2011 Toyota Highlander AWD or 4WD

My mom and stepdad just bought a new Toyota Highlander (V6,AWD/4WD). They are under the the idea that this vehicle has a part-time, old school, 4WD system like their F-150 has. I’m virtualy certain that it has an AWD system similar to that of the RAV-4 and that it is necessary to make sure all the tires match at all times or else risk the chance of the center diff failing. They said that the salesman told them it was a regular 4WD system. However I’m not sure he was correct.

The Highlander non hybrid is an AWD system, much like a RAV4. The general terms 4wd,awd etc get convoluted and confused by salespeople, car makers, owners and the rest of us alike, even here. Part time 4wd like an older F150,it is NOT. It’s a full time AWD system that changes torque distribution from front to back on demand, automatically.
So, instead of just asking the “type” or name of the system, you really have to ask how it functions.
When someone says a 4wd is always different from awd, I ask; Why does it say 4wd on the back of a CRV ? You can then see why a function explanation is more important than a label.

dagosa’s correct. I would think this is all described in the owner’s manual, I would think, along with any warnings about tire use.

And, given the popularity of awd systems, this might be what the saleman considers ‘regular’.

I believe you are correct. The Toyota website does not explain the system. Perhaps there is some info on the systme somewhere in the 500 to 600 pages of the Owner’s manual .

Perhaps it was the same salesman that insisted that my wife’s 06 Sienna had a timing chain.


An “indirect” way of explaining how a system function, is found in the owners manual when it talks about the limitations and operational instructions of the system. For most drivers (often not enough for we automotive nerds here) it’s all that’s necessary.

If there is no button or lever to engage 4wd, it has to be awd. There might be confusion if there is a differential lock button, but that should be explained in the manual.

Thanks for this info. I agree with what you said that function explanation is more important than a label! I guess i like both 2011 highlander and 4wd because of toyota parts. They really do have the quality that i have been looking for!

Is the AWD the same as 4-wheel drive for towing purposes?

Do you mean for a specific vehicle? Or for comparing different vehicles?

I have a 2012 Toyota Highlander. The towing rate for a 2-wheel drive is 3,500 lbs. The towing rate for a 4-wheel drive is 4,500. Does the AWD, which turns the tire if needed, the same as a 4-wheel drive, which runs all four wheels all the time? I plan on installing a hitch to tow a travel trailer.

No it isn’t. 4WD cannot be driven on dry surfaces as it destroys the driveline - no center differential - AWD can.

And the weight differential for towing purposes?

But for your Highlander, there is only one system, it might be called AWD in some places, 4WD in other places, but it can be considered AWD. There were not two different systems available, I’m just about positive.

For example, here’s a Honda CRV, it says “4WD”, but by @Mustangman 's definition, it has AWD:

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Not just me…

And yeah, that CRV has AWD but it Machos Up for all those Off-Roaders (yeah right!) by badging it 4WD

The 4WD may have a different axle ratio, or transmission ratio or bigger brakes or extra coolers that allows a higher tow rating

I know that’s the ‘real’ definition of AWD vs. 4WD, but lots of places that now mix 4WD/AWD. The Highlander has AWD, not 4WD, right?

Assuming that you will have a qualified shop install a proper hitch and not some JC Whitney bolt on contraption. They will be the ones to answer all your questions.

Correct. Manufacturers are really blurring the line these days. On modern AWD systems you can lock the front and rear axles - just like a 4wd system. But it’s not the default - you have to manually lock them it. Vehicles with AWD are AWD all the time. And older 4wd systems - you couldn’t drive on dry pavement in 4wd, but you can with a modern 4wd system.

The biggest difference these days is a 4wd system will have a Low-Range

Yup AWD. Had to look that one up.

@brl56 - do you have what you need?