4WD vs AWD - what do you need in Canada

8 minute read Published on Sep 26, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

Old 4x4 car in a mountain area

With its diverse landscapes and terrain, from coast to coast, Canada offers a unique outdoor experience for residents and those who visit. If you plan on driving on the roads, understanding the differences between four wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) becomes crucial as winter blankets the region in snow and ice, and summer presents challenging off-roading experiences that can amplify road hazard. Join the BrokerLink team as we break down what you need to know.

What is the difference between AWD vs. 4WD?

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, BrokerLink is here to help. While there is really no one-size-fits-all guide to buying a new car, one of the most important considerations Canadian drivers can make is knowing the difference between AWD and 4WD. Let's take a closer look:

All-wheel drive (AWD)

  • All four wheels receive automatic power from AWD, which runs continuously.
  • Based on traction conditions, AWD systems automatically decide which wheel needs to receive more power.
  • AWD systems are adaptable and appropriate for many different types of vehicles, such as sedans, crossovers, and certain SUVs.
  • Compared to conventional 4WD systems, AWD vehicles are typically lighter and less complex, which makes them more appropriate for daily driving.
  • These are intended to improve handling and traction control on the road in a variety of weather situations, including slippery roads caused by light snow or rain.

Four-wheel drive (4WD)

  • Often, an on-demand system, 4WD, can be manually engaged or disengaged by the driver as needed.
  • The motorist is able to switch between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive modes.
  • Frequently seen in some of the safest SUV , trucks, and off-road cars built for rough terrain. You'll also see this feature when buying an ATV.
  • Due to the addition of extra parts like transfer cases and locking variations, conventional 4WD systems can be heavier and more complex.
  • Renowned for offering improved traction and off-road performance capabilities under challenging terrains like deep snow, which is a bonus in Canada.
  • While improving traction and stability is the goal of both AWD and 4WD systems, AWD is typically more intuitive and appropriate for daily driving, whereas 4WD frequently requires manual operation and contributes to off-road performance.

The pros and cons of AWD vs. 4WD

Now that you know the difference between four-wheel drive and an all wheel drive system, let's take a closer look at some of the benefits and disadvantages of each:

AWD advantage

  • By spreading power to all four wheels, it improves control and stability and lessens the chance of wheel spin.
  • When road conditions change, AWD operates automatically and doesn't need the driver's input to engage or disengage the system.
  • AWD is frequently made to improve performance and handling on the road, making for a more comfortable driving experience.

AWD disadvantage

  • Fuel efficiency can be lowered by the car's weight.
  • Restricted ability to go off-road.
  • These cars are typically more expensive to purchase, given their complex nature.

4WD advantage

  • Off-road, 4WD performs exceptionally well, offering increased traction and handling on tricky and uneven terrain.
  • 4WD helps make a car better at navigating through mud, snow, and other difficulties when there is limited traction, especially during winter driving, where conditions are unpredictable.
  • Since it can offer more traction and stability, 4WD is frequently chosen for towing and transporting large weights.

4WD disadvantage

In dry or well-kept roads, 4WD might not offer much of an advantage and might even worsen handling and fuel economy.

What are two-wheel drive vehicles?

So, what about two-wheel drive vehicles? Where do they fall in this discussion? Similar to AWD vs. 4WD, they are found in specific types of cars and offer drivers certain benefits. Let's break this down a bit further:

Front-wheel drive

When a vehicle has front-wheel drive, power is transferred to the front wheels only. This front wheel arrangement is frequently seen in compact cars and passenger cars, and it has benefits, including increased grip for winter driving and higher fuel economy because of the lesser weight. However, under steering can be expected in these kinds of vehicles, which is when the car turns less than the driver anticipates, putting other drivers at risk of a collision.

Rear wheel drive

Rear-wheel drive, on the other hand, transfers power to the back wheels and typically places the transmission toward the back and connects it to the rear axles. Larger trucks, performance hatchbacks, and sports cars frequently use rear wheel drive designs because it provides improved handling qualities by providing a more uniform weight distribution. They can, however, be more likely to oversteer in specific circumstances, like on slippery roads.

Reasons you need winter tires with AWD

A common misconception many drivers have is that they don’t need winter tires because they have an all-wheel drive vehicle. We’re here to tell you that this isn’t always the case. And if you’re looking to avoid collisions and the possibility of increasing your Toronto car insurance premiums, you may want to make note of the following:

Snow tires improve traction on deep snow and ice compared to all-season tires, helping enhance your AWD, which isn't as capable on its own in certain scenarios.

When driving on slippery or snow-covered roadways, winter tires enhance braking performance. The tires' ability to dig into the snow and shorten braking distances is aided by their distinct tread patterns and softer rubber composition.

You could receive insurance discounts if you use winter tires during the colder months of the year. So, if you're looking to save, install winter tires on your vehicle!

Having winter tires on your AWD car gives you peace of mind because you know you've taken extra precautions to guarantee maximum performance and safety during the winter. Winter tires make even the safest car even safer.

Winter driving tips for all-wheel drive

On snow or ice-covered roads, all-wheel drive (AWD) can offer improved traction and stability, but it's crucial to keep in mind that it doesn't offer you full rein over your vehicle. To stay safe this winter, follow these tips:

Smooth driving

In order to maintain traction in slick conditions, progressive braking, acceleration, and manoeuvring are recommended. Avoid abrupt changes unless you need to make quick decisions to avoid a collision.

Increase your following distance

All wheel drive assists with acceleration rather than braking, so give yourself more room when following behind other cars.

Drive cautiously

All wheel drive increases traction but does not make your car invincible; use caution at all times and be aware of your surroundings.

Maintain your car

Make sure everything on your car is in good condition, paying special attention to the tires, brakes, battery pack, and fluids. For safe winter driving, routine maintenance is essential.

Mistakes when buying insurance

Whether you drive an all-wheel, four-wheel, front-wheel, or rear-wheel vehicle, ensuring you choose the right insurance is essential to keeping your interests and finances safe should an accident occur. At BrokerLink, we understand that the insurance landscape can be just as challenging as Canada's diverse terrain. Here are some mistakes to avoid when buying insurance:

Going with the cheapest option

Life can be expensive, and so can your car insurance. However, that doesn't mean you should opt for the cheapest policies out there that sacrifice your level of coverage. The key to buying insurance policies is to strike a balance between affordability and coverage.

To do so, shop around between different providers and compare rates. Also, ask your insurance company or broker if there are any discounts that you qualify for. You can also consider changing your deductible amounts and coverage minimums.

Not being truthful

Not being truthful with your insurance company can lead to a whole world of problems later down the road. When answering questions regarding your vehicle, be honest. Most times, your agent or broker can look up the information you provide them to confirm whether you're telling the truth or not.

Picking a deductible you can’t afford

A deductible is the amount you agree to contribute in the event of a claim being made, up to the maximum amount covered by your insurance. It's common knowledge when looking for insurance that a greater deductible will result in a cheaper insurance premium.

That said, you want to avoid putting yourself in a position where you have to pay thousands of dollars in deductibles if your vehicle is damaged if you can afford to. While savings can be worth it, an expensive deductible in many cases is not.

Contact BrokerLink today

Do you have questions about the different types of auto insurance needed to protect your vehicle? From SUV insurance and ATV insurance to mandatory and optional car insurance, whether you want to renew your insurance or have questions regarding the coverage that your vehicle currently has, the knowledgeable broker team at BrokerLink is here to help.

Contact us to have a direct conversation with one of our brokers. If you would prefer to speak with us in person, you are also welcome to visit any of our several offices located across the country! Do you need a car insurance estimate right away? Get customized insurance quote while relaxing in the convenience of your own home by using our free online estimate tool!

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4WD vs AWD - what do you need in Canada FAQ

Is AWD really necessary in Canada?

Although it's not always required, all-wheel drive (AWD) can be advantageous in Canada's diverse climates. Winter tires on your car might be enough in cities with well-kept roads. On the other hand, AWD can improve traction and stability in isolated or icy areas, adding an additional degree of security under challenging circumstances. In the end, whether or not AWD is required depends on personal preferences, driving habits, where you live in Canada, and the unique winter weather patterns your region experiences each year.

Do I need all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive?

Your driving needs will determine whether you choose four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). AWD can often be sufficient if your driving is mostly on different kinds of terrain, you occasionally come across snow, and you value on-road performance. However, 4WD is better suited for off-roading, regular trips over rugged terrain, or jobs like towing. It offers the adaptability to switch the four-wheel drive on or off as required. To decide whether AWD or 4WD better suits your needs, take into account your unique driving circumstances, the terrain, and the intended use of the vehicle.

Do you really need AWD in winter?

All-wheel drive (AWD) is not an absolute must for every driver, even if it might improve performance during winter driving. Front-wheel drive cars with winter tires may be enough in areas with winters that are mild enough where snow isn't as common. In regions with significant snowfall, icy roads, or difficult terrain, AWD becomes even more important as it offers better stability and traction, particularly while accelerating. To determine whether you need all-wheel drive, consider your driving habits and take into account what the yearly winter conditions are like before buying a vehicle. Also, remember that regardless of where you live, installing winter tires is always recommended for added safety and peace of mind.

Is AWD needed in southern Ontario?

Winters in southern Ontario are often milder than those in the northern part of the province. Minor snowfalls can occur, and roadways tend to be in good condition. However, if you frequently travel to more remote or rural areas during the holidays, experience heavier snowfall, or prioritize extra stability and traction, AWD may be beneficial. In the end, even though all-wheel drive has its benefits, not all southern Ontario drivers absolutely need it; many manage to get through winter conditions just fine with front-wheel drive and winter tires.

If you have any questions, contact one of our local branches.