The 4 Types of Drivetrains: What You Need To Know

The 4 Types of Drivetrains: What You Need To Know

The engine is the heart of every vehicle – a complex machine built to convert the heat generated from fuel burning into mechanical energy. The mechanical energy it supplies is then used to increase the vehicle’s kinetic energy, causing it to move.

By itself, all of the energy the engine generates stays in the engine. It has to have the means to transfer the energy from the engine to other parts of the vehicle. This is where your vehicle’s drivetrain comes into play.

A vehicle’s drivetrain is a crucial part of your car that contains all the components necessary to transfer the engine’s energy to the wheels, enabling your vehicle to move. It comprises the vehicle’s transmission, driveshaft, CV joint, U-joint, differential, and axle shafts, working together to deliver power to the wheels.

Four different drivetrain types can be used for different kinds of vehicles. While the overarching principle generally remains the same, each is unique and has its own advantages. 

Learn more about the different types of drivetrains and what they’re used for below.


Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)

Front-wheel-drive-type vehicles are some of the most commonly spotted on the road. All rotational power is directed to the car’s front wheels in a front-wheel drivetrain. Essentially, the vehicle’s front wheels are responsible for both its forward movement and steering.


  • Fuel Efficiency: FWD vehicles are known for their fuel efficiency. Since there is no need to connect the front axles to the rear wheels, the drive axles tend to be shorter, which makes for a lighter vehicle. This equates to less power required and lower fuel consumption for the car.
  • Lower Cost: FWD drivetrains are less complicated for manufacturers, making them less expensive to produce. On the user’s side, this makes vehicles more affordable and easier to maintain.
  • Excellent Performance in Different Weather: FWD vehicles maintain good traction on various road surfaces. They respond well to wet conditions, snow, gravel, sand, and more. Further, they have a lower tendency to ‘fishtail’ on low-friction surfaces.


  • Not For Off-Road Use: FWD vehicles can handle various road surfaces and conditions, but they are more well-suited for everyday driving than off-road usage.
  • Lower Turn Radius: Less room under the front of the vehicle makes the vehicle’s turn radius much larger, which means it needs more space on the road for turning than other cars.
  • Tires Wear Out Faster: The vehicle’s front wheels bear much higher loads than other drivetrains due to the combined weight of the engine, transmission, and other components. Combined with the added load of everyday acceleration, steering, and braking, all of these cause the front tires to wear out faster.


Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD)

In rear-wheel drive vehicle systems, the engine is positioned at the front of the vehicle, while all power is delivered to the rear wheels to push the car forward. These systems utilize the vehicle’s transmission and driveshaft to provide the needed energy to the rear wheels. This creates a more balanced approach where the rear wheels are responsible for movement while the front wheels handle the steering.


  • Excellent Acceleration: From a standstill position, RWD drivetrains offer faster acceleration without being impacted by torque steer, unlike their FWD counterparts. This means vehicles with RWD drivetrains provide superior handling while accelerating from a complete stop.
  • Better Turning Radius: Having all power transmitted to the vehicle’s rear frees up more engine and front suspension space, allowing them to have a much better turning radius. Essentially, rear-wheel drive vehicles can make sharper turns than FWDs. 
  • Higher Payload Capacity: More weight is placed over the rear wheels, enabling RWD vehicles to have a much higher towing capacity.
  • Balanced Weight Distribution: In RWD drivetrains, the weight is more evenly distributed between the front and rear wheels, which means both wheels wear out at about the same time, but at a much slower rate.


  • Poor Performance in Inclement Conditions: Besides normal road conditions, RWD drivetrains tend to perform relatively worse when road surfaces are less than ideal. This means that when the road conditions are wet or covered in snow, they have a much higher tendency to ‘fishtail.’
  • Less Fuel Efficiency: To achieve the same performance level as FWD vehicles, RWD vehicles will typically require more powerful engines, which means they consume more fuel.


Four-Wheel Drive (4WD)

Four-wheel-drive-type vehicles are the most popular vehicle type for off-roaders and sports enthusiasts. These systems are designed to deliver full power to all four wheels, making them more powerful and stable when road conditions are less than ideal.

Further, there are two types of vehicles with four-wheel-drive-type drivetrains: full-time 4WD and part-time 4WD. As the name suggests, full-time 4WD vehicle systems provide power to both the front and rear wheels all the time, while part-time 4WD systems offer drivers the choice to switch between 2WD and 4WD driving modes. 


  • Superior Off-Road Capabilities: With power supplied to all four wheels, 4WD vehicles offer excellent traction and stability even in challenging terrain, such as those covered in mud and rocks, and have steep inclines.
  • Significantly Higher Towing Capacity: 4WD vehicles have heavy-duty suspensions and powerful engines, making them ideal for towing other vehicles, whether on the road or off.
  • Unmatched Performance in Inclement Weather: Vehicles with 4WD drivetrains are known for having excellent traction and stability in less-than-ideal road conditions, which means they are well-suited for driving on wet, snowy, or muddy roads.


  • High Fuel Consumption: 4WD drivetrains are considerably more complex than other types. They require more complex and rugged components, adding more weight to the vehicle while making its operation more complex. All of these factors increase the amount of fuel needed to operate the vehicle.
  • Need For More Frequent Maintenance: Additional complex components require more parts to be subjected to regular servicing and maintenance. Further, 4WD vehicles tend to be used in harsher environments, making them more susceptible to wear and tear that will require even more upkeep.
  • More Expensive Than Other Drivetrains: Due to the complexity of the entire system, 4WD vehicles tend to be more expensive than 2WD vehicles.


All-Wheel Drive (AWD)

Based on the name, AWD and 4WD drivetrains may sound similar, as they do have some similarities in some aspects. However, both work differently and are distinct enough to be considered their own category.

An all-wheel-drive-type drivetrain works with the vehicle’s onboard computer to collect necessary information, which it then uses to transfer power between the front and rear wheels. This functionality allows the computer to make the best decision to switch which set of wheels needs power the most in response to road conditions, whether it’s improved traction during wet or snowy conditions or the need to accelerate more quickly. 


  • Unmatched Versatility: Offers the best of all worlds with the drivetrain’s ability to switch between FWD or RWD, or even 2WD and 4WD, while doing so automatically based on the given conditions of the road.
  • Excellent Performance Under Inclement Weather: In AWD drivetrains, power is delivered to where it is needed most, allowing vehicles to perform optimally, regardless of the road conditions.


  • High Fuel Consumption: The additional functionalities offered by all-wheel drive vehicles call for more complex components, which makes them heavier. This also means they consume more fuel.
  • Need For More Regular Maintenance: AWD vehicles require considerably more moving parts, which may require even more frequent maintenance to ensure everything is working properly.
  • More Expensive: AWD vehicles are arguably the most expensive due to the complex nature of their operation.


Keep Your Car Running Smoothly with Berryman Products

Understanding your car’s drivetrain type, how it works, and its strengths and weaknesses allows you to operate your vehicle more efficiently. However, merely knowing your car’s drive type is one thing – keeping it well-maintained is another thing entirely.

For over 100 years, Berryman Products has been a trusted provider of quality, innovative products that help motorists worldwide maintain their vehicles’ optimal performance on the road. From fuel additives and lubricants to tire sealants and eco-friendly cleaners, Berryman Products is your partner in road safety. For more information on our products, check out our product catalog or send us a message.

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