4WD vs AWD: Terms Decoded!


There is a growing desire for all terrain vehicles in the Australian market, and when assessing the popularity of family style SUV’s you are probably wondering what the difference between 4WD and AWD really is? at a glance the two are both in larger vehicles, and in the ads on tele, these vehicles belt through gravel roads.

We need to understand the difference between the two terms to fully understand what they offer us to truly grasp the significance of what is on the table.

AWD (All Wheel Drive)

With larger seating capacities, and lower center of gravity many of the AWD offerings that are on the table seem like a favourable choice for growing families and with their relatively high safety ratings an SUV fitted with an All Wheel Drive is extremely palletable. All wheel drive means that all of the wheels are driven by the motor, the distinction comes as an All Wheel Drive will have a bias of torque on the front wheels of a vehicle, this means that essentially many All Wheel Drive vehicles on the market are adaptations of traditional front wheel drive cars.

Whilst having all wheels driven allows a vehicle to maintain traction on slippery road surfaces, these systems are predominately designed for operation on firm road surfaces and only occasionally being taken offroad or mild dirt driving. This is due to the function of a center differential which is designed to divert engine speed and torque to the wheels that are spinning the most, this is extremely handy on hard surfaces due to the nature of differential wheel speed when a vehicle is turning, but when you are on extremely soft terrain this system diverts power instantly to the wheel that breaks traction first.

With modern vehicles, systems like traction control and hill descent control etc. are a technical advantage that can help out in situations where traction could be compromised.

The other advantage to All Wheel Drive, is the fact that you don’t have to “engage” it for the additional grip to kick in.


A 4WD is a completely different beast, one of the most pivotal differences in a ‘real’ 4WD is the little lever that lives next to your gear selector. This is the key difference between a 4WD and an AWD, and gives you the ultimate control over the mechanical performance of your vehicle offroad, this lever will often give the driver the option to change the 4WD from simply running with the rear wheels powered, to full 4WD to locking the center differential to even engaging a lower ratio gear output called “low range” all of these are progressive enhancements of the ability for your vehicle to gain grip off road!

By utilizing this lever you gain the ability to enhance your fuel economy potential, enhance your grip and even to gain additional torque to gain more wheel control and crawling ability to simply drive over and through obstacles that would easily hold up a standard All Wheel Drive System. 

regardless of whether you own a 4WD or an AWD there are a handful of tricks that will give you an edge offroad, the first of them being to lower your vehicles tyre pressures down a considerable amount, you may think we are talking about dropping from 35psi down to 30psi, however you would be surprised at just how low you can go on a tubeless rim, with some 4WD’s capable of dropping into single digit pressures in emergency situations to gain over 200% of the grip available from full psi tyres!

The best tool for the job is easily the Adventure Kings Kwiky Tyre Deflator, this device dumps air at an incredible rate all whilst maintaining ultimate control, coupled with the bourdon tube pressure gauge accuracy is at the heart of this system, and when compared to dropping your pressures down using the edge of your keys, or even by finding a clean stick.

What happens when you get back to the tarmac after driving around with all this additional grip? Common sense should prevail with this situation, just like normal, if driving on hard surfaces, you run the risk of everything from high speed de-seating of your tyre’s bead, to compromised steering and braking all the way up to risk of roll over. So when you are looking at getting your vehicle back up to speed a portable air compressor is critical, it will give you at least a simple way to reinflate your tyres and get back up an running, this is where the Thumper range of portable air compressors shine brightly!

By always having a portable air compressor at hand you can adjust your pressures anywhere for any reason, meaning you don’t have to drive near a service station to ensure you have the correct pressures!


For more information about how to get your 4WD or AWD further offroad than you thought possible head into one of our expert 4WD camping Stores to speak directly with a professional, or call us up on 1800 88 39 64 or even jump online to check out the range of gear at www.4WDSupacentre.com.au!

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