What is 4WD (four-wheel drive)?

  • How does 4WD work?
  • Do I need four-wheel drive on my car?
  • Parkers explains the tech

Four-wheel drive, or 4WD, is a system that is capable of sending power to all four of a vehicle’s wheels. This differs from conventional cars, where only one axle – two wheels – are traditionally driven. 

How does 4WD work?

Permanent 4WD cars – such as the Land Rover Discovery – are highly capable off-roaders which constantly send power to all four wheels without any input from the driver. Part-time 4WD cars such as the Ssangyong Rexton send drive to two of the vehicle’s wheels in regular driving conditions, only doling out power to all four wheels when instructed by the driver.

Do I need it?

If you do a lot of serious off-roading or live in the wilds and often experience bad winter weather, then you may decide a permanent 4WD car is essential. Those who occasionally do light off-roading will only need a part-time 4WD car.

And before you sign on the dotted line, consider this: a set of winter tyres could cope with those few days of heavy snow you suffered last winter – and save you thousands over a costlier 4WD option. Be sure to work out your specific needs before deciding.

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Permanent 4WD cars include the Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Land Cruiser and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Part time 4WD cars include the Ssangyong Rexton.

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Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions

Further reading

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