What is a Drivetrain and Which One is Best?

Winter tire wheels using 4WD

When you shop for new cars, you’ll often see a section that describes the drivetrain along with one of the following acronyms: AWD, FWD, RWD, or 4WD. What is a drivetrain? And what does FWD or AWD mean on a car?



A drivetrain is a system of components on your car that take the power from the engine and move them to the wheels. Depending on the type of vehicle you own, the engine could be supplying two of the wheels or all four. The amount of wheels being used and how the power is distributed among them is described with the following acronyms:

  • AWD: All-wheel drive
  • FWD: Front-wheel drive (sometimes also marked as 2WD)
  • RWD: Rear-wheel drive (sometimes also marked as 2WD)
  • 4WD: Four-wheel drive

In this guide, Cornerstone Auto will go over all the different types of drivetrains, what they mean, and what they’re best suited for so you can know which drivetrain is best for you on the Monticello, MN roads!

What Does AWD Mean On a Car?

AWD, or all-wheel drive, is a drivetrain configuration where torque from the engine is directed to both the front and rear axles, distributing across all four wheels via differentials. In layman’s terms, this means the power from the engine goes into turning all four wheels. There are a couple of different AWD systems, including part-time and full-time AWD. Full-time AWD sends power to the front and back axles constantly, while part-time AWD systems will monitor Anoka, MN road conditions and detect slippage, sending power mostly to the front axle and the rear axle only as needed.

What is 4WD?

Four-wheel drive, or 4WD, is a traditional 4×4 system. 4WD and AWD are similar in that torque is supplied to both the front and rear axles, allowing for more control on rough terrain. Where 4WD differs, though, is that it is able to direct a specific amount of power between the left and right wheels. Many 4WD vehicles also come with driving modes, to help drivers find the best torque settings for each wheel in various conditions around Monticello, MN.

Much like AWD, there are both full-time and part-time 4WD drivetrains available, so that drivers have more choice in how they drive their vehicles.

Is AWD Better than FWD or 4WD?

Ramsey, MN drivers who experience inclement weather on a regular basis, or experience mildly rough road or driveway conditions will find all-wheel drive to be the most helpful. With the extra traction and handling in snow, rain, or gravel, the all-wheel drive system will give you extra control on Elk River roads. 4WD may give some extra traction, but is mostly meant for rugged off-roading and won’t do well on flat, suburban roads. Front-wheel and rear-wheel drive, on the other hand, thrive on flat surfaces but struggle to maintain traction when bad weather strikes.

Is AWD or 4WD Better in the Snow?

Does AWD help in the snow? Or would 4WD be better? Both AWD and 4WD are built for difficult road conditions, but there is a difference in which will work best on the snowy Ramsey, MN roads. Weather conditions often change quickly, giving drivers very little warning, making AWD ideal for those commuting in deteriorating road conditions. AWD systems will diagnose wheel slippage and automatically apply torque to the wheels that need it. Knowing how to drive in the snow with AWD can keep you safe on your Elk River commutes.

4WD, on the other hand, often needs drivers to make decisions about what kind of drive mode to be in and isn’t ideal on flat city streets. This puts more decision-making on the driver in already stressful conditions. That said, if you plan on driving on unpaved roads or over large snow drifts, 4WD could better handle those conditions than AWD.

So, is AWD good in snow? A good rule of thumb is this: If the snow you’re driving through is touching pavement, AWD is a safe bet. If not, 4WD may be more beneficial. Either way, both drivetrains still require careful driving on the part of the driver. When winter winds begin to blow, consider packing a winter emergency car kit, no matter which drivetrain you drive.

Learn About Drivetrains & More with Cornerstone Auto in Elk River!

Now that you know what a drivetrain is, keep on learning with Cornerstone Auto’s research hub! Any questions or suggestions for what we should add to our research hub next? Feel free to contact us online or give us a call at 763-274-3390 and we’ll be happy to take any questions or comments you have. The next time you need a new or pre-owned vehicle, visit your friends at Cornerstone Auto in Elk River!


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