Page Illustration

All-Wheel Drive vs. Four-Wheel Drive: Which is Better for Winter?

Wednesday, 29 November 2023

In Canada, practicing safe winter driving should be a priority for anyone who gets behind the wheel. No matter what make or model of vehicle you own, navigating the icy and snowy roads with caution is your best bet to avoid being in an accident. But does the drivetrain make a difference in how it handles the road this time of year? In this blog, we’ll discuss all-wheel drive vs. four-wheel drive and determine which is better for driving in the winter.

What is a Drivetrain?

Before we get too far into this discussion, we should establish what a drivetrain actually is and how it works. There’s a good chance that you have heard this term thrown around in various car commercials or at your local garage, but if you are not savvy with car terminology, you might be unaware of its importance in vehicles.

The drivetrain is a complex mechanical system responsible for transmitting power from the engine to the wheels so that the vehicle can move. It is made up of several parts that work together to transfer and control the engine's power, allowing the vehicle to accelerate, decelerate, and maintain different speeds.

There are different types of drivetrains that serve different purposes. Each has its own set of characteristics and benefits. The type of drivetrain your vehicle uses will depend on its make and model, your intended use, and your driving conditions. Now that we have cleared that part up, it’s time to discuss all-wheel drive vs. four-wheel drive.  

All-Wheel Drive vs. Four-Wheel Drive: What is the Difference?

If all-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) sound like they are the same thing, you’re not alone. Both drivetrains operate in a manner that provides power to all four of your tires simultaneously, but there are also some key differences between the two.

Engagement Mechanism:

Some AWD systems operate on a full-time basis, while others can engage or disengage automatically. All-wheel drive systems constantly monitor factors like wheel slippage and adjust power delivery to each wheel accordingly. This means that power will be distributed to all four wheels without any input from the driver.

In a typical 4WD system, power gets distributed evenly between the front and rear axles. The driver is usually able to manually engage or disengage the system in situations where extra traction is needed, such as off-road driving or in slippery conditions. With the ability to turn the system on and off, you can conserve fuel and minimize wear on the drivetrain when maximum traction is not required.

Driving Conditions and Versatility:

All-wheel drive is commonly used in a variety of driving conditions, including on-road and light off-road situations. It is often found in a range of vehicles, from sedans and crossovers to high-performance cars. By powering both the front and rear wheels, it helps the vehicle maintain better stability and control, especially in challenging conditions such as snow, ice, mud, or wet roads. The system can also enhance a vehicle's performance, providing better acceleration, cornering, and overall handling.

Four-wheel drive is usually associated with off-road and rugged terrains and is commonly found in trucks, SUVs, and larger vehicles designed for more challenging driving conditions. Four-wheel drive is well-suited for scenarios where additional traction is needed, such as navigating through mud, snow, or rocky terrain. The equal power distribution in 4WD also proves useful when climbing steep inclines.


AWD systems are generally less complex and more lightweight, making them suitable for a wide range of vehicles. They are often integrated into the vehicle's drivetrain without significantly affecting weight or fuel efficiency. On the other hand, four-wheel drive systems tend to be more robust and often involve more mechanical components, including a transfer case that distributes power between the front and rear axles. As such, they are designed with heavier-duty components to withstand the demands of off-road driving.

All-Wheel Drive vs. Four-Wheel Drive for Winter Driving

Using AWD can be beneficial on varying road surfaces and is recommended for people living in urban areas, suburban residents, frequent highway travellers, and individuals with longer commutes. Meanwhile, 4WD is preferable among off-road enthusiasts, drivers living in rural or remote areas with less-maintained roads, individuals in hilly or mountainous terrains, and people frequently facing extreme winter conditions. Regardless of your vehicle's drivetrain system, it's important to use winter tires and safe driving practices for optimal winter road safety.

Insurance Made Easy With BIG

When it comes to safe winter driving and driving in snow, the choice between all-wheel drive vs. four-wheel drive depends on your specific driving habits and the conditions you will likely encounter throughout the season. To ensure you are covered whenever you hit the road this winter, make sure you consult your BIG broker. They will take the time to assess your situation and review your auto insurance policy so that it meets all of your needs this season.

By: Devon Gribble