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AWD for Offroad

#1
I recently bought a 2004 Subaru Forester for about $450. It's a trash car, literally have not even been able to get it to pass inspection. (Failed again today. It's gonna be a project, for sure... ) 

But I bought it for a specific reason: to drive on the beach.

The other day I drove it down to the beach access (they have special off roading zones designated for this purpose), and well, unfortunately, I was greeted by an attendant who did not hesitate to inform me that since my vehicle was all wheel drive instead of 4WD, that I would not be permitted to drive on the beach. 

I've done a fair amount of research on these things and have honestly found that they do not seem to fare poorly at all on the beach, so I'm confused. In fact, I've taken this thing in mud and over rocks, and over plenty of other surfaces and terrains, never once got stuck. This thing may not be a true 4WD, but with a little care and skill, this AWD kicks a** anyhow. 

So what is the difference anyway? 

Well, in theory, they are more technical than they really are anything else. Both systems are fully capable of sending power to all four wheels on the car. AWD, however, is always active, whereas 4WD has to be manually activated by the user. 4WD is generally more easily controlled by the user (e.g. determining when to use it and how to use it), but sometimes is not intended for actual street use and is designed more for offroading, and the differentials on the car sometimes have trouble spinning the wheels at different speeds when taking sharp turns. AWD, on the other hand, may not be as robust and does not have as many user controls available, but is more suitable for everyday use on the roads, and generally has much less trouble making sharp turns when active, etc. 

From my research, a lot of the controversy regarding the differences seems to be in the variability in all wheel drive systems. Particularly, it turns out that many AWD systems actually are only 2WD UNTIL traction is lost in one of the main drive wheels. Then it kicks into 4WD briefly until traction is regained. This doesn't usually fare too terribly well in offroad situations because, well, by then it's usually a bit late and you may have already gotten stuck. It's an upgrade over 2WD, but very much inferior to an actual 4WD. 

Subaru's aren't designed like this at all. Rather, in the Subaru AWD system, the engine's power is directed to all four wheels 100% of the time, just like an actual 4WD, so in theory it should perform significantly better than other AWDs on the beach. 

Based on this, I'm going to take it to another beach sometime later this week or next week, and we will see how it goes!  Finna
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#2
I've always considered them roughly the same anyway. Such a subtle difference to even matter.

My question as the attendant would have been more along the lines of your tires. You can have 4WD and AWD, but if they're slick, no thank you.
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#3
if 4wd is the manual trigger than that's my personal preference, I wouldn't mind a RWD/4WD vehicle like the jeep I learned on if only because I like levers, switches, dials, toggles, etc... and said jeep had a light that came on when you went into 4WD that said Party Time lol.
"I reject your reality and subsitute my own." - Adam Savage, Mythbusters
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