June 1, 2023

How Does 4 Wheel Drive Work?

If you’re new to off-roading, you may wonder what switching between two-wheel drive (2WD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) means. You’ll want to know the difference between both to use your ATV to its full potential.


Four-wheel drive is when all four wheels of a vehicle receive power from the engine simultaneously. It works by using special gearing arrangements called differentials. The engine connects to these differentials via the drive shaft, which feeds the power to the wheels by the drive axles—dramatically improving traction, whether in a car, truck, or off-road vehicle.

In comparison, two-wheel drive only has power sent to two wheels, either the front or back. It’s suitable for driving long, flat stretches of road or trail. Most ATVs will be able to switch between 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive.

On top of that, you’ve got this all-wheel drive sneaking in. Wouldn’t having four wheels going mean that all the wheels are going? Just how many tires does your ATV have?

In all seriousness, there is a difference between all-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive, mostly in how the system is controlled. With 4-wheel drive, it locks into how it distributes power, while all-wheel drive leaves controlling traction to the devices of the machine and the sensors. An all-wheel-drive system typically allows torque between the front and rear axles, constantly evaluating grip as the vehicle traverses the terrain and moving that distribution around consistently.

All-wheel-drive doesn’t allow you to switch to two-wheel drive because the system is meant to be engaged the entire time the vehicle operates hence why it’s also called full-time four-wheel drive.


There are reasons and benefits to having an ATV that can switch between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. If riding on a nice easy trail with gently sloping hills, you can keep your ATV in 2- wheel drive. A nice bonus to 2-wheel drive is that it uses far less fuel than 4-wheel drive, so if you’re trying to conserve fuel and the trail allows, you can get away with 2-wheel drive.

If you’re shopping for kids’ ATVs, they are typically 2-wheel drive because the system is much lighter than 4-wheel drive. It makes it safer if the quad rolls over onto the rider. It also has a tighter turning radius and a much more nimble ride; that’s why you will notice all racing ATVs are 2-wheel-drive. It makes the rider work a bit harder. However, if you prefer to rip through rougher terrain, you’ll be glad to have a four-wheel drive. 

ATVs with four-wheel drive give you far more traction, which you’ll need on rough terrain. They also make it easier to traverse steeper hills, both backwards and forwards. The front wheels help pull the ATV while the rear wheels push it. The extra weight of the four-wheel drive also keeps it from flipping over the way a 2-wheel drive ATV might go up a steep hill.

Having an all-wheel drive ATV is beneficial if you use the ATV for work, hunting, going way off trail, or through snow and wet slippery terrain. If you’re primarily in those situations, you don’t need a 2-wheel drive.

The choice between an ATV with 2-wheel drive/4-wheel drive or all-wheel drive will depend solely on what you’re using it for. If you need help deciding what kind of ATV you need, Throttle Powersports are expert in this field. We know the best in the industry and can understand your needs allowing us to point you in the right direction. With three locations in Almonte, Kingston, and Cornwall, we can guide you on your journey to getting on a new or new-to-you ride. Call 1-888-536-4558 today!

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