The Difference Between 4WD And AWD

Car manufacturers will often tout a vehicle’s features to appeal to the market, and this often leads to advertisements featuring a cacophony of acronyms and buzzwords to dazzle and confuse the prospective buyer. This can be particularly obvious when looking at drivelines. The terms four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and full-time and part-time are bandied about, but what do they actually mean? Are they all the same, meaning all wheels are driven or is there more to it? Let’s dive into the technology and find out.

Part-Time 4WD

Part-time four-wheel drive is the simplest system, most commonly found on older off-road vehicles like Jeeps, Land Cruisers and Land Rovers up to the early 1990s, as well as pickup trucks and other heavy duty applications. In these vehicles, the engine sends its power to a transfer case, which sends an equal amount of torque to the front and rear differentials, and essentially ties their input shafts together. This is good for slippery off-road situations, as some torque is provided to both axles at all times. However, this system has the drawback that it can’t be driven in four-wheel drive mode at all times. With the front and rear differentials rotating together, any difference in rotational speed between the front and rear wheels — such as from turning a corner or uneven tyre wear — would cause a problem. The drive shaft going to one differential would want to turn further than the other, a problem known as wind-up.

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All Wheel Drive Motorcycle

Take one look at the front fork of this dirt bike and you’ll notice that it’s not really a front fork at all. A custom front end replaces the traditional design in order to give this motorcycle all wheel drive. Look closely and you’ll see the chain that drives the front wheel. The swing-arm like addition lets the front end retain all of its suspension and steering and that’s where the project gets tricky.

We actually saw this thing in person at the monthly meeting of our local hackerspace: Sector67. [Martin Lawson] got his seven minutes of fame during the presentations (they use a prototype of this scoreboard to limit each presenter), and then was mobbed with a ton of interest afterwards. We were able to get a pretty good look at how the front drive works. It starts with an additional cog fastened beside the one that drives the chain for the back end. This feeds up through some tensioners and transfers out on the left side (from the rider’s perspective) of the front end. From here the rotational force is transferred to the right right and includes a U-joint to account for steering. The last chain goes straight down to the wheel.

The idea is that when the rear wheel loses traction you’re still being pulled by the front. This is illustrated well in the video after the break. [Marty] — who has a patent on the design — is trying to get some interest from manufacturers. He says the ability ride right through poor traction terrain make this a lot easier than a traditional dirt bike for beginners to ride. But it’s obvious the professionals are having fun on the thing as well!

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