smaller vehicles. Often there is no on/off switch on these types of systems.

Consider your choices wisely. If the decrease in fuel efficiency and higher purchase cost is worth the better handling and off-roading features, then a 4WD may be the way to go for you.

Written by Phillip Reeves for the law firm of Price Benowitz, LLP where a dedicated Maryland auto accident lawyer is available for a free consultation.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Francesco

    April 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Nice write-up. Most people don’t understand the differences between these options.

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