Does the Toyota RAV4 Have Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD)?

When shopping for a Toyota RAV4, it’s important to know everything that comes with it. You want to ensure you get everything important to you, which brings you to ask – does the RAV4 have 4WD?

Not only do I answer this question, but I explain the difference between 4WD and AWD, so you understand what you are getting. I will also show you how to tell what the RAV4 includes and how to use the equipment properly.

2020 toyota rav4 trd with mountains in background

Does It Have 4-Wheel-Drive (4WD)?

The 2023 Toyota RAV4 doesn’t come with four-wheel drive. Instead, all-wheel drive is offered, which has many of the same qualities. 

If you want a RAV4 with 4WD, choose a model from 2001 to 2012. These model years offered optional 4WD, so you must hunt for the right trim and equipment. 

AWD vs. 4WD

rav4 adventure off roading

While there are many similarities between all- and four-wheel drive, there are also several differences. To fully understand it, let me first explain what each system is.

Four-wheel drive distributes power to all four wheels equally, no matter what kind of traction is needed. A four-wheel drive RAV4 has front and back axles with a transfer case, allowing the driver to choose to switch from 2WD to 4WD. 

4WD Pros

  • Vehicle can go almost anywhere
  • Easily gets out of stuck situations
  • High resale value

4WD Cons

  • Driving on regular streets with 4WD engaged can cause drivetrain damage
  • Reduced fuel economy
  • More expensive to repair

All-wheel drive is available on newer models. It has a similar design to 4WD because it delivers power to all wheels at times, however, it’s not always the same amount of power. If a tire starts to slip, more power will be diverted to regain traction. This system is helpful in slippery weather conditions.

With all-wheel drive, the driver doesn’t need to do anything to get the power to shift. Advanced sensors and modules on the vehicle sense the need and adjust as required. 

AWD Pros

  • Adaptable to many road conditions
  • Change happens automatically
  • Good cornering for superior handling
  • High resale value

AWD Cons

  • Decrease in fuel efficiency
  • Can’t activate all-wheel drive manually

Both systems are capable and provide superior benefits to the driver. 


3 Ways to Tell If a RAV4 Has 4WD

The Toyota RAV4 came with optional 4WD  between 2001 and 2012 model years. If you want to figure out if one of these models has four-wheel drive, there are two different methods you can use with a quick visual glance and some others that require more work. 

1. 4WD Button

Right by the steering wheel, there’s a lock button for the 4WD system. If this lock button is missing, the RAV4 is not equipped with 4WD. See the example in the picture below.

(The button may look slightly different on some models.)

toyota rav4 4wd lock

2. 4WD Badge

On the exterior of the RAV4, there’s badging showing it is a 4WD model. Look for the badging on the bottom right of the vehicle, on the back door.

Below is an image of where it can be found. 

Your RAV4 may have 4WD without this badging. If it is an older model, the badging may have been removed at some point, or it could have fallen off. 

3. Research the RAV4 Model

If you have trouble telling what model it is, you may need to do a little more research. Here are some more options to consider.

  • Check the owner’s manual
  • Run the VIN on an online checker to see what equipment is included (beware of scam sites)
  • Call a local dealership and ask them to run the VIN

While these require a little more effort, none of them should take you longer than a few minutes. 

How to Use 4WD

The 4WD system in a RAV4 operates differently depending on your model year. Here are the two various systems on these Toyota SUVs.

  • 2001-2006 RAV4: This 4WD system is constantly engaged. It works similarly to the modern AWD system, but it’s not as intelligent.
  • 2007-2012 RAV4: The 4WD system kicks on when a slip is detected unless you activate the 4WD lock button. 

You can engage the four-wheel drive lock mode if more drive power is needed on all of the wheels. Most often, the lock mode gets used when you need to free the vehicle from mud, deep snow, sand, or other stuck situations.

To activate this mode, push the 4WD Lock Button. It will remain engaged until you press the button again. It also turns off automatically as soon as the vehicle speed exceeds 25 mph (40 km/h). This safety feature protects the drivetrain from damage.

Now that you understand how to use 4WD, it’s important that you know when the system should be engaged. You don’t want to use it for everyday driving. Instead, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Use while driving on loose surfaces, such as deep snow, gravel, or sand
  • Activate the system if the vehicle gets stuck
  • Cancel the 4WD lock once the tires have regained the needed traction
  • Avoid using the system when 4WD is not required or damage could occur

Occasionally, the 4WD system may turn itself on automatically even if you don’t press the lock button. For example, you may notice the system come on if you are taking a corner at low speeds and traction is lost on a slippery road. 

Choosing Between 4WD and AWD

It’s difficult to decide whether a 4WD or AWD RAV4 is right for you. Yes, these systems will reduce fuel efficiency by a little bit, and they do come with a higher price tag, but they are extremely capable. 

It’s a no-brainer to choose one of these RAV4s if you spend any amount of time off-road or traveling on snow-covered streets. Yet, even the regular driver can benefit from the systems during heavy periods of rain or other low-traction situations. Personally, I give both systems a huge thumbs up. 

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