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I had the impression that x meant four-wheel drive and...

Dear Tom and Ray:

I had the impression that 4x4 meant four-wheel drive and four-speed manual transmission. Now I see advertise ments for 4x4, 4x2, etc. What do these terms mean?--Will

TOM: This is what we'll call "automotive poetic license." I always thought that 4x4 meant four-speed manual and four-wheel drive, too. But that doesn't work, does it? Many four-wheel-drive vehicles are now either three-speed automatics or five-speed manuals--which means they ought to be 3x4s or 5x4s, right?

RAY: And the last 4x2 we drove had a three-speed automatic transmission and two-wheel drive. It had four cylinders and two doors, four wheels and two side view mirrors. I suppose that makes it a 3x2x4x2x4x2.

TOM: What the automobile manufacturers claim is that the first number refers to the number of wheels the vehicle has (surprisingly, most have four). The second number tells you how many wheels are connected to the drive train--so a 4x4 has four wheels and all of them are driven wheels. In reality, the term 4x4 is just a fancy way of saying four-wheel drive. The two-wheel drive derivation of that was born when the marketing people decided that "4x2" sounded better than "nothing special."

RAY: As long as we're talking about odd automotive arithmetic, we should also point out that only in the world of sports cars does two plus two not equal four. A two plus two is a sports car with "room" for two occupants in the back--not to be confused with a four-seater, which has two seats for these poor folded occupants. Neither of these cars would be big enough to carry a load of 2x4s, by the way. For that, you'd probably need a 4 X 4.
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