Why Does 4-Wheel Drive Use More Gas?

By Derrick •  Updated: 06/12/21 •  7 min read

Whether you own a 4WD vehicle or you’re considering getting one, you might’ve heard they have a lower fuel economy than their 2WD counterparts. 4WD and AWD vehicles require more fuel, which is a significant reason many potential car owners choose two-wheel-drive. However, there are many reasons to sacrifice the fuel economy for a four-wheel-drive car.

4-wheel-drive uses more gas because it requires more power to propel four tires instead of two. 4WD vehicles weigh more than 2WD vehicles, which is another reason they have a worse fuel economy. You can turn off the 4WD mode to save gas, though AWD vehicles don’t have this feature. 

Throughout this article, we’ll also discuss several reasons 4WD uses more fuel, how to use less gas in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and whether or not AWD reduces your vehicle’s gas consumption. We’ll also analyze numerous differences between AWD and 4WD regarding their respective fuel economies.

Does Auto 4-Wheel-Drive Use More Gas?

Are you worried about spending too much money on gas or want to reduce your environmental impact? Four-wheel-drive vehicles use a large engine with a powerful drive train that consumes quite a bit of gasoline (or electricity if you’re using a battery-powered 4WD vehicle).

You might be curious why they’re more expensive and require more gas to go the extra mile, so we’ll break down four primary reasons below.

  1. 4-wheel-drive vehicles typically weigh more than 2WD and AWD vehicles. According to It Still Runs, a vehicle’s weight directly impacts its fuel economy. 4WD and AWD vehicles are heavier than 2WD vehicles, but 4WD is undeniably heavier than AWD, too. Check the curb weight of your favorite 4WD, then compare it to the 2WD model.
  2. 4WD cars need more power to move twice the tires of 2WD cars. Since they have to move all four tires rather than the front two (FWD) or back two (RWD), four-wheel-drive vehicles use a lot more gasoline to get the job done. It doesn’t equate to twice the fuel consumption, but you’ll notice a significant increase.
  3. They use heavy-duty transmissions, spending more gasoline on handling the load. Transmissions are weighed down by towing, off-road driving, and four-wheel-drive modes. When you activate 4WD, your vehicle uses the bulky transmission to push through varying terrains.
  4. Bigger engines make four-wheel-drive vehicles burn more gas. The engine’s weight reduces the fuel economy (as seen in the first suggestion), but it also consumes more fuel to operate all moving parts. Everything on a 4WD vehicle needs to be more powerful than a 2WD to push through ice, snow, dirt, mud, sand, and so on.

Many four-wheel-drive vehicles are much more powerful than two-wheel-drive vehicles when it comes to driving uphill, against the wind, and so on. They’re designed for resistance and unpredictable surfaces.

One of the main reasons they’re heavier than 2WD is the added weight improves the traction, allowing the vehicle to stay on course; But what if you’re driving on smooth roads and want to save gas and money? Read on to find out what you can do.

Does Turning Off 4WD Save Gas?

The primary difference between 4WD and AWD vehicles is you can turn off the 4WD mode to make it work as a 2WD, whereas AWD vehicles always use all of the wheels. Having the option to turn 4WD on or off is a great advantage for people who live and often drive on smooth roads but occasionally go off-roading or drive on snow and icy roads.

So, should you turn off 4WD to save gas?

Only Use 4WD When Necessary

Four-wheel-drive is an excellent choice for driving on dangerous roads or off-roading on dirt, sand, gravel, and more. However, it’s a gas hog that consumes quite a bit of fuel by using all of the previously mentioned engine components. From the drive train to the movement of four wheels, activating this mode will cost the most gas for this vehicle.

2WD Uses Much Less Gas

You can save gas by switching off the four-wheel-drive setting. When you do this step, it returns the vehicle to a two-wheel-drive state, which acts and operates like a traditional front-wheel-drive car. However, Auto Simple explains the added weight doesn’t go away when deactivating 4WD, so it’ll still use more gas than a basic 2WD model.

Plan Your Trips With Fuel in Mind

You don’t have to use 4WD for an entire drive if you only need it for an hour or so. The best way to save gas and money is to route your trip to find out when it’s necessary. Most smooth roads and gradual inclines or flat pavement don’t require 4WD. Once you get close to the snow, steep inclines, or your favorite off-roading area, you can use the 4WD mode.

It’s no secret four-wheel-drive cars use more gas, but you can save money by switching to 2WD when you don’t need power behind every tire. AWD vehicles are a reasonable alternative for those who live in seasonally snowy regions or who go off-roading frequently. Below, we’ll dive into the fuel comparisons between all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Do AWD Vehicles Get Better Gas Mileage Than 4WD Vehicles?

Now that you know the difference between AWD and 4WD vehicles from the previous section, we can explore their gas mileage expectations. Both vehicles use more gas than a two-wheel-drive engine, but there’s no doubt one consumes more than the other. If you’re concerned about a 4WD’s gas consumption, AWD should be on your radar, too.

Here’s what you should know when reviewing why AWD and 4WD vehicles use more gas:

  • AWD vehicles are often heavier than 2WD vehicles but lighter than 4WD vehicles. US News claims AWD vehicles are in the middle when it comes to their weight. They’re heavier because it improves the traction, but they’re not as heavy as a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Their gas mileage is slightly better than an activated 4WD mode.
  • 4WD vehicles have the option to turn it off, but AWD is a permanent mode. If you rarely use 4WD except when driving off-road, you’ll use much less gas than if you had an AWD vehicle. AWD can’t be deactivated, which means it’s always using the engine’s capacity to turn four wheels.
  • Two-wheel-drive is much more fuel-conscious than other modes. If you want to save gas, 2WD will always be the best way to go. It doesn’t have the bulky engine, added traction weight, or impressively multi-functional drivetrain. Its gas needs are reduced, but you can’t tow nearly as much.
  • Four-wheel-drive typically has a bulkier, more complex drive train than all-wheel-drive. Since it can perform as a 4WD or 2WD vehicle, four-wheel-drive cars are heavier, more expensive, and often require more maintenance. When using the 4WD mode, your gas needs will be at an all-time high.
  • Consider electric 4WD and AWD vehicles to save gas expenses and reduce your gas consumption. Nothing saves gasoline like switching to an electric vehicle. However, electric cars currently don’t possess the same power as gas-powered vehicles. You’ll save gas and money but sacrifice the vehicle’s potential utility.

It’s up to you to decide if switching to or using 4WD is worth the increased gas consumption.


4WD vehicles might require more gas, but their off-road and towing capabilities make them more than worth it for many owners. They use more gas than 2WD or AWD cars, but you can deactivate the 4WD mode to use less gas than most AWD. You could choose an electric 4WD vehicle to rely on a battery rather than gasoline.