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Car Buying – 4WD/AWD, RWD or FWD Explained

No, it’s not just you. Cars are definitely getting bigger! Go to any older car park and you will see family vehicles and four by fours squeezed into spaces like us trying to get our best jeans on after Christmas. If you are looking at changing your car, you may feel under pressure to go the 4x4 route – after all, everyone else is. Before you invest, we will talk you through the different systems to help you make the right choice for you

Front-Wheel Drive

Most budget-friendly, smaller cars are front wheel drive. This basically means that the engine powers the front two wheels, and those front wheels effectively pull the rest of the car. Because the drive shaft is only at the front of the car, there is more space in the back. This also means that front wheel drive cars tend to be lighter, hence have better fuel efficiency. Another pro is that , due to traction control, you are less likely to wheel-spin in challenging conditions (wet, muddy or icy surfaces).

However, this efficiency comes at a cost. Front wheel drive cars, although not prone to wheel spinning, can slip in icy conditions, so may be more likely to get stuck.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Larger, more expensive cars tend to be rear wheel drive. These cars are controlled from the back – the engine powers the rear wheels, which push the rest of the car along. With a drive shaft extending to the back of the vehicle, weight is more evenly distributed than in front wheel drives and because the front wheels are used only for steering, and not for power, they are easier to manoeuvre, especially on sharp bends. The increased manoeuvrability does, however, mean less traction to the road, so rear wheel drives perform less well in icy or slippery conditions. And the additional weight means that they tend to have higher fuel consumption than front wheel drives.

Four-Wheel Drive/ All-Wheel Drive

More expensive, bigger, and more intimidating, classic 4x4s are well known. The move away from the classic off-road 4x4 to the new city style 4x4, has seen the rise of the car-based SUV – which generally use what is known as all-wheel drive (AWD). Traditional 4x4s are usually permanent – they are always in 4x4 mode or can be changed via a special gearbox. All-wheel drives are known as active and they have intelligent systems that allow the vehicle to adapt according to the conditions.

Four wheel drives are great in a range of conditions and have excellent traction. However, they are inevitably heavier than their 2-wheel-drive counterparts and this results in poorer fuel efficiency.

When it comes to the crunch, you need to ask yourself what you need. Do you live in a rural area or have a hobby that involves off-roading? Do you tow a caravan or trailer of any kind? If you are unsure what car is right for you, drop into your local car dealership for professional advice.

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