General Buying Information

Four Types of All Wheel Drive Vehicles


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There is usually some confusion when discussing the definition of all wheel drive (AWD). Commonly used interchangeably with four-wheel drive (4WD), all wheel drive is generally considered a "full time" 4WD system that can be used without causing damage on dry pavement. An AWD can be driven on dry pavement because each tire is allowed to rotate at a different speed.

There are four types of AWD vehicles: torque transfers, torsen center differential, non-locking center differential and multi-clutch systems.

Let's look at each type a bit closer.

1. Torque Transfers (Center Differential)

A differential is capable of transmitting torque and rotation through multiple shafts. It allows each of the driving wheels to rotate at different speeds at the same torque. When turning corners, it is important for the wheels to rotate at different speeds. With no differential, the inner wheel spins and/or the outer wheel drags, resulting in difficult and unpredictable handling. This can cause damage to the roads and strain on the entire drive train.

Vehicles that fit into this type:

  • Mercedes GL-Class
  • Hummer 1,2 and 3
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee, Liberty
  • Dodge Durango
  • Land Rover Defender, Freelander
  • Lexus LX470, RX300
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Range Rover
  • Toyota Sequoia, Land Cruiser
  • Volkswagen Touraeg

2. Torsen Center Differential

The torsen center differential is mainly used to distribute the right amount of torque between the front and rear axles.

Vehicles that fit into this type:

  • Bentley Contiential
  • Chevrolet Trailblazer
  • Lexus GX470
  • Toyota Landcruiser, FJ Cruiser
  • Volkswagen Passat, Phaeton

3. Non-locking Center Differential

These systems function by selectively using the traction control system (via anti-lock brakes or ABS) to brake a slipping wheel.

Vehicles that fit into this type:

  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Chrysler 300C AWD
  • Dodge Magnum, Charger
  • GMC Yukon
  • Mercedes - various models

4. Multiple Clutch Systems

The clutch is used to transmit rotation, which can be turned on or off. The clutch connects two shafts so they can either be locked together and spin at the same speed or unlocked and spin at different speeds.

Vehicles that fit into this type:

  • Honda Ridgeline, Pilot
  • Mitsubishi Lancer, Outlander
  • Nissan GT-R, Skyline
  • Porsche 959 PSK
  • Saab 9-3, 9-4X

For more information about AWD vehicles, browse the articles available at autos.com and CarsDirect.com.

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