ATV 4-Wheel Vs. 2-Wheel Drive [Explained]

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), are known for their capabilities and performance, in the outdoor world, sports, and commercial world.

But are all ATVs 4-wheel drive?

This is a common question that gets asked a lot, and the answer may surprise some, especially people new to ATVs. In this post, I want to go answer this question and explain why the difference between 4-wheel and 2-wheel drive ATVs.

Are All ATVs 4-Wheel Drive?

Not every ATV is 4-wheel drive (4×4), you do have a good bit of 2-wheel drive (4×2) ATVs on the market.

The 4×4 models are designed to provide better traction and go places that a vehicle that only has 2-wheel drive can’t. On the other hand, 4×2 ATVs are typically lighter, less expensive, and easier to handle, making them a popular choice for racing, kid ATVs, and simple riding.

Most ATVs that are 4-wheel drive (4WD) do offer the ability to switch to 2-wheel drive (2WD) with a push of a button or manual action. While 4WD is nice, you don’t always need it and there are some negatives with it and 2WD that I want to cover next.

4WD Vs. 2WD ATVs

Both 4-wheel drive (4WD) and 2-wheel drive (2WD) ATVs have their pros and cons. The pros and cons of each are an important factor to consider when buying a new or used ATV, as your needs may not need one or the other.



  1. Better Traction – 4WD ATVs have better traction because all 4 wheels can move and power can be sent to the wheels that need it the most. This is especially good when driving on muddy, snowy, rocky terrains or driving over fallen trees in the woods.
  2. More Stable – 4WD ATVs tend to be bigger and more stable and more flexible on the suspension. You tend to find 4WD ATVs having completely independent suspension for each wheel, which gives you a better, more comfortable, and stable ride.
  3. You Can Do More – With the ability to handle a wide variety of environments, 4WD ATVs can go more places and do more things. If you’re not sure whether to get a 2WD or 4WD ATV, go with the 4WD as it offers more options.
  4. Hills – 4WD ATVs have better control going up and down hills since you have power going to all 4-wheels.


  1. Cost: 4WD ATVs are typically more expensive than 2WD models because they have more parts, more complicated, and have more features.
  2. Maintenance: With more moving parts, 4WD ATVs often require more maintenance than their 2WD counterparts. It’s not much harder, but there are more things to maintain when it comes to 4WD ATVs.
  3. Weight: 4WD ATVs are usually heavier, which can make them more difficult to maneuver at high speeds or in tight spaces. You don’t tend to see that many racing 4WD ATVs as you do 2WD.
  4. Worst On Gas – You use more gas when in 4WD, but many 4WD ATVs have the option to go in 2WD.
  5. Harder to steer – Going in 4WD on your ATV before power steering came along was an ordeal. Steering was much harder because you have the front two wheels being powered, and it made it harder to move the handlebars. You also have the kick-back when going over logs, but power steering mostly addressed this problem, and power steering is a must if you ask me.



  1. Lighter Weight – 2WD ATVs are generally lighter than 4WD models, which means you find them more in racing and cheaper machines, like for kids.
  2. Often Cheaper – 2WD ATVs tend to be cheaper, but they can get costly, especially for racing models. But kids ATVs and low-end ATVs tend to be only 2WD.
  3. Less Maintenance: With a simpler drivetrain, 2WD ATVs usually require less maintenance compared to 4WD models.
  4. Easier to steer – 2WD ATVs don’t have a front drivetrain, you’re only moving the front wheels when you steer, thus making them easier to turn. You won’t find power steering on 2WD ATVs as much as it’s not needed.


  1. Less Traction – 2WD ATVs can’t go as many places as 4WD ATVs, and you tend to get stuck more. Simple things like tree logs, mud and anything that is not a dirt track, 2WD ATVs have trouble.
  2. Reduced Stability – 2WD ATVs tend to be smaller, lighter, and more nimble, so that means they’re not as stable as the larger 4WD models.
  3. Limited Resale Value – I tend to find it harder to sell 2WD ATVs over 4WD models because of the limited ability of being 2-wheel drive. People want the 4-wheel ATVs as they can do more and go more places. Unless its racing or for kids, you don’t see many people wanting 2WD ATVs.
  4. Damages Lawns – Since the rear axle on 2WD ATVs moves as one, you tend to tear up the grass and dirt more. And, since 2WD tend to be lighter, they’re more likely to do “burnouts” when taking off.
  5. Chain Driven – You’ll find more 2WD ATVs using a chain to power the back wheels. Chains need constant maintenance compared to a shaft-driven ATV. The chain is also worse for off-roading, as it often hangs low and more likely to get caught on roots and other debris.

What’s Better?

When it comes to 2WD vs. 4WD, what’s better depends on your needs. One is more suited for certain things, below is a simple list to give you example what each one is better at.


  • Hunting
  • Farming
  • Commercial work
  • Trail riding
  • Wet and muddy riding
  • Around the home


  • Racing
  • Kid toy
  • Going fast
  • Budget machine

While 2WD ATVs tend to be more affordable, I don’t suggest them as a suitable option for an adult beginner. Stick to the cheaper 4WD options, unless you want to get into racing.

Quad Vs. 4-Wheeler ATVs

You may notice that ATVs tend to have many names from quad, 4-wheeler, ATV, SXS, side by side, off-roader, and more.

Generally, when someone says quad, they’re talking about the 2-wheel drive version of ATVs, the racing “fun” style of ATVs.

And 4-wheeler tends to be the more utility-style ATV that has 4-wheel drive and built more for work.

You do get cross-breeds from each, there are utility 2-wheel drive ATVs and you also have utility-style racing ATVs.

4WD Has 2WD

Something to keep in mind is that most 4-wheel drive ATVs are also 2-wheel drive. With a push of a button or a manual lever, you can put the ATV in either 4WD or 2WD.

The reason you want to swap out of 4WD and go into 2WD is because you don’t need 4WD all the time. When you’re in 4WD, you use more gas, steering can be harder even with power steering, and it can damage sensitive lawns and areas (if locked).


Something to keep in mind is that it’s more common to find a manual transmission 2WD ATV than one with 4WD.

Most 4WD ATVs are automatic, but you do have some that are semi-automatic, but DON’T tend to have a clutch.

Racing quads tend to be 2WD and have a manual transmission with a clutch. So if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission ATV with a clutch, you may want to go with the 4WD ATVs.

Are Side By Sides (SXS or UTV) 4WD?

You can get side by sides in 2WD and 4WD options, but you’re more likely to see 4WD these days.

You had 2WD SXS or UTVs at the start with John Deere Gator, but the modern SXS from Can-Am and Polaris will have 4WD for their machines.

What Does 4×4 and 4X2 Mean?

When you see 4×4 or 4×2, it determines if you have 4-wheel drive or 2-wheel drive.

The first number is the total number of wheels, and the second number tells you of those wheels that are powered.

So a 4×2 has four wheels, but only two of those wheels are powered. And a 4×4 has four wheels, but all four wheels are powered.

2×4 Vs. 4×2?

You may see people use 2×4 and 4×2 as the same thing, but they’re not.

The proper is 4×2, as a 2×4 is construction lumber.

What Is AWD?

AWD is all-wheel drive, which is basically 4WD, but you can’t swap to 2WD.

AWD is not super common on ATVs, as most people prefer swapping between 2WD and 4WD when they need it. You can find some vehicles that are AWD, but only engage all 4-wheels when it’s needed.

Wrap Up

Understanding whether an ATV is 4-wheel drive or 2-wheel drive is important when assessing the vehicle’s capabilities and suitability for your particular needs.

While 4WD ATVs offer superior traction and versatility, 2WD ATVs tend to be lighter and more maneuverable, making them a better fit for certain applications like racing or simple riding.

Moreover, the choice between a 4WD and 2WD should be guided by factors such as the terrain where you plan to use the ATV, the vehicle’s intended use, and your comfort level in handling the machine. Remember, the most suitable ATV for you is the one that best meets your needs and gives the most enjoyable riding experience.