How do I engage all-wheel drive on my vehicle?

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How to Activate All-Wheel Drive in Your Car

Many buyers of new vehicles prioritize obtaining a machine with all-wheel drive capability. These oft-desired systems enhance a vehicle’s control on slippery roads and in inclement conditions, as well as varied types of terrain. They may even open up off-roading possibilities.

However, if you’re searching inside your vehicle for the button to activate all-wheel drive, you may be coming up short. How does one engage the all-wheel drive system in their vehicle?


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All-wheel drive is not intended to be engaged manually; as such, there is typically no need (or ability) to manually engage one’s all-wheel drive system. Some vehicles do include an “AWD Lock” button. This button will lock the system into 50/50 distribution of power between the front and rear wheels. However, it typically only works at low speeds and is meant for situations like getting out when parked in the snow. The lock will usually deactivate when a speed of around 20 miles-per-hour is exceeded. The vehicle will then revert to its normal all-wheel drive operation.

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2021 Chevy Silverado on highwayWhere do all-wheel drive systems send their power?

An AWD system typically runs almost entirely in front-wheel drive until a triggering situation occurs that prompts it to send power to the back wheels. Some systems are smart enough to send specific amounts of power and torque to whichever wheels are determined to need it most.

The power distribution possibilities of an all-wheel drive system are indicated by a percentage. If a system is labeled as 60/40, for example, it can devote up to 40 percent of its power to the rear wheels.

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What situations cause all-wheel drive to kick in?

Situations that AWD might react to include when a vehicle starts slipping or needs an extra acceleration boost. In the past, all-wheel drive could take a bit of time to kick in, but today they’re almost instantaneous. Some AWD systems even distribute power proactively. In all cases, no action on the part of the driver is required.

Does four-wheel drive need to be activated manually?

Four-wheel drive, by contrast, is a system that locks the front and rear axles together for maximum traction. It is typically engaged manually with a dial or lever. Four-wheel drive should only be used on loose surfaces such as mud, gravel or deep snow; using it on a hard surface like asphalt can cause damage to the vehicle.