In general, it is only worth it to buy a 4×4 vehicle over a comparable 2 wheel drive vehicle if you are regularly going to be driving in conditions that require 4×4 capability.
It’s no secret that a 4 wheel drive vehicle often commands a premium over a comparable 2 wheel drive vehicle, on both the new and used markets.
It makes perfect sense, as the more complex mechanical parts in a 4×4 vehicle are not free to produce, so this cost is passed on to the consumer in exchange for the extra feature.
However, they are also not free to maintain and can have some distinct disadvantages in terms of performance or fuel economy in comparison to a 2 wheel drive vehicle.
Is 4×4 Worth It?
A 4×4 vehicle is most worth the extra cost in environments in which it is regularly needed. If you live in a region that receives a large amount of snow each winter, or in a rural area with many dirt roads, it is worthwhile to purchase a vehicle equipped with 4 wheel drive.
Coupled with proper winter tires, 4×4 can take a lot of the stress out of winter driving and can help ensure that you get where you need to go, even with a moderate amount of snow on the ground.
Likewise, if you live in a rural area with many dirt roads that can turn to mud in the rain, 4 wheel drive is good insurance against getting stuck and not being able to get where you need to go.
Off-road enthusiasts who enjoy regularly driving in adventurous off-road or overlanding situations will also find 4×4 worth the extra cost, as it is important to participation and overall enjoyment in the hobby.
However, for people who do not drive in much winter weather or experience muddy dirt roads regularly, it is often not worth it to purchase a vehicle with 4 wheel drive capability.
4×4 vehicles cost more on both the new and used markets than their 2 wheel drive counterparts. Besides the initial extra costs, 4 wheel drive vehicles cost more to run and maintain than 2 wheel drive vehicles.
4x4s have more drivetrain components that require regular maintenance and add additional chance of drivetrain failure.
4×4 vehicles also generally have worse performance and lower fuel economy than a comparable 2 wheel drive vehicle. This is due to increased weight, greater rolling resistance, and taller ride heights associated with 4 wheel drive systems.
If you place a high value on getting the best fuel mileage possible or having the best vehicle handling characteristics, a 2 wheel drive vehicle may be the way to go.
How Much More Expensive is a 4×4 Vehicle?
Depending on the vehicle, a brand new 4×4 vehicle can command a 5% to 30% cost increase over a 2 wheel drive version. Besides initial purchase price, 4×4 vehicles also require unique maintenance considerations that contribute to higher running costs.
While the gap is lessened some, even used 4×4 vehicles are generally more expensive to purchase than identical 2×4 vehicles. If a 4×4 and 2×4 vehicle depreciate identically, the 4×4 will be more expensive to buy used as it was more expensive to buy brand new.
4 wheel drive vehicles generally also cost thousands more in upkeep over the ownership of the vehicle. Transfer cases and extra differentials require additional inspections, fluid changes, and adjustments as part of a good maintenance program.
Additional equipment for 4 wheel drive capability also introduces additional areas for leaks, part failures, and other issues that can be expensive to repair. You are literally doubling the drive axle components between a 2 wheel drive and 4 wheel drive, meaning that the odds that a component fails also doubles.
Remember, besides the initial price premium, you need to budget for increased running costs if you choose a 4 wheel drive vehicle over a 2 wheel drive.
Is 4 Wheel Drive a Good Investment?
In regions where heavy winter weather or muddy roads are common, a 4 wheel drive vehicle will often hold its value better than a comparable 2 wheel drive vehicle in the same area.
4×4 vehicles are often worth more used because a premium price was paid when they were purchased new.
However, in areas where 4×4 vehicles are more desirable due to a distinct need by a large part of the population due to large amounts of snow, muddy rural roads, or difficult terrain, 4×4 vehicles tend to depreciate much more slowly than 2 wheel drive vehicles.
In places where most people require 4 wheel drive, 4×4 is the standard on both the new and used market. A 2 wheel drive vehicle in this area would fall short of the minimum vehicle features desired by the majority of the population.
In this way, a 4 wheel drive vehicle has the possibility to hold value much better than a 2 wheel drive vehicle in select areas.
In other areas, however, a 4×4 may depreciate at the same rate as a comparable 2×4 vehicle. In this case, if you do not need 4 wheel drive, you will be money ahead by purchasing a 2 wheel drive vehicle.
While the 4 wheel drive vehicle may have a higher value than the 2 wheel drive vehicle when it comes time to sell, the difference will be less than the extra initial cost to purchase the 4×4 option.
On top of this, you must also consider the extra maintenance and upkeep paid over the time of ownership due to the 4 wheel drive system, which is money that is not recouped when selling the vehicle.
In general, one should never look at vehicles as an investment, as they are almost always depreciating assets.
Instead, it is important for car buyers to purchase the vehicle with the features and capabilities that fit their needs and wants. The same goes for the 2 vs 4 wheel drive argument.
4×4 vs 2 Wheel Drive – Some Real Life Examples
4 wheel drive vehicles generally cost more upfront and have certain disadvantages over a 2 wheel drive vehicle. Here are some real-world examples of the tradeoffs between 4×4 and 2×4.
1. 2021 Toyota RAV4
The Toyota RAV4 is a rugged-looking midsize SUV that is available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive configurations.
The price difference between 2×4 and 4×4 versions of the RAV4 is fairly low; 4 wheel drive only commands a $1,500 premium.
Fuel economy does suffer, however, as the RAV4 loses 3 miles per gallon in both the city and on the highway, decreasing from 28/35 to 25/32.
In the case of the RAV4, it may be very reasonable to purchase the 4×4 version for even limited use, so long as you can afford the reduced fuel economy and 4×4 system maintenance.
2. 2021 Ford Ranger XLT
The Ford Ranger is a midsize body-on-frame pickup truck equipped with a 2.3L turbocharged engine and is available in both 2 wheel drive and 4 wheel drive configurations.
For the Ranger, 4×4 is an expensive option, commanding a $3,700 premium for the extra capability. 4×4 also decreases fuel economy by 1-2 MPG, from 21 city/26 highway to 20 city/24 highway.
While the fuel economy numbers are close, the high initial purchase cost means that it makes the most sense to only purchase the 4×4 version if you need it regularly. You will generally not resell the vehicle for $3,700 more than an identical 2 wheel drive truck to recoup the extra costs upfront.
However, if the 4×4 capability is necessary, the Ranger could be a good candidate as it sees minimal fuel mileage losses.
Answer These 3 Questions to Decide if You Need a 4×4
The 3 most basic questions to decide whether or not to buy a 4 wheel drive vehicle are:
- How often will I use it?
- Can I afford the additional fuel consumption and maintenance costs?
- Do I want a 4×4 vehicle?
How often will I use it?
If you plan on using 4×4 regularly, whether for winter driving, muddy rural road driving or for off-roading/overlanding purposes, 4×4 is a no-brainer. 4 wheel drive capability makes driving in these conditions much easier and much less stressful.
Can I afford the additional fuel consumption and maintenance costs?
If achieving the maximum possible fuel economy is important to you, you may be happier with a 2 wheel drive vehicle to gain an extra few miles per gallon. However, if you are willing to give up a small amount of fuel economy for the extra capability, 4×4 may be the way to go.
Another factors to consider are the regular maintenance costs. Be sure to take a good look at your maintenance budget to decide whether or not you can afford the added upkeep and possible repairs required for a 4×4 vehicle.
Do I want a 4×4 vehicle?
Perhaps most importantly, it is important to purchase the vehicle with the features that YOU want. This will make you much happier over your ownership of the vehicle, and more likely to perform required upkeep of the vehicle.
So long as you take into account the pros and cons of 4×4 ownership, it is important to purchase the vehicle that is going to give the maximum amount of enjoyment with your budget and vehicle needs in mind.