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4×2 vs. 4×4: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

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While you’re perusing vehicles for sale online, you might notice that some trucks and SUVs are 4×4, while others are 4×2. What do the terms 4×4 and 4×2 mean, and which option should you choose for your next vehicle?

What’s the Difference Between 4×4 and 4×2?

Before we jump into what differentiates 4×4 and 4×2 vehicles from one another, it’s important to understand the difference between drive wheels and non-drive wheels.

  • Drive wheels transfer tractive force (derived from the engine’s rotational force) to the road, causing the vehicle to move.
  • Non-drive wheels are just along for the ride—they do not transfer tractive force to the road.
2wd and 4wd signages
4×2 vehicles have two drive wheels and two non-drive wheels while 4×4 vehicles have four drive wheels.

Trucks and SUVs often come in both two-wheel drive (4×2) and four-wheel drive (4×4) configurations.

  • Two-wheel drive (4×2) vehicles have two drive wheels and two non-drive wheels.
  • Four-wheel drive (4×4) vehicles have four drive wheels.

Let’s take a closer look at both designs.

What is 4×2?

The term 4×2, which means that the vehicle is two-wheel drive, is generally used to describe rear-wheel drive trucks and SUVs.

With a rear-wheel drive layout, rotational force from the engine is transferred from the transmission to a driveshaft, which connects to the differential and the rear wheels. The rear wheels transfer tractive force to the road, thereby setting the vehicle into motion.

basic 4x2 truck
The term 4×2, which means that the vehicle is two-wheel drive, is generally used to describe rear-wheel drive trucks and SUVs.

Note: You may also see the term two-wheel drive written as 2WD.

What is 4×4?

Many trucks and SUVs are four-wheel drive (4×4). Most four-wheel drive systems are part-time, meaning the driver can switch the vehicle from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive on demand. The four-wheel-drive system is usually engaged by pressing a button or pulling a lever. There are also some applications that have a full-time four-wheel drive system in which all four wheels are continuously driven.

In a typical four-wheel drive system, rotational force from the engine is transferred from the transmission to a transfer case. The transfer case connects to two driveshafts: one that goes to the front differential and one that goes to the rear differential. Each of the differentials turns a set of drive wheels whenever the four-wheel drive system is engaged.

4x4 ford raptor truck
Most four-wheel drive systems are part-time, meaning the driver can switch the vehicle from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive on demand.

Note: You may also see the term four-wheel drive written as 4WD.

Which is Better: 4×4 or 4×2?

Whether four-wheel drive or two-wheel drive is a better choice will depend on how you plan to use your vehicle.

The advantages of a four-wheel drive system include:

  • 4×4 vehicles can drive all four wheels for increased traction when traveling over challenging terrain.
  • 4×4 vehicles often have a higher towing and payload capacity than 4×2 vehicles.
  • 4×4 vehicles generally have a higher resale value than 4×2 vehicles.

The advantages of a two-wheel drive system include:

  • 4×2 vehicles typically weigh less and are more fuel-efficient than 4×4 vehicles.
  • 4×2 vehicles usually cost less than 4×4 vehicles
  • 4×2 vehicles have fewer parts and cost less to maintain than 4×4 vehicles.
2wd and 4wd switch
If you travel off-road or through heavy snow, 4×4 is the way to go. If not, you can go 4×2, which is usually more fuel-efficient.

Because four-wheel drive can route power to all four wheels, the design provides excellent traction, making it ideal for traversing challenging terrain. If you travel off-road or through heavy snow, 4×4 is the way to go.

Meanwhile, two-wheel drives have only two drive wheels—an arrangement that provides limited traction. For this reason, 4×2 vehicles aren’t typically recommended in low-traction situations, such as traveling off-road or navigating deep snow.

One perk of 4×2 vehicles, however, is that they usually weigh less (because they have fewer parts) than their 4×4 counterparts. That reduction in weight makes two-wheel drives more fuel-efficient than four-wheel drives.

Two-wheel drives also usually cost less to purchase and maintain than four-wheel drives. If you’re looking at two versions of the same vehicle—one that’s 4×2 and one that’s 4×4—the 4×2 variant will almost always be less expensive to purchase and own.

The downside is that 4×2 vehicles often have a lower resale value than those with 4×4. Two-wheel drive vehicles also tend to have lower towing and payload capacities than those with four-wheel drive.

tires of an offroad truck
4×4 vehicles often have a higher towing and payload capacity, and generally have a higher resale value than 4×2 vehicles.

4×2 vs. 4×4 Truck: Which Should You Choose?

Should you choose a two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive for your next vehicle? The answer to that question will depend on your lifestyle.

If you don’t need the additional traction that a 4×4 vehicle provides, going with a 4×2 is often the best choice. Two-wheel drives cost less and are cheaper to own than four-wheel drives.

Be realistic when making your decision—do you really need the capability of a four-wheel drive vehicle? Weigh the pros and cons of both options and decide which choice is best for you.

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