Car Troubleshooting

How to Tell If a Car is All Wheel Drive

The drivetrain in a vehicle sends power from the transmission to the wheels. There are several different types. These are rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, 4 wheel drive, and all-wheel drive. These are often seen as acronyms: RWD, FWD, 4WD (or 4×4), and AWD.

There are 4 ways to determine if you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle:

  1. Look up your vehicle using your VIN number.
  2. You can look under the car. If you do not see an axle shaft running from the front of the vehicle to the rear wheels, you do not have AWD. 
  3. You can check your manual. The type of drivetrain your vehicle has should be stated within your manual.
  4. You can look at the placement of the engine. For example, if the engine is sideways, you might have an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

Check Your VIN Number

One of the simplest ways to check if your vehicle is all-wheel-drive is to look up your car’s information using the VIN number. You can also check the VIN number on any vehicle. The VIN number is the vehicle identification number.

These are located on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel or inside the driver’s door. Each car has a unique number in a database with all the information. This information includes the number of owners, accident reports, and vehicle features, such as the drivetrain.

You can enter the VIN number on sites such as Carfax or Vincheck. These are usually free sights that can show you basic details about the vehicle in question.

However, if you are looking for a more extensive report, you may be asked to pay a service fee or subscription payment. Once you have the report, you should look for the drivetrain. You will see FWD, RWD, AWD, or 4WD. 

Check Under the Vehicle  

The transmission spins the driveshaft, which interacts with the differential, distributing the rotation to the wheels. In an FWD or RWD, you will only have one differential,/ in a 4wd or AWD, you will have two. 

Make sure the car is off. Then look under the car. First, identify the brakes, ball joints, and wheel knuckles, then find the axle shaft. This should look like a large bar that runs from front to rear axle. If you see this, you either have AWD or 4WD.

 If you do not see the bar that runs from the front to the back of your vehicle, then you have a two-wheel-drive car.

You can determine whether it is front or rear-wheel drive. Look for the axle shaft. If it is not running from front to rear, it will only be in the front or back. This will indicate which type of drivetrain you have. FWD or RWD. 

Check the Engine Position 

Another option you have to determine the type of drivetrain your vehicle has is to check the engine position. For example, if the engine is sitting sideways, it is either an AWD or an FWD.

Once you determine if your engine is facing sideways, you need to look for the drive lines. It will either run to the front wheels or the rear wheels. If it only runs to the front wheels, then you have an FWD, not an AWD. If it runs all the way to the back of the car, you have an AWD vehicle. 

In RWD, the engine sits forward (it will face you), with the transmission behind the engine. The driveline runs from the engine all the way to the back wheels, which is how they get power. 

Awd will look like a front-wheel drive, meaning that the engine will sit sideways, but you will also see a driveline going to the car’s back wheels. This is because, in AWD, all four wheels need to be powered by the engine. 

What is All-Wheel Drive? 

The drivetrain is a term used to describe which wheels get power when your car moves, but does it matter? Yes. Understanding where the power is when driving your vehicle can how your vehicle will perform in certain circumstances. 

FWD or Front Wheel Drive and is the most common type of drivetrain in cars today. In FWD, cars are pulled, as the power is sent to the front wheels only, the rear wheels are dragged along. FWD, the engine drives the front wheels only.

This offers better tractions when going uphill. However, these cars can often lose traction in rain, snow, and ice. And they do very poorly off traditional roads. 

If you have an FWD, you should be more cautious in poor road conditions and watch how hard you hit your break. You should also avoid driving on terrain that is not a paved street. While you can probably handle a well-packed field, you could find yourself stuck if you are not careful. 

RWD or Rear Wheel Drive was the original type of drivetrain. This type of drivetrain sends power directly to the rear wheels, pushing the cars down the street. This driving style is still utilized in large trucks or muscle cars.

They tend to offer better handling at high speeds. This is great for race cars, but RWD is not common in family cars due to their tendency to lose traction on slippery roads. 

If you have an RWD vehicle, you should stick to the roads and avoid poor conditions, similar to FWD drivers. You will see better handling at high speeds, but only in the best conditions. Trucks with RWD have more capabilities than other vehicles due to their high chassis. Still, drivers in RWD trucks should also watch out for loss of traction in muddy or slick conditions. 

AWD or All-Wheel Drive sends power to all four wheels when driving down the street. This type of drive style is ideal for passenger vehicles as you get optimal handling this way. It is also beneficial if you find yourself driving in locations where road conditions often change, such as lots of rain, snow, or ice. Vehicles can be either whole or part-time AWD. 

If you have an AWD vehicle, you will have the best handling cars have to offer. This is ideal in poor road conditions. But don’t go off-roading too far! These vehicles may handle rough roads, but they are still made for roads nonetheless.

4WD is another type of drivetrain you may have. It may seem similar to All Wheel Drive; however, it is very different. For 4 wheel drive, all four wheels are getting a designated amount of power at all times. 4WD can be either part-time 4WD or All time 4WD

If you have 4WD, you can feel assured that you can get out of any trouble you may have gotten into off the road, but you may still feel some slipping and sliding in poor on-road conditions. 

How does All Wheel Drive work?

Cars with AWD depend on their computers. First, the car’s computer determines which wheels get a particular level of power at any given time. Then, as you drive down the road, the computer senses shifts in the street and sends power to each wheel as it is needed. 

If you have a wheel that starts to slip, your car will do what it needs to prevent loss of traction or even an accident. For example, one option is to will increase power to the other three wheels.

The other option is to hit the break on the wheel that is slipping and increase power to one of the other three wheels. There are many different ways your car is programmed to give you the best possible handling of your car for AWD vehicles. This is why typically, vehicles that are AWD are passenger cars like crossovers and minivans.

Full-time AWD vs. Part-time AWD

Vehicles with full-time AWD only have one option. The car’s computer determines which wheels get power and at what times. 

But part-time AWD gives the driver the ability to turn the AWD on or off. If the AWD is off, the car will default into FWD. Once AWD is turned on, the computer will begin sensing the road conditions and sending power to each wheel as needed. 

What is the difference between All-Wheel Drive and 4 Wheel Drive?

4WD means all wheels get all the power at the same time. All-wheel drive means that all wheels get power independently of each other. 

The main difference is that 4WD vehicles are sending power to all wheels when 4WD is engaged. Some vehicles split the amount of power between the front and rear axles, but this ratio will never change. It is either 80/20, or 50/50 and it will always be that way. 

Most of your 4WD vehicles will be part-time and work in a default setting of RWD. But there are full-time 4WD vehicles as well.

Full time 4WD

Full-time, 4 wheel drive can control the drive shafts to spin at different speeds. This keeps the car from getting “4 wheel binding”, so you can keep it in 4wd on the street. 

Part-time 4WD

Unlike full-time 4WD, you cannot drive in 4WD on the street with part-time 4WD. Your wheels will bind up. Most 4 wd vehicles give the capability to switch from Rwd to 4wd to the driver. In normal conditions, the driver will keep the car in RWD.

Then if you need to traverse poor road conditions or go off-road, they can utilize the 4 wheel drive mode. 

In this case, the vehicle will have a default setting that is either FWD or RWD (depending on the model), and it will only run 4WD when the driver sets it.

You mostly see 4wd drivetrain in trucks and jeeps. 

What is the advantage of AWD? 

The advantage of AWD is the advanced handling you get on any road. 

You get more traction and control in bad road conditions while also maintaining traction and fuel efficiency when driving in normal conditions. 

AWD vehicles tend to perform less well when moving from poor off-road conditions to good on-road conditions, as the computer takes a moment to readjust to the new surroundings.

As the driver in a 4wd vehicle has this control, it is not an issue. However, you do need to think about user error here. When driving a 4wd car from off the road to on the road, you may lose capabilities there as well. 

All-time all-wheel drive has a computer that powers the wheels that need it… but all time 4 wheel drive which gives full power to all wheels… which can be an issue… 

Downsides to your AWD Vehicle

AWD vehicles and 4WD vehicles will have worse gas mileage than an FWD vehicle due to the weight required to give the tires the functionality they need. 

Most Popular AWD Vehicles in 2021

  1. Dodge Challenger
  2. Ford Taurus
  3. Fiat 500X
  4. Dodge Charger
  5. Subaru XV Crosstrek
  6. Lincoln MKZ
  7. Subaru Legacy
  8. Ford Fusion
  9. Subaru Impreza
  10. Subaru Outback

What Type of Drivetrain is Best?

It really depends on your preferences and what you need out of your car. Some people may desire better handling, while others may want more power. The good thing is, with so many drivetrain options, there is bound to be something perfect for you. 

AWD is best for family or passenger vehicles that get a lot of driving, long driving, or driving on roads with changing conditions. AWD vehicles get the best handling. You can be sure that you or your family driving or riding in AWD cars are the safest options available. 

If you are looking for a sleeker muscle car, you may be more interested in an RWD. This gives you incredible power and traction on corners while enjoying the best racing vehicles out there. 

Suppose you need a vehicle that can go anywhere and handle any situation. In that case, a 4WD vehicle may be what you are looking for. 

Either way, knowing what type of drivetrain you have can ensure you know what your car can handle and how to be prepared while driving.  You may be interested in our guide on How To Tell If My Car Has ABS

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren