All About Drivetrains


Your drivetrain is what provides the power to your wheels, causing your car to move. There are several ways to provide this power . The terms that pertain to the drivetrain that you’re most likely familiar with are all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

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The drivetrain includes several parts of your vehicle:

  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Driveshaft
  • Axles
  • Wheels

This complex drivetrain system has many moving parts, and they all have to work together if your car is going to run properly (or at all).

Engine and Transmission

These are the two biggest components of your drivetrain. While the engine supplies power, the transmission regulates that power through a range of speeds. There’s also a part that keeps your engine moving even when your car is parked. That’s the clutch or torque converter.

If you have a manual transmission, this is the clutch pedal at your feet. If you have an automatic transmission, you have a torque converter under the hood.


Power moves from your transmission to the differential, which allows your wheels to move independently at different speeds. This comes in handy around corners, because the wheels taking the inside corner need to move slower.

This distribution of power involves all of those moving parts we listed earlier and they all have to work together and know their part in order for your car to ride smoothly and do what it’s supposed to do.

Types of Drivetrains

Which kind of drivetrain do you need? That depends on how you’re going to use the vehicle, but there are four basic choices.

The transmission sends power to the wheels based on your type of drivetrain, so it matters. Here are some general explanations for the different types of drivetrains:

  • FWD – front wheel drive is common in many cars
  • RWD – rear wheel drive is common in sports cars, SUVs, and some trucks
  • AWD – all wheel drive is standard in many SUVs
  • 4WD – four wheel drive is common in many trucks
  • 4×4 – called “four by four,” this is a common term to refer to either AWD or 4WD, despite the fact that they are not the same thing

You can’t have more than one drivetrain on a single vehicle, but some vehicles will allow you to disengage four wheel drive so they operate as either front wheel drive or rear wheel drive vehicles when four wheel drive is not in use.


These cars are lighter because the layout of the drivetrain is much less complex. There aren’t as many parts and components here, and it generally means that a smaller engine can perform more efficiently at the same tasks as bigger engines.

The front wheels hold all the power and the back wheels follow, so if the front wheels have no traction on the road, the car won’t move.


The reason sports and luxury cars feature rear wheel drive is because it gives you more precise handling and a more intuitive layout. The rear wheels provide power while the front wheels steer.


All wheel drive cars send power from the engine to the center of the car where it’s distributed evenly between front and rear axles. Some cars are smart enough to distribute it differently based on road conditions.


Both axles of four wheel drive vehicles move at the same speed. Driving on normal roads with 4WD is engaged can be difficult, but 4WD provides a huge amount of traction and safety when conditions are bad. Many 4WD vehicles can convert to 2WD either while stopped or on the fly, improving handling and fuel efficiency.

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