Drivetrain: FWD, RWD, AWD, 4WD, and More

When talking about vehicle drivetrains, the subject can get complicated quickly. If you don't know a lot about cars, it's difficult to understand. There are a lot of different options, and you need to have a basic idea of what they are and how they work to ensure you drive the right vehicle in the right conditions.

Our beautiful country has varying climates. The type of drivetrain you need depends on where you live and what type of driving you do. Having a better understanding of what's available to you will help you determine what the occasion requires.


The drivetrain of a vehicle is made up of the engine and the transmission. The engine sends power to the transfer case, which then passes that power onto the wheels based on the type of drivetrain the vehicle has. Different drivetrains operate differently and work better for different environments. They also provide diverse driving experiences.


First, let's go over the different acronyms. Some may sound familiar, but what do they stand for?

      FWD stands for front wheel drive, and cars are commonly equipped with this.

      RWD stands for rear wheel drive, and a lot of sports cars, SUVs, and trucks come standard with this.

      AWD stands for all-wheel drive, and many SUVs have this type.

      4WD means four-wheel drive, which trucks frequently boast.

      4x4 is commonly spoken as "four by four," and is similar to, and is generally used as a term to mean all four wheels driving. It can refer to both AWD and 4WD.

One single vehicle can't have more than one type of drivetrain at a time. However, 4WD (sometimes referred to as 4x4) vehicles can be disengaged, meaning they operate part of the time as either FWD or RWD vehicles, and the rest of the time as 4x4 or 4WD vehicles. FWD, RWD, and AWD vehicles always operate as such and cannot be changed.


Front wheel drive cars are lighter than those with most of the other types of drivetrains. Because the layout of the drivetrain underneath the car leaves a lot of space where additional components would go in other drivetrains, a lot of weight is eliminated. You typically find that cars with FWD have more legroom or trunk space.

The arrangement of a FWD car also allows for smaller, more compact engines to perform the same tasks as other drivetrains while remaining more efficient. As you probably already guessed, the engines in FWD cars transfer power to the front wheels, meaning that the front wheels drive the vehicle.

If the front wheels of a FWD car don't have traction on the road, the car won't move. FWD cars are typically better than RWD cars in poor road conditions because they have good balance and reliable traction. Handling is predictable, so new or timid drivers may prefer this type over others.

FWD cars are also more fuel efficient, so if you drive a lot, this is the best option for you.


RWD offers more precise handling, so it's common in sports cars and luxury vehicles. RWD offers the most straightforward and intuitive layout. The rear wheels power the vehicle, while the front ones steer.

This 'divide and conquer' sort of system distributes weight more evenly throughout the base of the car, making handling easy and efficient. For this very reason, racecars are equipped with this drivetrain because you can maneuver the vehicle smoothly and predictably, making driving not only enjoyable but elegant and stylish.

Vehicles with RWD are agile, making it easy for the driver to avoid obstacles, like walls. It allows the driver to focus more on the performance of the machine rather than getting from Point A to Point B. RWD is also common in sports cars because they need a lot of traction off of the line at higher speeds. The added weight on the back end helps propel the vehicle forward with limited slip.

If you enjoy driving for the experience, RWD is the drivetrain for you. Keep in mind that these cars don't operate as well in slippery conditions, but if you live in an environment where you deal with nice weather for most of the year, they're quite enjoyable.


AWD vehicles work by sending power from the engine to the center of the car. The differential in the center of the car distributes power evenly between the front and rear axles. Some vehicles will divide the power a little less equally to the front or rear axles based on road conditions and which wheels have the most traction.

This type of drivetrain provides more traction and is ideal for slippery conditions. The popularity of this type of drivetrain in SUVs continues to increase. It's also popular among off-road enthusiasts and rally racers. This type of drivetrain is ideal for almost any condition because you hardly have to worry about road conditions since the AWD is always engaged.


4WD does not send power to the center of the vehicle before distributing it to the front and rear axles. With 4WD, both axles move at the same speed, making handling on normal roads very difficult when 4WD is engaged. 

However, vehicles with 4WD offer a massive amount of traction and safety when road conditions are very poor. Snow/rain, off-roading, and mudding are all circumstances in which 4WD comes in very handy.

If you live in an environment where it's snowy most of the year, 4WD allows you to operate a vehicle more safely than any of the other drivetrains. 

Of course, all season tires help as well. You can equip any drivetrain with all season tires for increased traction and stability. Southwest motors has not only tires, but vehicles with all drivetrain options! Their online inventory has a search engine with the option to search all, or specific drive lines. They can fit you into the perfect car for your daily driving needs as well as your weekend adventures.

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Southwest Motors

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Directions Pueblo, CO 81008

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