You may have heard the terms “front-wheel drive” and “all-wheel drive,” but you might be a little bit confused about what the difference is. Let’s change that.

Picking the right drivetrain for your car sounds daunting, but trust me, it’s way simpler than it sounds. The “drivetrain” simply refers to how your vehicle propels itself. In a front wheel drive (or “FWD”) vehicle, your car moves by spinning the front tires. In an all wheel drive (or “AWD”) vehicle, the car moves by spinning all four tires. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the two systems come with some big differences.

FWD is far and beyond the most common drivetrain. Vehicles with FWD conserve the most gas mileage, and they do decently well in rain and snow. That said, FWD vehicles are still prone to spinning out in harsh conditions if you aren’t careful. Meanwhile, AWD vehicles offer the best traction at the cost of some MPG.

So as a rule of thumb, most people would say FWD is best for the average commuter, while AWD wins out if you live in an area with rough winters. There are, of course, other differences and personal preferences, but that’s really the long and short of it for most car shoppers.

That said, modern technology has helped bridge much of the gap between AWD and FWD vehicles in terms of MPG. Many vehicles now have “automatic AWD,” which means the car only engages all four tires when its absolutely needed. As a result, an AWD vehicle will feel a heck of a lot like a FWD vehicle in most circumstances. While the MPG difference is still there, it may not be as much as you’d think.

Now, if you’re a car enthusiast, or you just know a car enthusiast, you might be aware that there are two other drivetrains we didn’t cover here. These are rear-wheel drive (“RWD”) and four wheel drive (“4WD”). Rear-wheel drive propels the vehicle by the rear wheels, just as the name implies. This option is generally unpopular because it affords the least traction in bad weather, which means it’s the most accident prone. Still, some car experts love the feel and maneuverability of RWD. As a result, you’ll usually see RWD in luxury sports cars or other exotic cars.

4WD is often confused with AWD, as both use all four tires to move the vehicle. The key difference is that 4WD generally sends an equal amount of power to each tire at all times, while AWD powers the front and back wheels differently depending on the situation. Also, while some 4WD vehicles switch to FWD like AWD vehicles can, this switch has to be done manually. For these reasons, 4WD is usually reserved for trucks that will see lots of action off-road.

In other words, unless you’re buying a truck or a sports car, you’ll probably be choosing between FWD and AWD. And that choice really comes down to whether you’ll anticipate driving in really bad weather or not. If yes, pick AWD, but if no, pick FWD.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. If you have more questions about this topic, or you’d like to see which cars come in AWD or FWD, give me a call. No matter what option is best for you, I’ve got the perfect car on my lot waiting for you.