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!