What's The Difference Between FWD, RWD, AWD, And 4WD?

Vehicles of all shapes and types act differently on various surfaces depending on whether they feature front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive. You might know which drive system your vehicle has, but here we’ll explain a little bit more about how each of these drive systems work. (It might not be the most exciting topic, but it is worth understanding how your vehicle functions and how you can get the most out of it.)

Front-Wheel Drive (FWD):

Easily the most common drive system found in today’s vehicles, front-wheel drive vehicles simply channel their power to the front wheels. Standard on all Buick’s, front-wheel drive is often employed because it is a compact system that frees up space inside the cabin. Plus, the majority of the weight is positioned over the front wheels, offering good traction when its slippery.

Rear-Wheel Drive:

As you’ve probably guessed, rear-wheel drive vehicles channel their power strictly to the vehicle’s rear wheels. Rear-wheel drive used to be the most common drive system until the advent of front-wheel drive in the early 80s. However, RWD vehicles can handle more horsepower and higher vehicle weights, which is why it is often found in sports cars, performance sedans, big trucks, race cars, and law enforcement pursuit vehicles.

Four-Wheel Drive (4WD or 4×4):

Four-wheel vehicles tend to feature a two speed transfer case* with both high and low ranges. Most 4WD vehicles tend to operate in RWD mode until four-wheel traction is required. But unlike AWD, most systems are driver activated, meaning the driver must engage the AWD function via a secondary gear shift or through a button or setting. However, many feature a setting that automatically engages the high range. The driver must still engage the low range.

It is often found on large SUVs and trucks because it provides optimal traction when off-road.

All-Wheel Drive (AWD):

All-wheel drive is often confused with four-wheel drive but despite the fact both engage all four wheels, their are some key differences between the two.

Generally, a AWD system operates as a RWD or FWD vehicle– most are FWD. Buick’s all-wheel drive preemptively sends power to both the front and rear wheels on every launch to prevent slip and loss of traction. Unlike AWD, four-wheel drive is beautiful in its simplicity: the system does everything automatically, without driver intervention.

* A transfer case connects to the transmission to split power between the front and rear wheels.