You must have come across the term “4×4” while shopping for a truck. And surely, you may have used the term a lot as well without clearly understanding what it means.
It’s a good thing to have a full grasp of what 4×4 means, so you can confidently know if it is a good fit for you.
Do you want to use the truck for severe road conditions and off-road driving? These are a few considerations to make before choosing this type of vehicle.
This guide will cover what a 4×4 means as well as the pros and cons of this drivetrain.
What Does 4×4 Mean?
A 4×4 vehicle, also referred to as a four-wheel drive, is basically a system where the car’s engine powers the four wheels all at the same time. There are basically three types: part-time four-wheel drive, full-time four-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. If you don’t know much about cars, differentiating 4WD and AWD may be all too confusing to understand.
The difference between most of the drivetrains mentioned above is traction. For drivers, traction is crucial for extreme conditions such as snow and mud.
Four-wheel-drive capability may be an excellent feature for the driver, but there are some cons that come with sending power to the four tires. They include increased vehicle weight, a complicated drivetrain system, and poor fuel efficiency.
What Are the Different 4×4 Types of Drivetrains?
As mentioned earlier, there are different kinds of 4×4 drivetrains. They include all-wheel drive, part-time 4-wheel drive, full-time 4-wheel drive, automatic 4WD, and shift-on-the-fly 4WD.
All-Wheel Drive (AWD)
The all-wheel-drive is a single-speed four-wheel-drive system where power is supplied to the four wheels all of the time. The system has a distinct power delivery ratio from the front to the rear wheels. What distinguishes it from 4WD is that there is no need for the driver to decide if the car should switch to 4WD.
The part-time four-wheel drive has a four-wheel-drive system that operates on-demand. It powers the four wheels by synchronizing the rear and front axles using a shift lever. This type of vehicle often has two-speed ranges, namely, Hi and Lo.
The vehicle needs to be used in 2WD mode when the driver is on concrete or smooth pavements. The 4-wheel drive option is designed only for specific situations to give you extra traction.
This is a four-wheel-drive system that can work on all surfaces at all times. These vehicles usually have an option to switch to part-time operations. This means you can change to 2WD while driving on concrete roads. However, this system does not have the Hi and Lo ranges.
Automatic Four-Wheel Drive
This drive system can automatically switch from 2WD to 4WD, depending on the road situation, and does not need to be manually changed. It has built-in monitors to sense the wheel speeds and then engage the 4WD when needed. A popular type of automatic four-wheel drive is the Polaris Ranger Electric car.
Shift-on-the-Fly 4-Wheel Drive
This drive system allows drivers to change from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive Hi without having to stop the car. The system usually has a speed limit where it can be engaged. In some cases, it is under 60 mph.
Vehicles that use electronic actuators such as a shift lever or push button will allow the driver to shift to four-wheel drive Hi under the rated speed. This means that pushing the button won’t engage the four-wheel-drive system.
Vehicles using a shift lever can be damaged if they are switched while going too fast. If you have this type of vehicle, be sure to consult your owner’s manual to be sure of the shifting settings.
How Can You Tell If a Truck Is 4×4?
To know if your truck is a 4×4, you can check the vehicle type, its engine orientation, or axle shafts. Another reliable method is to run a vehicle ID number search online. If you didn’t get to check the drivetrain feature before buying it, you can do any of the following:
Type of Vehicle
The first thing to check is the vehicle type. It can help you to narrow down the options to determine if it is a 4×4 or 4×2. Is it a compact car, family car, luxury car, or minivan? In most cases, it will be front-wheel drive.
There are some exceptions to the general rule in vehicles that were made before 1990. Rear-wheel drive vehicles were more common then, so a car from that period will likely be rear-wheel drive.
If you have a truck, a muscle car, or a full-size SUV, it is most likely rear-wheel drive. There are also exceptions in this case, but this general guide can help you.
Another way to check is through the engine orientation. The layout of your vehicle’s engine can help you to determine if it is a 4×4 or a 4×2 engine. To do this, open the hood so you can see the engine properly. Find the front of the car’s engine. It must not point towards the front of the vehicle. The front is usually where the belts are mounted.
Look out for the position of the belts. If they point towards the front of the vehicle, the car is most likely not 4×4 or front-wheel drive. It is called a longitudinally mounted engine. This transmission cannot power the front wheel because it is placed at the back of your engine.
However, if you can find the belts on the side of the vehicle, then the drive train is probably not rear-wheel drive. It uses a transverse engine mount structure. While checking the orientation of the engine can help narrow down the type of drivetrain it is, it cannot completely determine your drive train because you may also have an AWD or 4×4.
Check the Engine Axles
Axle shafts transfer power to the wheels. If a wheel is attached to the axle shaft, then it’s a drive wheel. Go under the car to check this. Look under the front part of the car and at the wheel parts. You will likely see ball joints, brakes, and wheel knuckle behind the wheel. Find the metal shaft.
Look out for the cylindrical metal shaft running towards the mid part of the wheel knuckle. The shaft should be one inch in diameter. You should also find a cone-shaped rubber boot at the end of that shaft where it attaches to the wheel.
If the shaft is there, the front wheels are also a part of the drivetrain of the vehicle. Also, look at the back of the car for the rear differential. It should be the same size as a small pumpkin. Some people call it a pumpkin as well. It is placed between the back wheels in the vehicle’s center.
Find the solid, long tube from the pumpkin you saw or an axle shaft that looks like the one in the front. If it has a rear differential, then the vehicle has a rear-wheel-drive design. If you can find both rear and front axles, then your vehicle is four-wheel drive. It can also pass for an AWD.
If your engine is mounted transversely with both rear and front drive axles, then it is an all-wheel drive. If the engine was mounted longitudinally with rear and front axles, then it is a 4×4 drive system.
Try a VIN Search
A vehicle identification number (VIN) can come in handy to help tell if your car is a 4×4. You will need to do the search online. Start by finding a good resource for the VIN search. There are a lot of vehicle history report websites like CarProof and CarFax. But you may need to pay for the information.
There are some free VIN resources as well, but these sites may have scanty information. In any case, enter the VIN number on the website and search. Find abbreviations such as RWD, FWD, AWD, or 4WD. RWD means rear-wheel drive while FWD means front-wheel drive. AWD also stands for all-wheel drive and 4WD is 4×4.
Want to know more about VIN? Read this to know how to interpret it and to know if your vehicle is 4WD.
What Is the Difference Between Full-time and Part-time 4WD?
Full-time 4WD vehicles are on 4WD by default, but they can switch to 2WD when needed. A part-time 4WD is mostly on two-wheel drive, but can go four-wheel on tough terrain. The driver may have to shift a lever in some vehicles to manually lock hubs and this engages the four-wheel drive. It is more common in older models. The power is delivered to the wheels equally. It is excellent for low grip scenarios. However, when you turn it on dry pavement, it will be difficult for the wheels to rotate independently. This will cause the system to bind.
The same thing happens with electronic part-time four-wheel-drive systems that are activated with a button. Since this drivetrain can bind, the driver needs to actively disengage or engage the system to fit the road conditions.
Lots of modern trucks have an automatic setting called auto or 4A. It comes in trucks that are full-time 4WD. The system is activated without any input from the driver. The main difference in both types is differentials and transfer cases which distribute torque to the four wheels in different amounts to prevent binding that occurs in the part-time counterparts.
Also, find out the distinctions between 4×4 vs 4×2.
What Are the Benefits of Driving a 4×4 Car?
There are a lot of benefits of driving a 4WD. The main ones include power and traction that can come in handy in many cases. Here are some other pros of a 4×4 car.
Excellent Tow Vehicle
The main attribute of a good tow vehicle is power and weight. When the vehicle is heavier, it will be more stable. This means that it is going to be stable when it is used to pull a trailer or caravan. To get the extra weight moving, you need a powerful engine.
Aside from a powerful engine, you also need to have great grip because the car tire can lose grip if only the front or rear wheels control it. When the power is distributed to the wheels, it is easier to pull despite the weight.
More Grip for Tough Weather Conditions
Four-wheel drive improves traction when you drive on tough road conditions such as ice, snow, and mud. It makes it easier to remain in control on slippery and rough surfaces, making it an excellent choice if you are going on an overlanding trip or off-roading.