The system that sends power from your vehicle’s engine to its wheels is known as the drivetrain. When selecting a new vehicle, it is important to consider the type of drivetrain you will need to best accommodate the type of driving you do. Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are two great options for those who do off-road driving, towing or frequently drive in challenging climates or conditions.

Unlike rear-wheel and front-wheel drivetrains, four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive systems send power to all four wheels of the vehicle. While all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive sound similar, the two systems operate differently.

Four-wheel drive is the original power system used in trucks and truck-based vehicles designed for heavy-duty performance. In this system, engine power is sent equally to each wheel. True four-wheel drive systems come equipped with a secondary low gearing ratio for moving through extremely rugged terrain. Four-wheel drive systems are highly capable in severe weather and off-road conditions, but their extreme weight adversely impacts fuel economy. Part-time four-wheel drive systems offer a good compromise as they stay in rear-wheel drive until the extra traction is needed, reducing drag and boosting fuel efficiency.

All-wheel drive is a highly sophisticated system that is found on cars and cross-over vehicles. The system is engineered to send power to all four wheels as needed, per the determination of electronic or hydraulic sensors. All-wheel drive systems offer the benefit of enhanced performance, including the ability to send all of the engine power to one wheel if needed, for maximum traction. Drawbacks with all-wheel drive include the increased weight issues that the four-wheel drive has, as well as a higher level of mechanical complexity, which can increase vehicle price and maintenance costs. Part-time all-wheel drive is also an option, which offers performance on-demand with greater fuel efficiency for normal driving.

If you are considering whether or not to invest in an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle for safer winter driving, keep in mind that selecting the right type of tire may be the best thing you can do to enhance safety and performance.