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What Does 4x4 Mean?

what does 4x4 mean 2 jpg graphic by Paul Dolan

The term 4×4 means a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Technically, the first digit is the number of wheels and the second is the number that are driven, so a four-wheel-drive pickup truck is a 4×4; a rear-wheel-drive one is a 4×2.

Related: AWD Vs. 4WD: What’s the Difference?

Though it could apply to any car, truck or SUV, 4×4 usually represents more traditional 4WD vehicles, and especially off-road-capable ones — as opposed to light-duty all-wheel-drive cars intended for snow or mild off-pavement use. If you hear someone say, “You’re going to need a 4×4 to get up that mountain trail,” he or she is probably talking about a pickup, a Jeep or a UTV, not a Nissan Altima with all-wheel drive.

As explained in AWD Vs. 4WD: What’s the Difference?, sometimes the meanings of terms are blurred by marketing and other forms of misuse, and even definitions once ironclad seldom are anymore. So it’s not out of the question that you’ll see 4×4 and 4×2 as driver-selectable modes on a given vehicle. Generally speaking, though, we still use 4×4 to represent a vehicle, not a setting with a specific set of properties exclusive to, say, part-time 4WD.

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Photo of Joe Wiesenfelder
Former Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder, a launch veteran, led the car evaluation effort. He owns a 1984 Mercedes 300D and a 2002 Mazda Miata SE. Email Joe Wiesenfelder

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