4WD Myths & Facts

There is a concerted campaign by some in the community to make owning a four-wheel drive very difficult.  Much of this campaign is based on myths and lies. The following tries to address some of the facts about 4WDs.


It is an admitted fact the large four-wheel drive is not an ideal car for driving a single person around the city.  Many people require a large heavy vehicle for work purposes: they have to carry heavy tools and/or loads or access difficult work sites. They may have to tow heavy equipment such as heavy trailers or small bobcats or compressors etc. No other vehicle can serve these purposes.

But most 4WD owners have other interests apart from getting to and from work during the week. Many people who own 4WDs have large families and use the larger interior space and carrying capacity of a 4WD to carry the family and all the attachments!  For some people its simply a matter of necessity as they cannot fit into a small car.

The 4WD may be an absolute necessity for that person’s recreational pursuits whether it be towing a caravan, a horse float or a large boat.  It may be that once the year fishing trip to the Gulf or weekends up in the country somewhere, whatever the reason it doesn’t matter: a 4WD may be a necessary part of that pursuit.

The anti-four-wheel-drive lobby group has learnt from their extreme green cousins (in fact there is a lot of common faces!) and have no compunction about lying and completely misrepresenting the truth in their campaign advertising and statements.

They have even stooped to attacking 4WD owners personal characteristics by claiming that they are homophobic, racist, obese, arrogant, aggressive, anatomically deficient etc. Where is the factual evidence that supports these claims – there is none. These people hide behind invisible “surveys” and use ill-informed journalistic comments as “the commonly held view”.

The latest attack on 4WD owners ncludes the claim that they do not contribute to charity, or social and environmental programs. The four wheel drive movement has been actively involved in fund raising and assistance programs for charities and other benevolent institutions as well as undertaking environmental projects for years. These activities are rarely reported by the media and the authors of anti-four-wheel-drive articles have never asked us about our activities. One could be forgiven for thinking that the anti-four-wheel-drive lobby has paid off the media to promote its own discriminatory agenda.


The US statistics may support the anti 4WD case in some cases. However there are four serious flaws with the US statistics:

  • Only 11 of the US states have seat belt laws which can be enforced by financial or points penalty. This completely skews any comparison of crash statistics but is especially relevant to rollovers for obvious reasons.
  • The types of vehicles in the US are completely different from those found in Australia. Some of the US’s most popular vehicles (Chevy and Fords) are simply not found in Australia. Conversely some of the most popular vehicles in Australia (eg Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser 75/78) are not available in the US. To compare vehicle characteristics in these very different environments is simply wrong!
  • The US crash statistics are completely skewed due to the Ford Explorer and Firestone tyre fiasco. This is where Firestone tyres fitted to Ford Explorers exploded without warning causing many hundreds of deaths and thousands of crashes. It resulted in the largest automotive recall in history.
  • The ATSB statistics tell us that, unlike the US, the accident rate for 4WDs and sedans is almost identical in Australia.
  • NSW RTA statistics for 2003 tell us that in country driving sedans are nearly twice as likely as four-wheel drives are to be involved in single vehicle accidents.


Its hard enough to actually decide what a 4WD is because there are so many variations in the theme but to lump all 4WDs together is ludicrous! It is ridiculous to compare a Honda CRV with a Nissan patrol.

It is no different than combining 4WDs with heavy vehicles such as trucks. Even if you classify them into Heavy (>2  tonnes) and Light you have problems: where do you put the Holden and Ford AWD models, the Chrysler Voyager, the Toyota Tarago and Landcruiser 78 which all weigh in at just under 2 tonnes?

Even within the “obvious” candidates for Heavy 4WDs to compare the handling characteristics of a Toyota Troop Carrier with a BMW X5 is ludicrous in the extreme: they are totally different vehicles in every possible aspect.

Heavy 4WDs (>2 tonnes and with a chassis and live axles) handle differently from a normal sedans and other 4WDs. But so does any vehicle of the same weight and design, whether it is a people mover full of people or a delivery van.

There may be some justification for special licenses as recommended by the Federal Road Safety Committee. The case for high powered motorcycles was a convincing one and has been reflected in the statistics for young riders.

However the justification for Heavy 4WDs would also apply to any vehicle outside of the “normal” sedan variety: small delivery vans can also exceed 2.5 tonnes when loaded as can people movers and many large and luxury sedans!


There seems to be this perception that 4WDs have some inherent centre of gravity problem. It goes without saying that any larger vehicle has a higher centre of gravity. But it should be noted that the height of the BODY of a vehicle is almost irrelevant to its centre of gravity: the majority of the mass of a heavy 4WD vehicle is in the engine, gearbox, chassis, fuel tanks and drive train.

The centre of mass of these components is actually only a little higher than a sedan vehicle: it is only that height which is the difference of the larger tyres and rims that are fitted plus a little. Any engineer will tell you why: it’s to do with how drive trains and how universal joints have to work (this does not take into account highly “lifted” competition vehicles).

In order of rollover ease (highest to lowest) you could classify vehicles: B-Double, Semi Trailer, Heavy Truck, Bus, Light Truck/Delivery Van, Heavy 4WD, People Mover, Light 4WD, Sedan, Sports Car, Go Kart.

This is completely consistent with a study carried out by Monash University and the Victorian police which in fact found that the large four-wheel drives are not as easy to roll over as has been portrayed.  In fact several of the utility style vehicles were substantially more likely to roll over than the Heavy 4WDs.

As to dynamic handling there are many vehicles which have scored less than a sports car in the moose/swerve/hook/slalom test. The classic was the Mercedes A160 which rolled when a journalist tested the vehicle! Further a fully loaded vehicle will have very different characteristics than an unloaded one: a delivery van for example. Why is the 4WD is singled out for special mention as to its handling?


It is an obvious result of physics that the heavier the vehicle the more damage it will do when it collides with another vehicle. A Heavy 4WD will do exactly the same amount of damage as a large sedan, van, mini bus or people mover of the same weight. Its just simple physics about how much energy has to be dissipated in the crash.

The anti-four-wheel-drive lobby always present the worst possible statistic with the largest of the 4WDs crashing into the smallest  possible sedan. What they fail to mention when they release the statistic is that any large sedan of similar weight will cause exactly the same amount of damage.  It’s simply a matter of physics! They are being deliberately deceptive because they are comparing an average which includes small cars. Compared to large sedans, people movers, vans and other such vehicle 4WDs are no better or worse.

The other issue is the height of the bumper bar of Heavy 4WDs. Although many of the “soft” 4WDs (Mercedes, BMW and Volvo) have front ends which are no different than that of a normal vehicle this still persists. The problem is that for any sort of off road a higher ground clearance is required. But what the deceptive anti-4WD lobby fail to tell you is that the difference between a normal sedan car and a sports cars is actually greater than that between a Heavy 4WD and the average sedan! Ergo all vehicles higher than a sports car should be banned!


The often heard catch cry of the anti-four-wheel-drive movement is how large four-wheel drives are and how much parking space they take out and how much vision they block.  Well as you can see from the figures below they are simply telling lies: there is no other way to describe the misinformation that is spread by the anti-four-wheel-drive lobby

Length Width Overall Height
Chrysler Voyager     5094 1997 + mirrors 1749
Falcon Wagon 5053 1863 +mirrors 1483
Commodore Wagon 5046 1850 + mirrors 1527
Toyota Hi Ace   4900 1609 + mirrors 1930
Ford Transit   4900 1760 + mirrors 2363
Patrol  4930 1930 inc mirrors 1875

The very vehicle often suggested to replace 4WDs is longer, wider and higher than most 4WDs? Even a seven seat Commodore is longer and wider than a Nissan Patrol. Put on a loaded roof rack and voila: you have a longer, wider and higher vehicle (which is also probably dangerously overloaded!).

The “it is harder to see out a 4WD especially when reversing” Myth!

In many cases this is not true. In fact, many passenger cars are much worse than some of the 4WD vehicles. People tend to think, because a 4WD is ‘high’, it must also restrict the driver’s vision. The height of the vehicle is not a factor. Many sedans with low seating positions, high trunks (boots) and rear seat head restraints have dramatically- restricted rear vision.

IAG, Australia’s largest motor vehicle insurer, and the NRMA, the largest motoring organization, conducted the world’s first rear-visibility index. They scientifically tested 172 current makes and models, and the results were interesting – to say the least.

The Toyota Landcruiser 100-Series wagon, the best-selling large 4WD in Australia, scored 3 stars out of a possible 5. It proved to have better rear visibility than 100% of the vans, 100% of medium sedans, 93% of small vans and pickups, 92% of large sedans, 85% of luxury sedans, and 52% of sports cars. And, believe it or not, the big Landcruiser offered better rear vision than some of the darlings of the ‘safety conscious’; the little Mercedes Benz A160, VW Polo (sedan and hatch), Kia Rio, Holden Barina, Suzuki Swift, and Hyundai Accent.

Here are some excerpts from the IAG media release:

“no car type is inherently better than any other. There are good 4WDs and bad sedans; in fact, the lowest rated car was a sedan not a 4WD.”

“(the) IAG Technical Research Centre has developed an objective method of measuring the visibility from the driver’s seat using a laser device. The result of these tests showed that, despite speculation in the media about poor visibility from reversing 4WD vehicles, vehicle design leads to poor reversing visibility for both sedans and 4WDs.”

“No matter how good car design and technology might be, there is always going to be an area behind the car that is not visible to the driver. Even the very best car in this study has a blind area of around 3 metres that can easily hide a child,”

“While new technology such as sensors and improved vehicle design can assist in preventing these tragic accidents, there also needs to be a change in behaviour from drivers and supervisors of young children.”

The ANFWDC has been advocating for better driver education since it produced its nationally accredited driver training programme over ten years ago. Despite this, licensing authorities persist in teaching learner drivers how to pass a test rather than how to drive a motor vehicle.

Pedestrian Safety

Some will say that the larger 4WD vehicles are an unnecessary threat to safety and should be banned. But where would you draw the line? In a collision, large cars are a threat to medium cars, medium cars to small cars and small cars to micro cars. And then there are motorcycles? Everything on the road (including pedestrians!) is a threat to the motor cyclist.

Perhaps we should ban all motor vehicles and bring back the horse and cart.

Pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed by a sedan than a four wheel drive

4WDs are under-represented in child deaths in terms of numbers of vehicles on the road (and  sedans even more so!) whereas heavy vehicles and large utilities are over represented. Unfortunately it is a known fact that the heavier the vehicle that strikes a child pedestrian the more likely it is to cause serious injury or death. If a child is hit by a semitrailer then they are almost certain to die.

Type of Vehicle Percent of Fatalities
Sedans 66%
Utilities/Vans/4WDs 15%
Large Truck 12%
Articulated Truck 5%
Bus 2%
Others 3%


4WDs seem to be almost exclusively blamed for overall pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Despite the much-hyped belief that 4WDs contribute significantly to pedestrian fatalities, available statistics indicate that this is not the case and that sedans are the major contributors and in proportion to road usage. Even when lumped with other “utility” vehicles 4WDs are still underrepresented in overall pedestrian deaths for road usage (as are larger vehicles!) Is this because larger vehicles are slower or more easily seen?

Bans on 4WDs around schools

The anti-four-wheel-drive movement wants to ban four wheel drive vehicles with 200 metres of schools. Due to the fact that a child could just as easily be killed or injured by any motor vehicle it is irresponsible to suggest that a restriction on one vehicle type would solve the alleged problem. If they were really concerned about child safety they would be proposing to restrict all vehicular movement within school grounds and provide better drop off and pickup facilities at schools. Even applying the proposed restriction to ALL motor vehicles would not only be totally impractical, it would also only move the alleged problem 200 metres away. In addition, children would have to walk the last 200 metres with the likelihood of having to cross roads on the way to the school gate. The real issue is education, awareness of the dangers involved with any motor vehicle and personal responsibility. This applies equally to drivers and parents or carers of children.

Calls for 4WD driver training schemes and special licences

The 4WD movement and the Council in particular identified the need for greater levels of driver education over ten years ago and consequently wrote a course to fill that need. The Council has the only nationally accredited training course for 4WD training officially listed with the Australian National Training Authority (now Department of Education, Science & Training) and is recognised as the official training material provider. It is a requirement for all affiliated 4WD clubs that their members undergo this training.

This training has been and continues to be provided to the public by registered training organisations across the country.

It should be noted that this is an initiative of the Council and has received no support from governments or other regulatory authorities. We would welcome discussion on legislation or regulation that promoted greater driver education through our program. Why doesn’t the anti-four-wheel-drive movement acknowledge this positive initiative – because it doesn’t suit their personal agendas!

As for special licences, there is no benefit in proposing a scheme that is impractical to implement. What is the difference in licensing requirements for someone who drives a Subaru Forester as opposed to a Commodore station wagon? What is the difference in licensing requirements between a Ford Territory in 2WD or 4WD versions? This has been acknowledged by the current and former NSW Roads Ministers when they have ruled out the possibility of special licences as being impratical and unnecessary.

The anti-four-wheel-drive movement has suggested that there will be a sigificant impact 10-20 years from now having 4WDs driven by a large number of P Platers? The real issue is not the vehicle per se but the level of inexperience of the P Plate driver. There are already limitations in place on the vehicles that P Platers are not allowed to drive and possibly this does not go far enough. If these limitations remain in place for the next 10-20 years then there will be no impact.

As regards the future of this debate, the vehicle that you and I will be driving in 10-20 years will have evolved considerably and there is no doubt that debate about some issue of motoring will be going on. The fact that drivers are responsible for the events surrounding use of their vehicles and therefore require education will still be as relevant in 20 years as it is today – in fact the need for driver education will still be required well into the next century.

Load Carrying

Consider for the moment which is safer for the trip north:

  • A sedan loaded with two adults, two children, bikes, gear, luggage, camping supplies, water, food, surfboards and other associated holiday requirements and a boat attached to the rear or
  • A Toyota Landcruiser similarly outfitted

It’s a no contest to which is the safer and more comfortable option!


RTA statistics indicate that as many as 32% of 4WDs are registered (via postcodes) in designated non-urban areas so what does this do to the much hyped  myth that 10% only ever go of road? No reliable source for what is the much quoted myth has ever been revealed so where did it come from? No one seems to know!

Of course the anti-four-wheel-drive movement does not want to accept that every person has the right to own and drive the vehicle of their choice. Has anybody asked Harold Scruby if he ever takes his Subaru 4WD off the bitumen? We don’t care whether he does or not – the fact remains that people have the right to own and drive the vehicle that best suits their purpose whatever that may be.


4WDs are often accused of excessive fuel consumption and therefore being wasteful of natural resources. It is true that some heavy petrol 4WDs do consume more fuel on average than petrol sedans, because of the weight factor in the main.

Around the city, where average speeds are less than 30kmh and air resistance is negligible, a large 4WD will use exactly the same amount as fuel as any other vehicle of the same weigh: it’s just a matter of physics.  The anti-4WD lobby would have us believe that 4WDs have this magical ability to break the laws of physics.  They don’t!

A 2 tonne 4WD uses no more fuel than a 2 tonne Statesman or People Mover! If there is such a thing as an environmental tax or environmental levy then it should be applied equally across the board to all vehicles regardless of their type or design.

To give an example the diesel Nissan Patrol or Toyota Landcruiser, can easily achieve 10.5 lt/100 km in highway driving conditions and actually less in urban driving. This is almost identical if not less than the average large station wagon.

With regard to pollution older and/or poorly maintained cars and erratically driven vehicles are by far the biggest contributors towards airborne pollution (Source – EPA). In fact any vehicle older than about 10 years emits between 30-50 times the pollution of a modern 4WD! The mere fact that a vehicle is a 4WD does not mean that the contribution to pollution is any greater than that of a conventional family sedan.

Diesels come in for special mention in some articles. However as engineers are well aware the modern common rail diesels (Euro 3 and 4) with low sulphur fuels are actually less polluting than either petrol or LPG engines. Further, modern small diesel emissions are already clean and do not require catalytic converters that petrol vehicles do (many of which can become infective shortly after new anyway!).

The latest small diesels pass the stringent European Euro 4 (2005) requirements WITHOUT a catalytic cracker! in order to combat the problem of particulates in the emission of diesel engines some of them also have PARTICULATE filters (Citroen and Peugeot since 2000 for example). These can be easily retro-fitted to make all modern diesels meet the Euro 4 (2005) standards (Mercedes and Peugeot are already offering these as a retro-fit to existing models).

When you add to this the extraordinary fuel economy of modern diesels it is overtly apparent they are not the “polluting” “fuel guzzlers” implied!


4WDs are all described as being wasteful of resources because of their size and their complexity.  However this is untrue for these basic reasons:

  • Although there has been a trend to more sophisticated “luxury” vehicles in recent history the vast bulk of 4WDs are simple vehicles with little electronics and luxury fittings. In this sense they are more recyclable than many modern sophisticated vehicles.
  • Many 4WDs, particularly the heavier variety, are built substantially stronger and with more emphasis on long life and reliability.  As a direct result, a diesel Nissan patrol for example, would be expected to last somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 km. This is somewhere between five and seven times the lifespan of a small vehicle and yet the Nissan Patrol only consumes about twice the manufacturing resources of the smaller vehicle. In this sense the heavy 4WDs are far more efficient than smaller vehicles.


Many people who own a 4WD get themselves out of bed every morning, go off to a job they probably don’t like just so they can go on that yearly holiday to Yamba or fishing trip to the Gulf! It’s their raison detre. They understand every time they go for a service or to buy a tyre how much a 4WD costs to maintain and they still do it!

We would like to acknowledge Ray Barker of 4WD1.com for the contributions originally published in the Keep 4WD alive! pages and Dr. Jon Jenkins for his contributions.

This page has been and will be updated to present 4WD facts against media myths.

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Email: @Secretary