In the past few decades the automotive industry has offered much to consumers by way of driving manageability. In fact, there are enough options out there to confuse the brightest of us, sometimes even making us easy targets for unneeded upgrades by clever salespeople. The variations of two-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles are numerous, to say the least, so how do you know what the best option is when buying your next vehicle?
I was two years into a divorce and 1100 miles away from home when I tripped over this very choice. Realizing I didn’t have a clue about my drive needs, I left the dealership, researched the subject and came back the next day to buy my car. Ultimately, I saved a lot of money and future aggravation because I purchased the exact amount of car I needed and one that best suited my needs. The following outlines the differences in drives and summarizes the pros and cons for each choice, hopefully making this choice easier so you can focus on something more entertaining, like sunroofs or cup holders:
Two-Wheel Drive (2WD): Sometimes referred to as a 4×2 (four wheels, two powered). A 2WD has a powertrain (engine components) that generates power into two wheels (front wheel drive or back wheel drive) to make your vehicle move. A 2WD is cheaper in initial purchase and maintenance, sometimes by as much as half. It is an excellent choice for those who drive in areas of standard weather conditions or where off-road driving is not desired. It also uses less energy to run, particularly the front-wheel drive variety as it is the most space efficient and makes the car weigh less than its rear-wheel drive counterpart. 2WD vehicles have a lower center of gravity, keeping flip-overs to a minimum, but they are not a good selection for those who often drive in hazardous road conditions or who like to participate in off-road driving, as getting stuck in snow or sliding on roads may be problematic.
Four-Wheel Drive (4WD): Sometimes referred to as a 4×4 (four wheels, four powered). A 4WD has a powertrain that drives like a 2WD in standard mode, but when road conditions become hazardous or the terrain rougher, it can be switched to 4WD at the push of a button, giving you better maneuverability and traction, albeit at lower speeds. A 4WD often lends better visibility as it usually sits higher off the road and grants better traction to allow drivers to take corners at higher speeds. Many precautions have been taken in recent years to minimize flip-over hazards in 4WD vehicles (SUVs being the most vulnerable), but it is important to research each type of vehicle for its flip-over rating. Because there are more engine components involved in 4WDs, the cost to purchase, maintain, and operate tend to be significantly higher, but well worth the added safety. 4WD is not to be mistaken with all-wheel drive, the smaller vehicle’s answer to better traction, which has its four wheels powered at all times and is considered by some to be wasteful in energy as it applies additional power even when it is not needed.
Whatever your drive decision may be, make sure you get a good fit. Skimping on 4WD traction to save a little money may turn out to be a poor choice if you end up in a ditch in December.