What is the difference between AWD and 4x4?

Our tech guru has the answers to your car questions
by Ferman Lao | Jun 26, 2013

I just recently acquired the refreshed 2013 Kia Sorento. I noticed that my SUV was marked as an AWD instead of 4x4. I have not asked Kia about this, thinking that AWD and 4x4 are the same. But I thought that there should be a difference between AWD and 4x4. Can you please educate me on this?

Thank you and God bless!

Marlon Jover


Hi, Marlon. All-wheel drive can and should be used as the blanket terminology for any vehicle that puts power to the ground to all its wheels, be it a 4x4 or a 6x6 (in the case of the old World War II trucks). The primary purpose of directing power to each of the wheels is to provide traction under less-than-ideal conditions.

However, most off-road enthusiasts will tend to refer to a vehicle with a mechanical center differential that distributes the power between the front and rear-drive wheels as a 4x4 vehicle. On the other hand, they refer to a vehicle without a center differential and which instead uses a viscous or clutch-type coupling of some sort as an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

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More often than not, vehicles considered as a "true" 4x4 will also have a transfer case for "low" range gearing of the transmission. This changes the gear ratio of each of the forward gears to one more suited for very low traction conditions. In some cases, true 4x4 vehicles will also have a locking center differential wherein power will be equally distributed between the front and rear wheels regardless of traction conditions. With the advent of traction control systems and "electronic differentials," modern computer controls can, in most instances, deliver the same performance from a vehicle without a center differential as a vehicle equipped with one--except perhaps in very extreme low-traction conditions.

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Hi. I was reading your articles and wondering if you could help me with my problem. I have a 2009 BMW 650i. I would like to upgrade it, and would really like the Momo Revenge 19-inch rims. I was told that I would need to put in spacers to make the rims fit. Is it safe? From which specific company should I source the spacers?

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Rahul Tuljapurkar


Hi, Rahul. H&R wheel spacers are what you need. And yes, wheel spacers are safe as long as they are used in moderation, pretty much like anything else. Contact local H&R distributor Makna Marketing at +632 477-8628.


Best regards,

Ferman Lao
Technical Editor 

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