|Topic: How Does 4 Wheel Drive Work?|
with a basic diagram that shows how your car goes along. The diagram at
the top shows a 2wd drive vehicle with the front to the right (turned
wheels). In all 2wd vehicles, the engine (black rectangle) is bolted
directly to the transmission (red rectangle) and the transmission is
connected a a drive shaft (green) which turns the differential (red) and
axles (yellow) which in turn turns the wheels.
In 2 wheel drive vehicles with the drive wheels in the rear, the vehicle will want to go straight even if you turn the wheels on slippery surfaces. This is why many prefer a front wheel drive vehicle that has only 2 wheel drive. The front wheels, when turned, will at least pull you in the direction of the turn.
The middle diagram shows a 4wd vehicle. It has the added component of a transfer case (blue) which connects another drive shaft (green) to the front differential and axles to drive the front wheels. So, 4 wheel drive has all these parts underneath to drive both the front and rear wheels. With 4wd, not only are the rear wheels pushing the vehicle along (blue arrows) but the front wheels are pulling the vehicle as well (red arrows). Turns on slippery surfaces are much more certain because the power to the front wheels will pull the vehicle in the direction of the turn.
The 4x4 in the bottom photograph would never make it up the snowy hill if it did not have the front wheels pulling.
The transfer case transfers power to the front wheels. When you take your SUV out of 4wd, the transfer case is disengaged and the front drive shaft, differential, and axles do not turn (in most SUV's).
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