The meaning of 4x4.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

I work as an engineer at one of the Big Three in Detroit, and during a discussion with my engineering colleagues, it was revealed that none of us knew what the numbers "4 X 4" means. After debating, we decided that the second number referred to the number of wheels driven--a 4 X 4 being a four wheel drive, and a 4 X 2 being a two wheel drive. But what about the first number? What do you think?

TOM: It IS confusing, isn't it, Sorba? A couple of years ago, we wrote a short monograph on numerical nomenclature, in response to the same question you've asked. So we went to the dumpster behind our office and dug it up for you. Here it is.

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?

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 manualswhich 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 backnot 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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