You have many choices to make when you’re shopping for a new car. Do you want a luxury vehicle or something more practical? Are you looking for a lot of cargo space or do you need something smaller with better gas mileage? Among the many decisions you’ll mull over in the car-buying process is the one between two-wheel (2WD), all-wheel (AWD), and four-wheel drive (4WD).

What’s the Difference?

Two-wheel drive describes vehicles with a drivetrain that allows two wheels to receive power from the engine simultaneously. According to Edmunds.com, the drivetrain of all-wheel drive cars provides independent power to all four wheels of the car with a front, rear and center differential. Four-wheel drive cars, however, provide power to all wheels through two differentials and a transfer case, a device that divides the power between the front and rear axles. Simply put, this distribution of torque can affect your car’s traction. The biggest difference between AWD and 4WD, according to Digital Trends, is that, for the most part, AWD can’t be turned off.

An easier way to understand the differences between the two can be to think of it this way: 4WD is for off-road and AWD is for on-road, according to Edmunds.com. They note that 4WD is usually on vehicles that are built for rough terrain, those with shielded underbodies and large, deep-ridged tires, while AWD can be found much more commonly on many types of cars, ranging from sports cars to SUVs.

MSN.com points out that the number of Americans opting for AWD and 4WD is growing; and last year, close to one-third of new cars sold came with some form of AWD. So why the growing interest? Let’s take a look at some of the features.

Bad Weather

If you’ve driven a two-wheel-drive car in bad weather, you know it can sometimes be a harrowing experience. As Edmunds.com points out, both the AWD and 4WD outperform 2WD vehicles in acceleration because of the distribution of traction. A few inches of snow can cause a front- or rear-wheel drive car to slip and slide all over the place when you accelerate, making it difficult to remain steady on the road. An AWD or 4WD car may be a better option for you if you live in an area with many rainy or snowy months.

All Terrain

You probably already know that a 4WD is best for off-roading. The advantage of 4WD, according to Digital Trends, is that it gets the best traction in rough terrain. So if you’re looking to blaze your own trail on the weekends, 4WD is a must.

Gas Mileage  

Historically, one of the big drawbacks of both AWD and 4WD cars is that you’d have lower fuel economy due to heavier parts and a harder working engine, but, according to MSN.com, there’s a growing variety of AWD cars that get at least 27 mpg. In addition, 4WD offers the ability to switch between two-wheel and four-wheel drive, allowing you to save more on gas mileage.

Cost

According to Edmunds.com, additional costs for 4WD and AWD vehicles can range from $1,000–$4,000. These cars also have additional required maintenance that can add up over time. You just have to decide whether the added safety and handling gained with the added traction and power make those increased costs worth it for your needs.

Still not sure what’s best for you? Head to your local dealership and chat with the experts, they can help determine which option is right for you.