What Are The Differences Between The Powertrain, Drivetrain And Driveline?


Many terms in the automotive world can be pretty confusing, especially when they overlap with each other. A perfect example of that is the trio of terms ‘powertrain’, ‘drivetrain’, and ‘driveline’. But what do they mean, and what are their differences?

The powertrain refers to your car’s parts that generate power and enable it to move. That includes the engine, transmission, driveshaft, differentials, axles, and wheels. Meanwhile, ‘drivetrain’ refers to the same parts minus the engine. The term focuses on parts related to the car’s steering and maneuvering. Lastly, ‘driveline’ refers to parts that control the driveshaft; all the same parts, excluding the engine and the transmission.

This guide will help you clarify the differences between all 3 terms. You’ll understand what they mean and which parts they include. Plus, you’ll also learn why it’s important to understand these terms and their differences.

What Is The Powertrain?

The terms ‘powertrain’, ‘drivetrain’, and ‘driveline’ all refer to different groups of components in your car. However, many of your car’s parts and systems have overlapping purposes, which is why those three terms can get very confusing.

So, let’s begin by exploring the most inclusive of all those terms: ‘powertrain’.

To put it simply, the powertrain includes all parts that are responsible for generating power and enabling the car to move.

Here are all the parts of the powertrain and how they contribute to making your vehicle mobile:

  • Engine: The engine is the first and most significant part of the powertrain. This component combusts a mixture of air and fuel to generate power and torque, both of which are crucial for your car to move. Of course, the engine alone won’t move the car, and that’s why the other components on this list are also important. 
  • Transmission: The powertrain also includes the car’s transmission. It’s directly attached to the engine and ensures that the car’s wheels turn together in a synchronized way. The transmission transfers engine power to the driveshaft, which then passes it on to the car’s wheels.
  • Driveshaft: Remember that a standard car has four tires. So, the torque from the transmission can only reach all tires if it’s transferred to the differential (described below) through the driveshaft. That shaft is a rod-shaped component that evenly transfers rotational power to each wheel.
  • Differentials: The differential is another component in the powertrain. This one ensures that your wheels can rotate at different speeds, particularly when turning or navigating corners. Doing so ensures that the wheels maintain traction at all times and prevents your car from losing control during a turn, which would happen if both wheels were turning at the same speed.
  • Axles: Axles are also part of the powertrain because they connect a pair of wheels together and ensure that both receive the engine’s rotational power.
  • Wheels: Lastly, the powertrain also includes your car’s wheels. These parts are responsible for maintaining a grip on the road and transferring power there to move the vehicle forward or backwards. Of course, each wheel also provides a place to wrap rubber tires around and keep them pressurized.

Again, looking at the list above, you can see that the term ‘powertrain’ includes all the car’s mechanical components responsible for giving it mobility.

The powertrain begins with the engine, where power is generated. Then, it includes components that transmit that energy through to the wheels and to its final destination, the road underneath the car.

As you’ll learn below, the terms ‘drivetrain’ and ‘driveline’ include some of the same components from the list above.

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What Is The Drivetrain?

When using the term ‘drivetrain’, remember that it excludes the engine. Instead, the term includes all of your car’s components involved in the vehicle’s steering and maneuvering.

So, that means a drivetrain is comprised of the following parts:

  • Transmission
  • Differential
  • Driveshaft
  • Axles
  • Wheels

As you can see, the drivetrain is a similar set of components to the one you read about in the previous section.

However, it excludes the engine, which is only responsible for generating power. The engine does not transmit power to the wheels by itself, nor is it involved with the car’s steering in any way.

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What Is The Driveline?

Lastly, the driveline is the combination with the least number of parts among all three terms. Specifically, the driveline includes:

  • Driveshaft
  • Axles
  • Differentials
  • Wheels

As you can see, it excludes not only the engine but also the transmission. The driveline only includes components that control the driveshaft.

There are two ways you can view the driveline. You can think of it as a drivetrain minus the transmission or a powertrain minus the transmission and the engine.

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Why Do The Differences Matter?

One problem with terminologies like powertrain, drivetrain, and driveline is that many people don’t know their differences. Worse yet, it’s common for people to use all three terms interchangeably, even though they have clear differences.

Here’s why you should understand the differences between those 3 terms:

1. To Understand The Relationships Between Parts

First and foremost, when you know the differences between terms like powertrain, drivetrain, and driveline, you’ll develop a better understanding of your car’s parts and their relationships.

In other words, you’ll know how parts function together to give you the output that you expect from your vehicle.

2. For Better Communication

Besides that, understanding those terms allows you to communicate better with mechanics, automotive technicians, and other drivers.

Learning about cars, their parts, and their terms enables you to explain your car’s problems much more effectively. In return, the other person will understand what’s wrong and can work much quicker to help you fix the issue.

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3. For Better Troubleshooting

When you understand how your car’s components work together and can communicate clearly with your mechanic, you’ll help them troubleshoot the problem much better.

Powertrains, drivetrains, and drivelines each have unique problems. So when you can explain things clearly to your mechanic, they can save time and effort by narrowing it down to the most likely causes and solutions.

4. To Drive Safer

Understanding your car’s parts and how they work together will also help you drive safer as a driver. 

For example, you’ll be more conscious of your car and practice better driving habits. That includes reducing or avoiding aggressive driving habits that overburden your car or its parts.

5. To Maximize Your Vehicle’s Lifespan

Combining all of the above means that you’ll maximize your vehicle’s lifespan. For example, when you can point out a problem with your powertrain, drivetrain, or driveline to your mechanic early, they can solve the problem before it becomes severe.

In doing so, you’ll ensure that your car continues functioning correctly for many years to come, thereby making the most of its lifespan.

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Final Thoughts

As you’ve read about earlier, the powertrain, drivetrain, and driveline refer to different combinations of the same parts. Those parts are responsible for making your vehicle mobile by producing power, transmitting it to the wheels, and moving the car forward.

However, those components relate to each other in different ways. While the powertrain includes all parts, the drivetrain focuses on the ones that affect maneuverability. Meanwhile, the driveline only focuses on parts that control the driveshaft.

Once you understand the differences between all three, you’ll be much more conscious of your car and how it functions. That’ll allow you to drive safer and keep the car  in much better condition throughout its lifespan.

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