AWD vs FWD: What’s the Difference?

AWD is all-wheel drive and FWD is front-wheel drive. The difference between the two is which sets of wheels get the power from the engine. In FWD, the engine sends power to the front axle while in AWD, the power is transmitted to both, the front and the rear axle at the same time.

Whether you should have AWD or FWD depends on your requirements. Do you have to use your car frequently under tough conditions? Under normal conditions, FWD can serve well. Normal conditions can include light rain and snow. AWD is the best for snow and minor off-road conditions. For severe off-road conditions, 4WD is the best.

What is All-Wheel Drive (AWD)?

AWD, which stands for all-wheel drive, is a drivetrain where all four wheels of your vehicle are engaged. AWD vehicles are usually front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD), and some continuously drive all the wheels, while some engage all four wheels only when it is required. Whether full-time or part-time, all-wheel-drive vehicles can generally operate without any input from the driver.

Because all-wheel-drive was more difficult to deploy until recent years, AWD vehicles have historically been uncommon and more costly, too. But this drivetrain quickly became a popular alternative as automakers figured out how to make AWD technology more economical and dependable.

And these days, AWD vehicles usually maintain a higher resale value than FWD cars, too.

Some benefits that all-wheel-drive vehicles have over their FWD and RWD counterparts is that they provide better traction in general and they perform better when going off-road, too.

The Rationale for All-Wheel Drive

  • Just as there are benefits to owning an FWD, so goes the case for an AWD, let us look at some of the advantages.
  • All wheels get ALL power in an AWD vehicle, this is because there are a pair of differentials that split the power. Since the power from the engine goes to all the wheels, there is compensation if the vehicle begins to slip.
  • AWD will always improve the vehicle’s traction in snowy and ordinary off-road conditions.
  • AWD is tough and heavy.

AWD PROS

  • Just as there are distinct advantages and disadvantages with the FWD option packages, so it goes with AWD options and packages, let us look at a few, so you can be better informed about both.
  • Capability, four wheels pulling power to the ground means if you lose traction in hazardous road conditions (rain, snow, ice, extreme mud due to rain) you will still have power going to two wheels propelling you forward and avoiding slippage or flip overs.
  • Better resale value
  • Better handling of changing weather conditions
  • Power to all four wheels

AWD CONS

  • Four tire replacements every time – even if only one is *bad. If you puncture a tire, run over a nail, or damage the sidewall, this cannot be repaired, it must be replaced.  Even though only one tire is damaged, as you drive, of course, your tires lose tread becoming smaller with each mile you drive. One new tire and three older tires put undue stress on the vehicle’s AWD parts and components. So, to avoid having to purchase new parts due to wear and tear, new tires are less expensive, so if you own an AWD if something happens to one tire, you will in essence be swapping all four tires each and every time – which in the end run, does run up your cost.
  • Poor gas mileage – the components in an AWD are heavy and the drivetrain is inefficient so, the AWD will use more fuel.
  • Higher initial “sticker price” – the AWD is complex and has the feeling of enhanced road handling and capability – therefore dealers (new and used) will want more money for that AWD vehicle. The price difference can be several thousand dollars, so shop wisely.
  • Higher cost of Insurance premiums.
AWD Vs. FWD: What’s The Difference

What Is Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)?

FWD or front-wheel drive is a drivetrain where power is delivered only to the two front wheels. The rear spin accordingly but receive no power from the front wheels in an FWD vehicle. This is one of the most common systems that can be found in a majority of the vehicles available on the market today.

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A great advantage of the front-wheel-drive is that it offers great traction on slippery surfaces since much of the total weight is positioned over the two front wheels. FWD cars perform well in difficult muddy, slippery, and rainy conditions and are good when driving uphill. Moreover, it also leaves more space in the cabin.

The majority of vehicles are FWD and its technology has been in existence since the early years of automobiles, but it wasn’t until after the 1970s that FWD vehicles became more commonplace.

The Rationale for FWD

There are great benefits to owning a vehicle with FWD – which is why a vast majority of vehicles utilize FWD or AWD.

  • A less complicated system
  • A lighter weight system, thus making most FWD vehicles more fuel-efficient than AWD vehicles.
  • Additional room inside, as there is no hump in the back seats where the tunnel for the transmission would be for an AWD, so more room in both front and back seats for comfortability.
  • Great traction for upward hill-climbing terrain
  • Performs well in most weather conditions, including *light snow
  • FWD has ABS (anti-lock brake systems) as well as traction control so an FWD will perform well in the conditions listed above.

FWD PROS

  • Fuel Economy
  • Additional front and rear space
  • Easy to handle in all seasons
  • Uncomplicated to service vehicle
  • Premiums for Insurance are lower
  • Handling can be enhanced with a set of winter tires
  • Good options from every manufacturer and nearly every price point
  • More affordable
  • Tires are less expensive to replace
  • Snow tires are an option rather than go full forward with an AWD

FWD CONS

  • Lack of capability, in actuality FWD only drives one front wheel and your ability to control the vehicle is extremely vulnerable if you hit a patch of ice or snow and start slipping.
  • If you have winter tires, while they perform well on the snow, they do not perform well on a dry pavement or road situation. In addition, you will also have to swamp them out each season.

Is AWD better than FWD?

For navigating on unpaved ground, all-wheel drive is preferable. Driving on gravel, grass or any other soft surface causes your drive wheels to lose traction. All-wheel-drive systems are designed to increase the vehicle’s grip on every type of terrain.

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Front-wheel-drive vehicles, on the other hand, perform admirably on mild off-road surfaces. A new FWD car or SUV will most likely handle a few miles of unpaved roads without any problem. But it’s important to always remember that AWD isn’t invincible. So, to be on the safe side, it’s best not to tempt fate if and when you come across a stretch of mud.

Typically, all-wheel-drive vehicles handle more superbly in wet conditions. All-wheel-drive vehicles are exceptionally good at sensing the slightest slipping of the wheels and quickly adapt. AWD assists in maintaining the car steady on slick pavement, and if and when the wheels start to slip, AWD immediately kicks in to help out.

In ice and snow, all-wheel drive is normally preferred since it activates all four wheels to get you rolling and maintain you in motion. An all-wheel-drive car with traction and stability controls can safely manage most snow and ice conditions.

AWD Vs FWD, Which Is Better Off-Pavement?

All-wheel-drive is better for driving on unpaved surfaces. Driving on gravel, grass, or any soft surface means less grip for your drive wheels. All-wheel-drive systems are optimized to find traction on any surface.

That being said, front-wheel-drive vehicles still do pretty well on mild off-road surfaces. A few miles of dirt road won’t stop a new FWD car or SUV.

Remember this: AWD is not magic. You can still get stuck in the mud.

AWD vs FWD, Which Is Better in the Rain?

In general, all-wheel-drive is better for driving in the rain. The reflective paint used to create crosswalks and guidelines often becomes slippery when it’s wet. Other factors like oil floating to the surface of the road and the presence of wet leaves can also pose hazards.

All-wheel-drive vehicles sense wheel slip and adapt to wet weather very well. AWD is better than FWD in the rain. You will notice the difference right away.

Remember this: AWD helps keep your car stable on wet pavement. Even part-time AWD engages quickly when wheels start to slip.

AWD vs FWD, Which Is Better In Ice and Snow?

All-wheel-drive is usually better in ice and snow because it engages all four wheels to get started and to keep you moving. With modern traction and stability controls, an all-wheel-drive vehicle can handle most snow and ice conditions.

Front-wheel-drive cars are also good in the snow because the engine is located over the drive wheels. The extra weight helps provide traction. If you live in an area with mild to moderate winter weather, you may be able to save money by purchasing a front-wheel-drive car and a set of winter tires.

Remember this: An AWD car or SUV is better than a 4WD pickup truck or SUV on ice and snow.

AWD vs FWD: Do You Need Winter Tires?

If you invest in winter tires such as the Bridgestone Blizzak or Yokohama iceGUARD, you may not need AWD. These winter tires use soft rubber compounds and special tread designs optimized to create grip on snow and ice. Traction tests consistently show that good tires make the biggest difference in traction.

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An FWD vehicle with winter tires may outperform an AWD vehicle with standard all-season tires. Of course, the best performance will always happen with AWD and a good set of winter tires.

Remember this: A good set of winter tires is the best investment you can make if you must drive on snow and ice.

AWD vs FWD: What About Traction and Stability Controls?

Here’s another factor to consider: all modern cars have great traction and stability controls. These are electronic systems that monitor your car’s wheel motion at all times. If one wheel starts to slip, the system transfers torque to the remaining drive wheels to maintain traction.

All new passenger vehicles include traction and stability control as standard equipment. With the right tires, this technology can go a long way to equalize the difference between FWD and AWD vehicles.

AWD vs FWD: What About a Pre-owned Vehicle?

If you want an AWD vehicle on a budget, consider a pre-owned car or SUV. A certified pre-owned AWD vehicle has been checked and reconditioned at the dealership service department. Buying certified pre-owned is a great way to save money and get the features and options you want.

Remember this: You will usually pay more for an AWD vehicle, but it will also be easier to resell or trade in later.

AWD vs FWD: Which Is Right for Your Family?

It’s easy to make an initial decision about whether your family needs all-wheel-drive or not. There are a few questions to ask:

  • Do you frequently encounter snow and ice in the winter?
  • Do you often need to drive up to higher altitudes?
  • Does your area get a lot of rain?
  • Do you frequently drive on gravel or dirt roads?

If the answer to those questions is no, you probably don’t need an all-wheel drive. If you answered yes to one or two questions, you should consider it. If all those conditions apply, then it’s smart to choose AWD.

Remember this: If you don’t need AWD, there’s very little reason to spend the extra money. If you do need it, you’ll be glad you spent the money to have it.

Good Reasons to Choose AWD Or FWD

To close, let’s look at the best reasons to choose AWD or FWD. You know enough to make the best decision for your needs at this point.

All-wheel-drive:

  • Improved traction on ice and snow.
  • Easier resale and better resale value.
  • More capable off-pavement.

Front-wheel-drive:

  • Less expensive to buy
  • Better fuel economy
  • Lower insurance premiums
  • Winter tires make a big difference

Modern vehicles have never been better, especially when it comes to safety and all-season traction. When choosing AWD vs. FWD, there are good options from every manufacturer and at virtually every price point. Today’s selection of new vehicles makes it easy to choose the right car, truck, or SUV to meet your needs. Once you have all the information, you can choose the best vehicle for your family.