Does your family use a four-wheel drive vehicle? If not, chances are you know someone who does. Have you ever ridden in a four-wheel drive vehicle off-road over rough terrain? It can be an exciting experience!

Four-wheel drive vehicles are also good to have when weather conditions make roads slippery. Have you ever wondered what it is about four-wheel drive vehicles that makes them great in the snow and the ice and even off the road?

A four-wheel drive vehicle — often called a 4WD or 4X4 (“four by four”) — is a vehicle in which all four wheels receive power from the engine. Most vehicles are two-wheel drive — 2WD or 4X2 — and that means that the engine’s power is only sent to two of the four wheels.

For example, a two-wheel drive vehicle will either have the engine’s power sent to the two rear wheels (rear-wheel drive) or the two front wheels (front-wheel drive). So a 4X4 has four wheels and all four wheels receive power from the engine. A 4X2 has four wheels, but only two of the four wheels receive power from the engine.

How does this impact the vehicle’s performance? In slippery or off-road conditions, two-wheel drive vehicles will tend to lose traction more easily. If you’re driving a rear-wheel drive car and one or both of the back wheels lose traction, you will have a problem because the front wheels can’t help you since they’re not powered by the engine.

In a four-wheel drive vehicle, however, it’s easier to maintain traction and control of the vehicle in slippery or off-road conditions. If one or two wheels lose traction, you still have two or three powered wheels to keep you moving.

Many four-wheel drive vehicles are actually part-time four-wheel drive. This means that, under normal conditions, the vehicle only sends power to two wheels and behaves like a two-wheel drive vehicle. If four-wheel drive is needed, however, the driver can switch to four-wheel drive with the press of a button.

Four-wheel drive vehicles haven’t been around forever. They didn’t really become popular until Willys manufactured the first Jeeps® for the United States military during World War II. Willys began to make the first four-wheel drive vehicle for non-military uses when it created the CJ-2A in 1945.

Today, Jeeps® are still known for their amazing off-road abilities. If you’re wondering where the name came from, it turns out that many people believe the name was given to the vehicle by military personnel who compared it to a cartoon character named Eugene the Jeep.

Eugene the Jeep starred in E.C. Segar’s Popeye comic books. He was Popeye’s jungle pet who was small and seemed to be able to solve problems most thought were impossible. Military drivers thought the same thing about their new four-wheel drive vehicles, so they began to call them Jeeps®. The name has stuck ever since!


86 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (11 votes, avg. 3.18 out of 5)
    • That’s OK, Rahul! We think you are a GREAT guesser…your guess about compasses was super smart! LOTS of people use compasses when they go off-road four-wheeling! We hope you have a WONDERful day today! :-)

    • We WONDER how cars and trucks get “un-stuck” from deep mud, too, Levi! Thanks for stopping by today’s Wonder…we appreciate your comment! :-)

    • that so called car is a jeep and it can get out of mud because it has bigger offroad wheels and it also has a lift kit (make the truck or suv higher off the ground) also it has a bigger engine. that is how it gets out of deep mud.

    • We like that explanation, Jacob! We’re glad you visited today’s Wonder of the Day® and shared something cool you learned by exploring it! :-)

    • Hello, Jenna! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis! We encourage you to re-explore today’s Wonder of the Day® to learn what four-wheel drive means, and why it’s more helpful than two-wheel drive for getting out of some pretty sticky (and slippery) situations! :-)

  1. Wow, I want a four-wheel but I heard that it is expensive to buy!! I hope you have a nice weekend I will come back soon!!!!!!!!!!

    • Happy Friday, Barbara! Thanks for letting us know you stopped by today’s Wonder by leaving us this cool comment! We hope you have a WONDERful weekend, too! :-)

    • Those are both really COLORFUL guesses, KD and Stefani! We can always count on you guys to leave us a really clever comment about what you think the next day’s Wonder will be! YOU ROCK! :-)

  2. A Four-Wheel Drive is when you can drive fast. A four-wheel drive vehicle — often called a 4WD or 4X4 (“four by four”) — is a vehicle in which all four wheels receive power from the engine.

    • Hello, Gloria! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about (and your favorite part of) today’s Wonder! We think your comment is AWESOME! :-)

    • Actually a four wheel drive truck is slower than a two wheel drive truck because in a four wheel drive truck the engine has to put more power towards 4 wheels instead of just two wheels so than the 2 wheel drive truck gets all of the power in just 2 wheels instead of 4. so in theory you are in correct.

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about the video for today’s Wonder, Caelah! We really appreciate your opinion and your comment! Have a FANTASTIC Friday! :-)

  3. I’m really, really, really, really sorry to tell you this wonderopoplis. I don’t like this wonder, it’s boring. Sorry to tell you this.

    • Hey there, “Wonder!” You shouldn’t be sorry for not liking today’s Wonder…we all like to WONDER about different things! Thanks for letting us know you didn’t care for it, though. We know you explore every Wonder of the Day® you can, and we really appreciate your opinion! :-)

  4. I know that Mrs. Russell’s Kindergarten class loved this wonder, too! We both have Jeeps! You are either a Jeep person or not a Jeep person. We always joke that Jeep means Just Empty Every Pocket because you can put a lot of money into a Jeep buying bigger tires and other cool stuff. Did you know in Ohio that Jeep people always wave to other people driving a Wrangler? This is a lot of fun!

    • We think it’s REALLY AWESOME to learn so much about Jeeps today, Mr. Flinn! Thank you for teaching us some great new stuff! We bet your Jeep (and Mrs. Russell’s Jeep, too!) are super COOL! We hope you and your students have a FABULOUS Friday and a WONDERful weekend! :-)

  5. Hi, Wonderopolis! Our next door neighbor, Ms. Thomasson, just started posting on the site. We think tomorrow’s wonder might be about a kaleidoscope. We miss seeing the donuts and wanting to take a bite. That video was cool but Mr. Draper’s car would have broken down if he tried to climb. Some of us have been off-roading. Do all of the wheels on a 4WD work at the same speed? Have a super tasty taco day!

    • Mmmm! A super tasty taco day sounds YUMMY, Mr. Draper’s Class! You guys always leave us the best comments! Thanks for introducing Ms. Thomasson and her class to Wonderopolis! You guys are GREAT ambassadors of WONDER!

      We’re not sure if all wheels on a 4WD vehicle work at the same speed…now you have us WONDERing more about four-wheeling, too! :-)

    • That’s a really awesome question, Ethan! We’re glad you’re WONDERing more about Jeeps after exploring today’s Wonder about four-wheel driving! We think the Chrysler Group makes Jeeps now, and we’re pretty sure they are made in America. Here is a link to the Jeep website that gives a little more JEEP-specific history: Happy WONDERing! :-)

  6. Thanks Mr. Flinn and Wonderopolis! We loved talking and learning about 4 wheel drive vehicles like Jeeps today! We also enjoyed talking about Popeye and Eugene the Jeep. We even talked about how Mr. Flinn looks a little like Popeye! :-)

    We wondered if Jeep Wrangler drivers in other states waved to other Jeep drivers when they pass?

    Happy Friday!
    Mrs. Russell Class

    • Jeep “waving” is a super fun thing to WONDER about, Mrs. Russell Class! We WONDER if drivers of other types of cars do that, too? We think some motorcycle riders do it! Thanks for sharing some of the awesome things you guys learned and talked about today! We thought it was cool to learn about Eugene the Jeep, too! :-)

  7. I think it’s a Jeep/Truck.
    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about how we remember things.
    Keep it WONDERing

    Bryce G.

    • Thanks for reminding everyone to keep WONDERing, Bryce! We like your idea for what the next Wonder might be about…let’s both REMEMBER to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if your guess is correct, OK? :-)

  8. That was a wonderful wonder! I really liked the video! I ride dirt bikes, quads, and a dune buggy! Lots of people say to me it’s not lady like, but I have five brothers of course it’s not lady like. Do you have any wonders on dogs and how hard it is to train them? Hope your next wonder is this wonderful!

    • Thanks for letting us know that, Soccer Geek! We like the bright, beautiful colors in the background this week, don’t you? :-)

    • It makes us REALLY happy to know that you guys explored today’s Wonder together in the library, Mrs. Kerr’s class! Do you know what? We can’t wait for tomorrow’s Wonder, either! We LOVE learning new things every single day in Wonderopolis! :-)

  9. Cool. My mom has a Jeep and my dad has a truck, so they are both 4 wheel drive!!! I love riding off-road!!!

    • We’re glad you like to ride off-road with your mom and dad, Jenna! Thanks for sharing your really cool personal connection to today’s Wonder of the Day®! Have an AWESOME weekend! :-)

  10. That was a really cool video. I have gone ATVing with a camera attached to the top, but I have never seen a Jeep go off-roading from the bottom. That was an awesome wonder!

    • How cool that you have videotaped a ride on an ATV, Colin! We are glad you liked today’s Wonder and that you thought it was AWESOME! Thanks for letting us know! :-)

    • We’re not sure how steep the hills have to get before they give the 4WD vehicles trouble, Mrs. Foster’s Class, but we have seen some off-road vehicles do really cool stuff! Thank you all for checking out today’s Wonder together…have a SUPER day! :-)

  11. Hey, I think that’s pretty cool. My dad has a jeep like in the video! I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday. I bought a punching bag with my dad. Thanks soooo much for teaching me awesome stuff! BYE

    • Thanks for checking out this Wonder of the Day®, Caleb! We think it’s cool that your dad has a Jeep! It must be fun to go four-wheeling as a family! :-)

  12. It reminds me of a truck that is stuck. Ari
    It reminds me of driving in a truck with my dad. Caleb
    This reminds me of going on a go cart ride. Shyanne
    I want to know how do those big wheels get on that rock. John

    • We really like the SUPER comment you left for us today, Mrs. Utter’s Class! Thank you! We like hearing about the neat things this Wonder reminded you of, Ari, Caleb and Shyanne! We also like the extra WONDERing you did about wheels and rocks, John! Way to go, guys! :-)

    • We think so, Madyson! We know there are Jeeps (different styles), trucks, and lots of different SUVs. We WONDER how many different car manufacturers make 4WD vehicles? :-)

  13. Dear Wonderopolis,
    You might remember me from last wonder of the day. I said that I was scared of horses and today I want to share my opinion because I love jeeps. I think they look cute and I think they look like little baby cars. I also wanted to say that I wonder what the wonder of the day is tomorrow and also I like your website. It keeps people thinking.
    Your wonder friend

    • Thanks for sharing such a WONDERful comment with us, Yamel! We appreciate hearing your thoughts about Jeeps AND about Wonderopolis! You really are an AWESOME Wonder Friend! :-)

    • We don’t have a Wonder about iron yet, Cesar, but we think that would be a GREAT idea for a future Wonder of the Day®! Thanks so much for suggesting it! :-)

    • That’s a good question, Emerson! We’re not sure, but we think as long as the driver is being careful and slow, the 4WD vehicle can go downhill just as safely as it went uphill. We’re WONDERing about that now, too! :-)

    • We WONDERed the same thing, Monnie! We think maybe the driver bolted the camera to the bottom of the vehicle, or maybe he had a special harness to hold the camera. Either way, you’re right…it WAS a really good video! :-)

    • We don’t have a Wonder about juice yet, Jada, but we think it’s an AMAZING idea for a future Wonder! We think it would be FUN to WONDER about all the different types of juice, and maybe even learn some recipes to make our own juice! :-)

    • We want to thank YOU for hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today and learning some cool new stuff about 4WD, Morgan! You’re a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  14. Why is there such thing as 4 wheel drive?
    Do you have a 4 wheel drive car?
    Do you know any one who has a 4 wheel drive?

    • We like those questions a lot, Avril! There are many Wonder Friends who have four-wheel drive vehicles. We think it can be a good thing to have four-wheel drive to help navigate slick roads or bumpy terrain! Thanks for leaving us a comment today! :-)

    • Thanks for leaving us a comment on this Wonder of the Day®, Christian! We’re glad you enjoyed the video! :-)


    • How fun that you have older friends who like to go off-roading, Cody! We WONDER how many other Wonder Friends would enjoy getting muddy that way? Thanks for letting us know you thought this Wonder was COOL! :-)

    • We think that’s AWESOME, Tejauna! Thanks so much for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®! :-)


  17. Wow, that’s was pretty cool. I know all about the military and vehicles, so this was a piece of cake!! (:

    • Thanks for sharing that you already had some background knowledge about Jeeps and other military vehicles before you explored this Wonder of the Day®, Patrick! We appreciate your comment and hope you have a WONDERful Wednesday! :-)

    • Your comment makes us SUPER happy, Tavaris! We’re glad you learned some cool new facts about Jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles today! Thanks for letting us know and THANKS for visiting Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Hello, Ketchup! We sorry you didn’t care for this Wonder of the Day® about four-wheel drive. We appreciate your comment and respect your opinion. We hope you’ll visit another Wonder of the Day® super soon to see what other cool stuff there is to WONDER about and learn in Wonderopolis! Have a GREAT day! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is four-wheel drive?
  • What’s the difference between front-wheel and rear-wheel drive?
  • How did the Jeep get its name?


Wonder Gallery

4x4 adventure_shutterstock_12261076Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready for a close-up view of the underside of an automobile? Find a friend, family member or other adult who can take you to the garage and help you understand a little bit more about how cars and trucks work.

If you can find a four-wheel-drive vehicle, that’s great! If not, don’t worry about it. Just have fun getting a closer look underneath any type of vehicle. Examine the tires up close. Explore where they connect to the rest of the vehicle.

When you get old enough, you’ll have the chance to drive all sorts of different types of cars and trucks. It always helps to have a basic understanding of how they work. It’s even better if you understand enough to make basic repairs in an emergency situation.

Have fun learning more about vehicles and how they work. When you’re finished, see if an adult will take you for a spin, so you can think about how all those parts work together to get you where you want to be!


Still Wondering

Explore Science NetLinks’ Systems 1: Simple Machines lesson to learn more about the parts of a system and develop an understanding of the interactions between those parts.


Wonder What’s Next?

Take a peek inside tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day for an explosion of beautiful colors!

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