Why do people call certain cars “4 wheel drives” when most cars have 4 wheels?


Is there a difference between normal cars and “4 wheel drives”?

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It refers to which wheels are getting the power from the engine to actually move the car.

It’s complicated and there is no single best answer, but most modern cars are *front wheel* drive meaning only the front two wheels are connected to the engine. An extreme but obvious problem would be what if the car is going off-road and the front wheels are lifted from the ground, it loses all ability to drive. Less extreme examples might be issues like ice or water on the road.

So many cars use either “all wheel” or “4 wheel” drive, both of which mean all 4 wheels are connected to the engine, but are just variations on the specific mechanical design.

The point being cars are very complicated machines and there is rarely a single “this is the absolute best way of doing something”, there are tons of ways each with benefits and liabilities and needs.

Most cars are front-wheel drive (“FWD”). The engine is connected to the front wheels, and the rear wheels just spin freely like the wheels on a matchbox car.

There are also rear-wheel drive cars (“RWD”). Similar but opposite – the engine powers the rear wheels, and the front wheels are free-spinning.

Then thee are 4-wheel drive (“4WD” or “4×4”) and all-wheel drive (“AWD”) cars.

4-wheel drive means that all 4 wheels are connected to the engine and they’re connected in such a way that they’re force to spin around the same speed. This is really good for harsh off-road conditions, but takes a lot of wear-and-tear when you drive long distances because wheels should naturally be spinning slightly different speeds when you go around corners etc.

All-wheel drive is like 4-wheel drive but there’s some mechanical and electrical tech that lets the wheels spin at different speeds while still giving as much traction as possible. All-wheel drive is takes most of the advantage of 4-wheel drive and makes it suitable for everyday driving.

Because in 4 wheel drive, all 4 wheels actually ‘drive’ aka ‘push’ the car. Most cars are front wheel drive or rear wheel drive, where only the front 2 or rear 2 wheels ‘drive’ aka ‘push’ the car.