What’s the Difference Between Front and Rear Wheel Drive? 

Wheels are not only what rolls you down the road, but also what steers the car by using a series of parts in your car that work together. This is called the ‘Drivetrain’. While 4WD (4×4) and AWD (All Wheel Drive) for off-road adventures and rugged conditions, a 2WD (Front or Rear Wheel Drive) will typically do just fine for everyday driving or interstate travel. They are also considered to be less expensive to buy than their rugged 4WD cousins. So what are the differences between a front-wheel drive and a rear-wheel drive? Let me explain.

Front Wheel Drive

Steering Front Wheel Drive

The setup for a front-wheel drivetrain transfers power to the front wheels giving them the responsibility to move and steer the car, thus providing better traction when climbing hills and in slippery conditions. They are also more space saving, removing the need to have a transmission tunnel and driveshaft running down the center reducing the amount of legroom for the rear passengers, and less trunk room due to more equipment being placed underneath the back end. 

The front-wheel drive system is much simpler and is generally less expensive to maintain. This system has less components making the vehicle lighter and more fuel-efficient. Most modern front-wheel drive systems have ABS (Anit-lock Brake System) and traction control making them fine for people traveling in light snow conditions. Most hatchbacks and smaller cars are front-wheel drive such as popular favorites Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, the Fiat 500 and even the mid-sized Honda Accord.  

However, both front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive systems have their disadvantages. For the front-wheel drive, you will notice cars tend to veer left or right during heavy acceleration because of ‘torque-steer’. CV joints/boots have a tendency to wear out sooner than their rear-wheel counterpart. Under-steering can be a problem. Make sure your tires are always checked on a regular (weekly if possible) basis for equal air pressure so the car doesn’t place pressure more on one side than the other. Front-wheel drive cars also have a lower towing capacity which may not be an issue as most of these cars are used for traveling to work to going out on the town.

Rear Wheel Drive

Steering Rear Wheel Drive

To start, this drivetrain system improves handling due to the load transfer in acceleration and a more even weight distribution. Using a rear-wheel vehicle for towing large loads is made easier as the rear wheels doing the pulling work are located closer to the load being towed, leaving the front wheels to concentrate on steering. There is no ‘torque-steer’ from the front wheels having to perform two jobs at once.

Access to the drivetrain is easier to get to when up on a hoist instead of having to remove other engine bay parts to get to the front-wheel system. Professional stunt driver’s prefer the rear-wheel drivetrain for drifting in films and shows at the racetrack. Sports cars usually have rear-wheel drive systems in place.

If you’re carrying rear seat passengers however, they will have to put up with a high curve in the center of the floor affecting legroom to allow for the transmission tunnel and driveshaft underneath. The system also weighs more making the vehicle heavier and more costly at the gas pump. Since the rear-wheel drive system pushes the car instead of pulling it, it has more difficulty maneuvering in wet or snowy weather conditions. If the vehicle has stability and traction control however, the disadvantage is greatly reduced – so make sure if you are buying a rear-wheel drive car to check it has these features. The Ford Mustang, Chrysler 300, Pontiac Solstice Roadster and Subaru BRZ all feature a rear-wheel drive system.

So now that I’ve cleared up the pros and cons between a front-wheel drive and a rear-wheel drive vehicle, I’ll leave it up to you to decide which system would work best for your needs.

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