If You’ve Never Bought a Truck Before . . .

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Trucks, like high-performance sports cars – like minivans for that matter – are specialty vehicles. Which means they’re compromised vehicles.trucks lead

Some things, they’re very good at – usually, much better at them than a jack-of-all-trades family car.

A high-performance sports car, for instance, can be driven faster around a race track (or your favorite winding country road) than a family car before it approaches the limits of its ability to hold the road.

But the flip slide of this extra capability here is less capability there.

To wit: High-performance sports cars are usually awful in the snow. And they are awful in the snow to a great extent precisely because of the design aspects and features that make them adroit high-speed handlers on dry pavement – such as sport-compound (and short sidewall) “summer” tires and being low to the ground (and so having a low center of gravity).

In this case, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Same goes for trucks – and SUVs built on a truck-type layout.

In order to be extra-capable off-road, on-road handling and stability are usually at least somewhat compromised.truck clearance pic

Trucks and truck-based SUVs usually have more ground clearance – they sit higher up off the pavement – which is exactly what you want if you’re heading out into heavy snow or thinking about attempting a trek up a rutted, rock-strewn dirt road. (The lack of clearance, by the way, is one of the chief reasons why low-slung sporty cars suck in the snow. They bottom out sooner – and ride up on top of the accumulating snow, which reduces the ability of the tires to bite through the snow to the pavement.)

On the other hand, riding higher off the ground also means a higher center of gravity – which is exactly what you don’t want if the object is high-speed handling stability, especially in the curves.

The higher ground clearance/higher center of gravity typical of truck/SUV design is one of the primary reasons why they’re inherently less stable – and more prone to rollover accidents – than are cars. The auto industry has worked hard to make trucks and SUVs handle more like cars, to accommodate the conflicting demands and expectations of consumers, but they’re still compromised – and will probably always be compromised  . . . so long as consumers expect vehicles to be rugged off-road as well as civilized on-road.truck roll

One method by which the car companies have attempted to crutch this Catch-22 is by fitting trucks and SUVs with car-type wheel and tire packages. Specifically, tall (and wide) wheels with short (and stiff) sidewall “sport” tires – as opposed to the Mud & Snow (M&S) rated tires – and not as tall, nor as wide – wheels you’d want if you don’t want to get stuck in the snow and mud. The end result is an automotive oddity. A truck/SUV that might actually be worse in the snow than a standard passenger car.

Again, you can’t have it both ways.

Same goes for the pros – and cons – of the truck’s (and truck-based SUV’s) four-wheel-drive system.

Most trucks and truck-based SUVs are rear-wheel-drive – with a part-time four-wheel-drive system optionally available. It is very, very important to comprehend the functional differences – and relative strengths and weaknesses  – of truck-type four-wheel-drive vs. the increasingly ubiquitous all-wheel-drive, which (very confusingly) is often marketed as “four wheel drive” (see, for an example, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee; reviewed here).4WD vs. AWD 1

Both systems do – technically – send power to (i.e., drive) all four wheels. But truck-type 4WD only sends power to the rear wheels when it’s not engaged, whereas AWD normally sends most of the engine’s power (90 percent being typical) to the front wheels – with (second Big Difference) power being automatically routed to the back wheels in the event the front wheels being to slip. With a part-time, truck-type 4WD system, the driver must engage the 4WD for any power to be routed to the front wheels. Otherwise, all the engine’s power is going to the rear-wheel-drive – and when in RWD, trucks and SUVs (which are light in the tail) are more prone to slipping and sliding than a FWD car!

But wait, there’s more.

Even in 4WD, a truck/SUV is not optimized for on-pavement driving. Most salesmen will not tell you this truth.

I just did.

Truck-type 4WD (which usually includes a two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing) is designed for uneven terrain, negotiated at relatively low speed. It is specifically not designed to enhance high-speed handing (and cornering) and you should avoid engaging it when driving on dry pavement – to avoid excess wear and tear. It also means you’re driving a two-wheel-drive (and RWD at that) vehicle when the system is disengaged. 4-wheel-drive Layout

AWD, on the other hand, is designed specifically for on-road driving in all conditions – wet, dry or snowy – and it provides a high-speed handling/cornering advantage, in addition to improved traction. Some of the latest systems are so sophisticated that they can direct the flow of power to individual wheels, in varying ratios, to enable the vehicle to corner at higher speeds without any loss of stability or control. This is something no truck-type 4WD system is capable of doing.

So what’s the advantage of truck-type 4WD? The two-speed transfer case’s gearing reduction provides extra pulling power for clawing your way out of deep mud and through deep snow. For climbing up rutted dirt trails – and so on. Also, the system is generally “heavier duty” than most AWD systems – and so can take a lot of abuse in an off-road context.

But these advantages may amount to not much if most of your driving is in fact on paved roads – even in the winter time. And there are some significant disadvantages – in addition to the handling/cornering disadvantages already described.gas cost pic

For instance, weight.

A truck-type 4WD system includes more components – most notably, the two-speed transfer case – but also a separate rear axle assembly. These parts are usually made of very heavy cast iron and add several hundred pounds to the vehicle’s curb weight, while AWD systems (which have no two-speed transfer case) typically add about 75-100 pounds and often less.

The higher the curb weight, the higher the vehicle’s fuel consumption. This is one reason why trucks and truck-based SUVs are – usually – so thirsty.

More gas is needed to get all that mass moving.

Which would be ok, if you got everyday capability enhancement – which (if you go off-road or deal with really severe conditions on-road routinely) you may indeed get. But if your driving is mostly on road – and rarely in severe conditions – then most of the time you’re lugging around useless dead weight that’s dunning you for dollars every time you gas up.compromises pic

Trucks – and truck-based SUVs – also tend to be less space-efficient than cars (and car-based crossover SUVs). The reason for this has to do with the rear-drive layout that most trucks and truck-based SUVs are built on.

In a front-drive car, the engine is mounted sideways (“transversely,” in car industry lingo) rather than front to back (or “longitudinally”). The transmission and axle are snugged up against the engine as a single assembly called a transaxle. This greatly reduces the intrusion of the drivetrain into the passenger compartment, which usually means more legroom as well as more cargo room. The trunk/cargo area can be made larger because space isn’t taken up by a rear axle and related components. The floorpans can be flatter, too – because there’s no need for a “tunnel” to accommodate a driveshaft from the engine/transmission up front running to the rear axle in the back.

All else being equal, a truck or SUV of a given size (e.g., mid-size or full-sized) will have less interior room for people and cargo than a same-size car, crossover or wagon. The third row, especially (in larger models) is almost always more cramped than the third row in a crossover SUV or minivan.

None of this means trucks – and truck based SUVs – are bad. But it does mean they are different. It’s a good idea to know up front what you’re getting into.

Both pro – and con.

Throw it in the Woods?

Eric Peters is a veteran car/bike journalist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs. Twitter handle: LibertarianCarG (they would not let me have LibertarianCarGuy).

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  35 comments for “If You’ve Never Bought a Truck Before . . .

  1. JoePA
    April 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Eric. Most people as you noted do not understand what they are buying. They look at the number “4″ and that’s it. They don’t understand the difference between the different car frames either. Most people have no use for a true truck or even 4WD. Me personally, I like part time AWD in an SUV frame. It does what I need and I save the fuel and driving negatives. My two cents.

  2. Helot
    April 7, 2014 at 10:19 am

    A neighbor once related a story to me about their friends who bought a brand new fancy SUV. After the first big snowfall of the year the friends wanted my neighbors to come over and show them how to “turn on” the 4X4. Where was the button? They had looked and looked and couldn’t find the button or a knob of any kind.

    My neighbors got a good laugh when they discovered the reason why they couldn’t figure out how to “turn on” the 4X4: the SUV was two-wheel-drive RWD.

  3. Randy
    April 7, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Well said, Eric. The truck/SUV trend causes me to shake my head often.
    Soccer moms delivering toddlers to day care in 8000 lb. behemoths, Super Duty “off road” machines without a scratch- obviously never been on a dirt road, and Humvees with fancy bling wheels and low profile 20″ tires, are all examples of this phenomenon. It’s idiotic “keeping up with the Jones” behavior, and I laugh when such drivers cry about the price of gas.
    Yet, as a Libertarian, I feel that everyone should have the right to drive whatever they want and can afford. Also, the (particularly domestic) auto industry has enjoyed much profit from trucks/SUV’s/4WD. As have the oil companies.
    To each their own. There is a local company that converts Mercedes military style vehicles to US specs- a gray market thing. For only 6 figures, you too can drive a slow, noisy, uncomfortable, funny-looking status symbol! Proof that some people have more money than sense. Nothing wrong with that, though. Again, to each their own.

    • Doug Wagner
      April 9, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Yes we can all get a good laugh when these truckies suffer the pain at the pump.

      But we all suffer when these behemoths take 125% of the parking space at the mall, when they have to back up several times to just get in a spot, and when they block out the sky with their unnecessarily massive profile, making viewing the road ahead (good drivers like to do this) impossible.

      Then there’s the ones that spend an additional $500 bucks to make sure we hear their grownups(?) “hotwheels” coming from several blocks away.

      • eric
        April 10, 2014 at 5:55 am

        Hi Doug,

        I’m with you – especially with regard to the current crop of 1500s. Thank – blame – Ford. Because Ford began the trend (with the Super Duty series) of preposterously tall bed walls – so tall that (literally, no shit) they now include pull out or drop-down step ladders, so you can access the bed. I’m a 6ft 3, 200 pound guy – and these trucks make me feel like a 110 pound 13 year-old.

  4. MikePizzo
    April 7, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Eric, As you have noted many times, modern vehicles have evolved a lot. I would suggest that a modern 4×4 truck may provide on road handling that equals or exceeds that of a passenger car of 15 years ago…..IF it is not lifted too high by either the makers or the aftermarket. With part time 4wd and the proper tires, it should still be able to offer excellent off road performance.

    Modern trucks in crew cab configurations also seem to be extremely spacious. Admittedly, there is an inevitable trade off between passenger vs cargo capacity, depending upon how much bed length has been sacrificed. But a good compromise exists in the form of those cabs with smaller rear doors and back seat space. They can carry at least 4 full sized adults, and still have a 6 to 7 foot bed length, for lots of cargo.

    When you consider their ability to go places and carry more stuff than any car could, a modern half ton 4×4 truck offers exceptional strategic and utilitarian value.

    There’s no denying that trucks still drink more, and are a lot more difficult to maneuver and park in crowded urban, or even suburban environments. But for many of us the compromises are well worth it. I’d never be without a truck!

    • Eightsouthman
      April 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      Mike, I’d go along with you on that. I have used 4WD on very large pickups on the highway for decades and never had it bite me. There was a time when transfer cases weren’t sophisticated enough to allow for each axle to “unwind”, especially true on everything but GM trucks for a long time. I have known people to come to a halt on dry pavement in 4WD because there is enough difference in front and rear diff. ratios to make one axle get ahead of the other but this was in older vehicles with transfer cases not designed for dry running on pavement. I have seen people forget and leave their 4WD engaged and drive 60 miles or more and never notice. They were using more fuel but probably never noticed that either.

      While some trucks may be a trade-off, like the Dodge Mega Cab for bed length, most manufacturers(American only)offer ext-cab and crew cab pickups with full length 8′ beds. I accept no less since anything less than an 8′ bed is a compromised truck. I’m old school and too many things such as 2×4 studs, 8′ plywood and similar products, wallboard, paneling, etc. won’t fit in the bed with the endgate up and this is often unacceptable and in Tx., illegal even though it’s not often enforced if you don’t have a bunch of loose stuff in the bed with the endgate down. Even with my only crossover toolbox I ever owned I can get 13 sheets of 5/8 plywood under it. It was never a problem when I always had sideboxes, and I intend to return to using them.

      It was sorta funny when I was in Mexico. The parking lot attendants(yep, almost everywhere you go)would stop traffic and cleared me out 3 spaces to park in. A couple dollars and you could be assured he’d be there to help you get out when you left too. Nice people there.

      Crewcab pickups with 8′ beds are considered family cars in Tx. All the tools of the trade in the back and the entire family in front.

    • eric
      April 7, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Yes, trucks have evolved – but in a way, this is a bad thing from my perspective. In the Bad Old Days, trucks let you know much sooner (and far more clearly) that you were pushing it. Modern trucks feel – and are – more stable at speed. But underneath, they are still trucks – and they can get away from you. From inexperienced drivers especially. Only now, it happens at higher speed – and with more serious consequences as a result.

      I preferred it when trucks were niche vehicles driven by people who knew ‘em and understood ‘em – and didn’t expect them to behave like a car!

      • tom
        April 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm

        I concur Eric: Long time ago (’95) I rented a Dodge minivan and cruised PCH from LA to Santa Barbara. The car rode so smoothly on the straights I continually found myself too hot into the turns! I had to pay conscious attention afterwards because the van was top heavy. I have no such problem in my everyday ride, my ’98 Club Wagon, since as a truck, it lets you know this on the straights.

    • Randy
      April 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      I agree, Mike. Sometimes there is no substitute for a truck, and I’ll always own at least one.
      My post was more about the trend of people getting the biggest, most impressive truck they can as a status symbol and rarely, if ever, needing what they are paying big $$$ to purchase and operate. The silly examples I cited are seen every day, and for the most part are a waste of good machinery. Like most any vehicle, compromises are present. Mommy hauls the little kids in a vehicle that drives like a tank, gets single digit MPG’s, is hard to get into, and needs an acre to turn around. But hey, everyone else in the subdivision has one, so she needs one too!
      I’m NOT talking about those who use trucks to earn a living here.
      I don’t claim to be so smart, but for the price of one new mega truck, we have two (relatively) economical, fun to drive cars for every day, a nice used midsized truck for when it’s needed, and an old beater truck for dirty/severe duty.

  5. MikePizzo
    April 7, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Eightsouthman, Agreed, 8 foot beds optimize cargo capacity. 6 to 7′ beds are less useful, but can meet the needs of many truck buyers. What seems like a joke though, are those vestigial 5′ beds on full sized trucks. Although somewhat useful, they fail to meet the needs of a majority of buyers. They distort the passenger vs cargo equation to the point of the absurd.

  6. John G.
    April 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Question — does a 4X4 truck really need a low range transfer case? I would guess that a really, really low ‘granny gear’ would suffice. Does anyone really need, or use, second and higher gears when running in 4X4 low range?

    I have a ’11 4X4 Tacoma strictly to allow me to slowly climb the 12-15% grade ‘driveway’ that is gravel, deeply rutted, narrow, windy, and nearly a 1/4 mile at my fallback ‘Doomstead.’ My AWD Forester was unable to reliably make the climb, especially when pulling a trailer. So, I traded it in for the Tacoma, which makes the climb effortlessly (even with its four cylinder engine).

    • John G.
      April 7, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      …as long as it is in 4X4 low range (and, it never comes close to getting out of first gear).

    • michael.white
      April 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      John – I’ve used the low range gears in my old Land Rover a few times. It’s only got a 2.5 liter turbo diesel and it’s geared it for highway. First time I used low was in an off-road park; no way was I going to be able to navigate a ravine in the upper gear ranges, or get up some of the steeper inclines. Likewise, it would’ve sucked to only have a single low gear, as not all of the trail was slow ravines. It was also in diff-lock (true 4wd).

      I’ve used the low range a few times since when climbing some steep local (on road) hills while pulling a loaded trailer that was close to twice the weight of the truck. Without the low gear range I doubt I could’ve made it up those hills, and pulling only in a single granny gear would’ve been horribly slow and rough on the engine.

      • Tionico
        April 9, 2014 at 3:55 am

        I’ve got a few hundred thousand miles on the early Landies… Series 2 and 2A. Their gearing is incredible. Geared (not lug-chain) high and low, instantly engageable front drive lock=in, and with a bit of experience, on the fly shifting between high and low range in the transfer box. Mine were either 2 1/4 Litre petrol or, in one case, 2 litre diesel. I’ve pulled loads weighing twice the loaded tow vehicle, and using low range first or second to start out from dead-stop was essential. Those crazy things handled well, too. Cornering at speed is interesting, but once the limits were found, very predictable and stable. Uncannily agile in the rough, too. The SWB Series 2 and 2A were a bit light on brakes, though, but the LWB were better… that extra inch in brake drum diameter made a HUGE difference.

        My everyday vehicle these days, though, is a rather serious hauler.. a one ton Ford E series (van) with Powerstroke. That thing handles amazingly well, has never showed the least bit of instability. I’ve worked it HARD…. five thousand pounds inside, no problem. Towing a huge brick of a cargo trailer, scaled at 14K on the wheels, another 2500 on the tongue. Handled well, highway speed just fine, and still delivered around 14 MPG highway with that load. Plenty of dry, secure inside space for stuff, sleeping, my bicycles, tools, my coffee roaster…. the ultimate road trip vehicle. I can’t see much use for the normal pickup trucks, except perhaps for the full crew cab with 8 foot bed… one ton, of course, and true 4WD for snow, slop, etc. It would enable me to fit a fifth wheel hitch in the bad, and handle some larger trailers, the bumper tow on the van does have its limits, though I’ve not yet found them. I imagine they are not much beyond where I’ve taken it so far. Most pickups and the silly Escalade and Avalanche SUV types are rather silly….. not interested.

      • John G.
        April 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm

        Got it; thanks, Michael!

    • El_Gordo
      April 10, 2014 at 10:31 am

      Yes. A low range makes a big difference – but only you drive your car in certain conditions.

      I grew up in Utah. Going into the mountains was what we did on weekends. Back then we went to hard-to-get-to places to get away from adults and adult restrictions. Moab is an example. Back then it wasn’t famous for 4X4s. It is just where we went to get away.

      But even outside of Moab, driving up a mountain trail 15 minutes out of Salt Lake City could get you in a situation where your vehicle would not be strong enough to push you over a rock or a lump in the trail. Personal experience. Low range helps.

  7. April 8, 2014 at 5:02 am

    I am regularly ridiculed by the Kult of Truk up here in Alaska for not having a truck of any sort. The kicker is that I’d really like to have one, but only as a utility vehicle — use it to haul furniture around, plow snow, so forth — but the cost of registration and (especially) insurance on yet another vehicle is prohibitive. And I think that’s at the root of a lot of weird truck usage; people want to have a truck to handle the odd edge cases that it’s really *great* for, but the government’s made owning a special-purpose vehicle prohibitively expensive, so it has to pull double-duty as a “normal” car also.

    • El_Gordo
      April 10, 2014 at 10:21 am

      Darien,

      The problem with a 4×4 truck is … IT IS A TRUCK. It is meant for cargo. WITHOUT cargo, the cargo compartment is too light and causes those wheels to have too little traction.

      If you want a truck to be a good 4X4 you have to add weight to the back until it is in balance with the front. Even then, it will not be as good as a lighter vehicle, because the weight was increased a lot to handle cargo – heavier frame, bigger engine, etc – but the surface of the tire in contact with the ground was only increased A LITTLE.

      The best possible car for slippery conditions is one that has the weight distribution of a car, and a 4×4 system. Like, say, …a JEEP.

    • Brian
      April 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

      You are right Darien. Sometimes I read a post or hear a talk show caller complaining about all the people driving around huge 4x4s that are empty and not pulling anything. Someone else will reply or call in saying just what you have said. I am in that situation myself. I have a 2000 F-350 extended cab with a 7.3 L Powerstroke V-8 diesel. This past winter the Missouri Highway Department didn’t even plow or salt the rural roads except for on steep hills and bridges a day or 2 later. My truck got me to work on those days anyway. I also loaded up a few loads of firewood and backed it up a steep hill in low range to my home. Last Spring, I rented a mini-excavator and I saved hundreds of dollars by installing 8 double walled 8″ culverts to divert flowing storm water to the downhill side of the road. The rental company will not rent out the mini-excavator to anyone that doesn’t have at least a 3/4 ton truck to pull it atop their 2 axle trailer. I’m also considering the harvest of many of my trees, and my truck is big enough to pull a trailer with a bundle or two of RR ties.
      Other than those events above: I certainly would have been better off with a car. It would cost probably about $2000 to get a decent used car, and of course I would have to pay for licensing and insurance.
      What is ridiculous is the automobile liability insurance scam! I can only drive one vehicle at a time, therefore my use of other cars does not add risk for the insurance companies. There should not be any such thing as automobile liability insurance. Personal liability insurance would be a better choice.
      With my new job, I have to drive 24 miles round trip for 4 10 hour work days. Add 30 miles per week to a different town for shopping and laundry for 126 miles per week. At 17 mpg, I consume nearly 7.5 gallons of fuel costing $28.12 @ $3.75 per gallon. O.K., if I got a car that gets 40 mpg, then I would only burn 3.15 gallons of the cheaper gas, or $10.08 @ $3.20 per gallon. That is an $18.04 dollar savings per week, so it would take 110 weeks for the car to pay for itself.

  8. Alan
    April 9, 2014 at 6:31 am

    I only recently bought my first ever truck, a Ford Ranger 2.5 XLT 4×4.

    As I work from home I rarely use a car and when I do it’s usually my wife’s Corolla. I did have a ridiculously cute little 1.3 liter SUV, a Kembara, and it was surprisingly capable of pulling my boat but I wanted something bigger and heavier.

    My truck easily pulls a load of fishing gear, 4 or 5 large fuel cans, 2 heavy duty boat batteries and a couple of ice boxes, along with 4 people. My Kembara would bottom out the suspension just with the batteries, ice boxes and 3 people..

    Also, it’s illegal to pull a boat here with anything that’s not 4×4

    The other use for it is as a recovery vehicle for my scrambler bike. If I break down in the jungles of Borneo my SUV could possibly reach close to my location but would be useless for recovering the bike. The Ranger can take the bike with the rear door down and some straps.

    Of course I ALSO use it as a general vehicle for popping into town for anything too large for my bike or poor weather. I mention all this because if you saw my gleaming, unmarked truck in the local supermarket car park you’d probably think it never goes off-road or gets used as a truck…

    …but it does, often. :)

    • eric
      April 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Good stuff, Alan – and welcome to our little corner of the ‘Net!

  9. April 9, 2014 at 10:28 am

    We recently purchased a 2014 Subaru Forester Limited. We’ve had it for 3 months now and love it. it’s the first all wheel drive vehicle I have owned and possibly even driven.
    I already own it now so maybe the question is pointless, but do those fit in this mix.
    It seems to handle well and for a 4 cylinder it has surprised me at how quick it is in accelerating.
    Also, thanks for all the great writing on cars and Libertarian thoughts!

    • Clay
      April 9, 2014 at 10:31 am

      * I meant the question to be “but where do those fit in this mix?” not “do those fit in this mix?”…

    • eric
      April 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Hi Clay,

      Your Soobie is an outstanding car; I think you’ll come to appreciate this the longer you own (and drive) it.

      Subaru’s AWD systems are among the best available; along with Audi, they’ve been at it the longest – and it shows.

      The one weakness recent Subarus had – not-so-great gas mileage – has also been fixed, courtesy of the updated transmissions (yours has one of these).

      Again, congrats on choosing a great car!

      • Bryce
        April 15, 2014 at 11:25 am

        Another Subaru driver here…my Outback just hit 11 years and 134K miles, and still looks and drives fine!

  10. tom
    April 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Test drove a ’14 Nissan Rogue Select (same as ’13 & earlier Rogue) and it has an AWD system like you describe. “Intelligent” to shift power to wheels that are slipping, inside the curves, on icy roads etc. However, it also had an “AWD lock” mode that effectively gave 50/50 split to front and back axles. (According to the salesman anyway) and it also had an automatic traction control disable button. So, I think those two disabling features are very important to get the most out of you AWD car. Otherwise, you might be fighting some of these automatic systems when you’re trying to get thru the deep snow.

    • eric
      April 10, 2014 at 6:35 am

      Hi Tom,

      Those systems are, in my opinion, ideal for a (mostly) street-driven car. You enjoy a handling enhancement on dry pavement – in addition to the traction advantage on wet/snow-slicked pavement – along with “more-than-car” ability to trek down onto a grassy field.

      No real downside – and many upsides!

  11. libertyx
    April 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Another AWD system example: My 2012 Toyota V6 RAV 4 automatically engages AWD below 25 mph. Although I don’t go off road it’s great coming up against a RWD high-performance vehicle from a stop – in the wet or with a little sand on the road. None of them have a chance – 1/4mile times, high 14s – with this 269hp SUV and average 26mpg.

    • eric
      April 10, 2014 at 6:18 am

      Hi Lib,

      Yup – been there/done that myself!

  12. Robert
    April 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    A neighbor here Eric, i like old 4×4 trucks, you may have seen the saddle tan 69 4×4 Chevy running around. It’s a truck, it knows it’s a truck, and I can run most anyone up the mountain (you know the one). I driven sports cars of many types at VIR and on Auto Cross courses so I’ve developed the 9.9/10 feel for most. ;)
    But as far as snow going goes, SUBARU is the answer. I bought an old beater from a fellow at the saw mill. With good snow tires there is nothing goes like it. Until the snow is two deep that is and then even the truck with good snow tires can’t get it done on a mountainside off road. Most of my life is spent off road in my business. Which brings me to my observations on Diesel 4X4 trucks, to heavy on the front end, get them in mud or snow on a hillside and ….hang on,,,hope it stops….go get the skidder to pull it out. ;)

    I’ll close with I was hoping you do a test drive on the Ferrari AWD. :)

    • eric
      April 10, 2014 at 6:17 am

      Hi Robert,

      Amen all that!

      I still see a few ancient (’80s-era) Brats running around these parts. Subarus are fine cars – and now they get not-bad gas mileage, too. Finally.

      My snow truck is the gold ’98 Frontier regular cab, manual hub 4×4. It’s a tough little SOB – and I’ll miss it when the frame finally rots to pieces!

      I took the A8L up Old Poage Valley Road, by the way…

  13. El_Gordo
    April 10, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Eric,

    The part about tradeoffs between Truck/SUV’s and car-based platforms is absolutely true. There is no reason to have a truck with low sidewall tires. It is as useless as installing 4WD on a bicycle – it defeats the purpose of either the truck or the tire.

    But that part about the weight and function of AWD vs 4WD?

    Well… It is not exactly true. At one time the transfer cases they put into trucks were cast iron. But that was decades ago. They went to aluminum cases in the 1980s.

    I love my Jeep Cherokee – the old one that was made from 1984 to 2001. Mine is a 1998 model. I plan to keep it running forever – because, well, I CAN. And I can do it less expensively in terms of money AND time than it would cost me to buy ANY new vehicle. My Cherokee has an NV242 transfer case that features AWD plus hi-range and lo-range 4WD. The case is aluminum. The entire transfer case weighs about 60 pounds.

    My dad had a 1992 Cherokee. It has the identical transfer case.

    In fact, having spent several decades in the Army, I can tell you that my M998 HMWWV’s – most of which dated from 1985 to 1990, also used the NV242. The only difference was the number of splines on the input shaft and the thickness of the case. The internals were the exact same parts.

    Both 4WD and AWD have a differential on both front and rear axles. For non-mechanical readers, a differential is that big ball-shaped mass usually in the middle of the axle.

    The differential splits the power going to each wheel so that they can turn different speeds – like when you go around a corner making the wheel on the outside of the turn go faster than the wheel on the inside. In fact, you can actually totally stop one wheel entirely by applying pressure to it, and all the engine’s power will be delivered TO ONE WHEEL – to the wheel with the LEAST traction.

    That is the purpose of a differential. And that is what 2WD does. It delivers power to AT LEAST ONE AND AT MOST TWO OF FOUR WHEELS.

    Part-time 4WD simply connects the two axles together. That means the engine will deliver power to AT LEAST ONE WHEEL in the front and in the back – the wheel on each axle with the LEAST traction. (Because that is how the differential in the front and rear axles work to let you go around corners, right?)

    The problem with turning in 4WD is that only the front wheels turn. When you start turning, one wheel in the front is going faster than the other. But what is going on on the back axle? It hasn’t started turning yet. It is still going straight ahead. And the two axles are directly connected so they MUST turn at the same speed, overall. Since they can’t, one axle will bind, FORCING ONE SET of wheels to slip a little. But while it causes some slippage due to binding it ALSO FORCES POWER TO AT LEAST TWO OF FOUR WHEELS, one at the front and one at the back.

    But what about AWD? AWD has EXTRA COMPONENTS. Specifically AWD doesn’t directly connect the front and back axles. Instead AWD ADDS A THIRD DIFFERENTIAL and connects each axle to it.

    This means that when you are driving more or less straight you have power to all four wheels. When you start a turn, the AWD differential between the two axles will allow those axles to turn at different speeds, effectively delivering less power to one of them. It can even allow one axle to ENTIRELY STOP, just like the differential in each axle can allow one wheel to entirely stop.

    What does this mean for AWD in slippery conditions? It means that AWD only must deliver power to ONLY ONE OF FOUR WHEELS – the one with the least traction – EXACTLY LIKE 2WD.

    4WD on the other hand delivers power to AT LEAST TWO OF FOUR WHEELS – at least on in the front and one in the back, guaranteed.

    So, what does this mean?

    It means AWD can help you to NOT SPIN OUT when the wheels generally have good traction by splitting the power between all four of them.

    But when traction is generally bad AWD is PRECISELY AND EXACTLY NO DIFFERENT THAN 2WD. BOTH 2WD and AWD will deliver power to only one wheel.

    4WD will bind when the wheels generally have good traction. So having 4WD engaged is actually A DRAWBACK THAT FORCES THE WHEELS TO SLIP when traction is good.

    But when it is slippery, 4WD guarantees AT LEAST TWO wheels will have power.

    But, all things being equal, AWD uses more components – a third differential – and is therefore heavier.

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