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Four-Wheel Drives - All You Need to Know About 4WDs

Welcome to a whole new 4WD world

You’ve seen the ads. Powerful roaring engine, thrilling rugged terrain, adrenaline-fueled adventures… Welcome to the life that awaits you once you own your very own four-wheel drive.

Fearless exploration of the outdoors - that is what four-wheel drives are mostly known for. But what exactly sets a four-wheel drive, also known as a 4WD, 4-wheel drive, or 4x4, apart? What are the advantages and disadvantages of driving a four-wheel drive system? Is it only for off-road trails, or can it be just as sensible a choice for city streets? And what’s the difference between an AWD vs 4WD, or is it the same thing?

In this blog article, we unlock the capabilities and allure of these all-terrain dominators, and help you decide if the grass truly is greener on the 4WD side.

What is a 4WD?

A 4WD vehicle has a special system that allows all four wheels to receive power from the engine. 

Normally, in regular two-wheel drive (2WD) cars, only two wheels are powered, usually in a pair, so either the front wheels pull your car forward (front-wheel drive, or FWD), or the rear wheels push your car forward (rear-wheel drive, or RWD). 

But with four-wheel drive vehicles, all four wheels are powered together to propel the vehicle forward, which makes it more powerful.

This special feature makes 4WD vehicles really good at driving on rough or slippery surfaces, like dirt roads, mud, snow, or rocky terrains. It provides better grip and control, which means they can go to places where regular cars might struggle.

In the same way a horse is probably better built for trotting in nature than we are with our two wobbly legs, a 4WD is more stable and capable of driving in challenging conditions.

What are the advantages of 4WD vehicles?

Driving a 4WD vehicle offers several advantages, especially if you’re regularly driving in environments where they excel.

1. Off-Road Capability

4WD vehicles are specially designed to handle rough terrains and challenging off-road conditions. Road trips through rocky trails that are otherwise an issue for normal sedans, for example, are no issue at all for 4WDs. This is one of the top reasons why 4WDs are popular amongst drivers who like taking journeys to remote destinations in nature.

2. Improved Traction

Delivering power to all four wheels means 4WD vehicles offer better traction on slippery or uneven surfaces, such as wet roads, icy conditions, or gravel. This enhanced grip enhances safety and stability, even in adverse weather.

3. Safety

The added traction and stability in 4WD vehicles can reduce the risk of accidents and provide drivers with more control in challenging driving situations. Four-wheel drives also tend to have a sturdier frame to protect their occupants in the event of a crash.

4. Towing Capacity

Thanks to their additional power, 4WD vehicles often have higher towing capacities compared to 2WD vehicles. This makes them ideal for pulling motorhomes, trailers, boats, or other heavy loads.

5. Versatility

4WD vehicles are versatile and can adapt to different driving conditions. Whether it's off-road adventures, towing heavy loads, or simply navigating through rough urban streets, it can give drivers peace of mind knowing that their vehicle is capable of handling anything.

6. All-Season Performance

In countries with four seasons, driving in summer and driving in winter can be completely different experiences. 4WD vehicles can be reliable all-year-round, thanks to their ability to handle different road conditions no matter the season.

7. Resale Value

This is less about performance and more about dollars and cents. 4WD vehicles tend to hold their value well, especially in regions where off-road driving or harsh weather conditions are common. This can make them a better long-term investment as compared to 2WD cars.

4x4 vehicles are sturdier, heavier, and capable of supporting loads such as tents or towing campers.

Are 4WDs only good for off-road driving?

No, 4WD vehicles are not just for the great outdoors. They can also be beneficial in cities and urban environments for various reasons:

1. Weather Conditions

In cities with frequent rain, mud, snow, or icy conditions, 4WD vehicles offer better traction on slippery roads.

2. Busy Traffic

4WDs provide better stability, especially during sudden braking or when taking sharp turns, which is sometimes necessary in busy city traffic.

3. Road Conditions

4WD vehicles can handle various road conditions, such as potholes, uneven roads, and other obstacles commonly found in urban environments.

4. Flooded Roads

During heavy rain and flooding, 4WDs can traverse through waterlogged streets that may otherwise be inaccessible to regular 2WD vehicles. Their higher ground clearance also means less risk of water damage to the engine.

A river crossing is probably not something you’d think to take your sedan through but water is no enemy for a 4WD vehicle.

What are some disadvantages of 4WD vehicles?

Of course, as advantageous as 4WDs are, there are also a few drawbacks to consider:

1. Fuel Inefficiency

4WD vehicles use a lot of power, and all that extra power has to come from somewhere, so 4WD cars tend to guzzle more fuel than 2WD cars. This lower fuel economy can lead to higher running costs of owning a vehicle.

2. More Expensive

Owning a 4WD is sometimes even somewhat of a status symbol, simply because they demand a higher upfront cost than regular 2WD cars. 

3. Increased Maintenance Costs

The intricate nature of 4WD drivetrain systems can lead to higher maintenance costs. Regular maintenance of components like transfer cases, differentials, and front and rear axles can be more expensive than maintaining simpler two-wheel drive systems. 

There may also be fewer workshops that specialise in 4WD vehicles, giving drivers less options, and driving that overall bill higher due to the specialised mechanics required to work on a 4WD.

4. Weight

4WD vehicles are often heavier vehicles due to their additional components and features which make them adept in off-road driving. This extra weight can affect the vehicle's acceleration, braking distance, and overall handling.

5. Tyre Wear

The continuous power distribution to all four wheels can cause increased wear and tear on tyres, leading to more frequent tyre replacements, which as we all know, can really add up!

6. Different Manoeuvrability

Driving a 4WD can be different from driving a 2WD car. For example, 4WD vehicles tend to have a larger turning radius. Drivers that are used to driving a 2WD car will need to learn a new way of handling when they purchase a 4WD. 

7. Environmental Impact

Due to their lower fuel efficiency, 4WD vehicles can have a higher carbon footprint, contributing more to greenhouse gas emissions compared to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

8. Insurance & Added Costs

You might not think about it at first, but one of the differences between driving a regular 2WD and 4WD is that insurance premiums are likely to be higher for a 4WD. You can easily compare prices online by getting a quick car insurance quote. COE and annual road tax costs are also likely to be higher.

Why are 4WD cars usually more expensive?

4WD drivetrain systems are more complex than 2WD, and manufacturers also have to incorporate specialised features to ensure off-roading capability. To withstand the demands of off-road driving, 4WD vehicles are also often built with stronger materials and construction techniques.

There is also a more limited market for 4WD cars, since they cater to a very specific market segment, usually consisting of adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts.

What’s the difference between AWD and 4WD? 

The terms four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) are often used interchangeably, and they can both refer to drive systems that power all four wheels of the vehicle. There are some key differences between the two drive systems though:

1. Choice of Engagement

A four-wheel drive is typically a part-time system, meaning the driver can and must choose to manually engage it, or disengage it. An all-wheel drive is usually a full-time system which works automatically. This means that power is distributed to all four wheels continuously, with the system automatically adjusting the power distribution between front and rear wheels based on the road conditions.

However, these days there are also different types of four-wheel drive vehicles, including those with either part-time 4WD systems, or automatic systems that switch between 4WD and AWD, and even full-time 4WDs which function just like an AWD. If you’re purchasing a 4WD, you should make sure to check out which type of system will best suit your driving needs. 

2.   Mode Selection

In a 4WD vehicle, drivers can often choose between different modes, such as 2H (two-wheel drive high, usually rear-wheel drive, or RWD), 4H (four-wheel drive high), or 4L (four-wheel drive low). This means that they can choose to only utilise the vehicle in 2H drive mode in normal city roads, for example, 4H in slippery conditions, and perhaps 4L for more torque in extreme off-road situations such as steep inclines or deep mud.

Unlike a 4WD, an all-wheel drive system does not have selectable modes. It continuously monitors wheel traction and distributes power as needed, providing optimal traction in various driving conditions.

4-wheel drive systems can give you the choice of increasing torque to get out of difficult situations.

3. Off-Road VS On-Road Focus

4WD systems are designed with a strong focus on off-road capabilities and can handle rugged terrains and challenging conditions effectively.

AWD systems, on the other hand, are more suited for regular road driving, but provide additional stability and safety, due to their improved handling and traction in adverse weather conditions.

While AWDs can handle the occasional light off-road situations, they are generally not as capable as 4WD systems in challenging terrain, and may also have lower ground clearance and fewer specialised off-road components. 

Are there AWD and 4WD cars in Singapore?

Due to our mostly urban environment and small land area, AWD and 4WD vehicles are not as common here as in other countries. There are a few you may have heard of: The most iconic being the Jeep Wrangler (4WD), and SUVs such as Honda CR-V (Real Time 4WD), Nissan X-Trail (Electric 4WD), Mitsubishi Pajero/Triton (With a 4WD system but not currently in distribution), and the Ford Ranger (Next-gen with a new 4WD system is not yet launched in Singapore).

On the list of AWDs: Toyota Land Cruiser (AWD), Subaru Forester (Symmetrical AWD), and the Land Rover Range Rover (Hybrid AWD).

Should you buy a 4WD?

When deciding whether or not to purchase a four-wheel drive, you should definitely assess your driving needs. Here are some questions that might help:

 Do you usually drive on challenging terrains such as off-road trails, or are you generally on well-maintained city roads?

Do you live in an area with heavy rain, muddy conditions, or frequent flooding?

Do you plan to use the vehicle a lot in outdoor adventures, camping trips, off-roading holidays, nature road trips and such?

Are you okay with a higher upfront cost, lower fuel efficiency, and higher costs in maintenance and repairs?

Are muddy off-road adventures your perfect kind of vacation? Then a 4WD might be a dream car for you.

Ultimately, your driving environment, personal preferences, lifestyle, and sense of adventure should play the biggest roles in your decision. If you have a passion for off-road experiences or simply love the idea of the freedom of the outdoors associated with 4WD vehicles, these factors may influence your choice.

Remember to weigh the pros and cons based on your individual needs and driving habits. If possible, test drive both 4WD and 2WD vehicles to get a feel of their handling in different situations before making that final decision.