It’s a question that challenges many people who are planning to buy a new vehicle. It’s often followed by the question: “Is there really that big of a difference?” or “Does it matter that much?”
These are all great questions, and if you have the answers before you even start looking at a new vehicle, you can save yourself a bunch of time. This article will explain the difference between the two, talk about why it matters to you, and offer a few considerations when making your decision. By the time you’re done, you’ll be ready to look for that new vehicle.
Features of Rear Wheel Drive
With rear wheel drive, the rear tires provide the push and the front wheels steer the vehicle. In most cases the engine sits in the front of the vehicle, connected to the transmission, which brings power through the driveshaft to the rear-axle gears that turn the wheels.
The rear-axle gears reside in a rear-axle housing at the rear of the vehicle. This adds weight to the rear, providing a more equal distribution of weight between the front and rear of the vehicle.
Advantages of Rear Wheel Drive
Rear wheel drive can be a big advantage for increased performance. Greater weight at the back of the vehicle increases traction by pushing down on the wheels that drive the vehicle. The greater traction means better grip on the road which helps acceleration.
The more equal weight distribution – with the engine in front and axle housing in back – improves cornering response. When you brake, the effort is distributed between all four wheels. Braking naturally causes the vehicle to put weight on the front tires. On a rear wheel drive vehicle, when the brakes engage, the weight shifts forward so the rear wheels aren’t doing all the work.
The design needed for rear wheel drive also makes it more durable. The axle design, especially if it’s a solid axle design, allows it to take a lot more abuse on the road. If a front wheel hits a curb or pothole, the drive mechanism of the vehicle isn’t directly affected by the shock.
This is why performance cars and trucks as well as vehicles like police cars and ambulances use rear wheel drive. It’s also why race cars only use rear wheel drive.
Features of Front Wheel Drive
Front wheel drive vehicles have the drive gears, engine and transmission in the same space at the front of the vehicle. There’s no driveshaft connecting engine and transmission to rear wheels. This puts all the weight on the front of the vehicle. Vehicles also weigh less as a result.
Advantages of Front Wheel Drive
A big advantage of the front wheel drive is its lower cost. The consolidation of the engine, gears, and transmission in a single unit allow for efficient design. It also means better fuel economy, which translates into savings for the vehicle owner.
Front wheel drive vehicles also offer better traction on snowy or slippery surfaces. The weight being at the front of the vehicle pushes down on the tires. The added traction from the downward pressure lets the front wheels pull the vehicle forward. This added front weight also gives directional stability, which simply means the vehicle is more likely to keep to a straight line when driving.
Without a driveshaft taking up space, greater cabin room is also an advantage, as it offers passengers more comfort or makes it possible to stow more cargo.
How to Choose the Best Vehicle for You
Most trucks have rear wheel drive. Sports and other high-performance vehicles come with rear wheel drive. The increased cornering and handling of the rear wheel drive meets the demands for speed or pulling a trailer or hauling cargo.
Many mini-vans and sedans come with front wheel drive. This meets the demand for fuel economy and provides more space for large families.
When it comes to choosing front wheel drive vs rear wheel drive, first determine how you will use the vehicle. Do you need a truck to haul heavy loads, a vehicle that can handle snowy and icy roads, or a mini-van to carry a family?
Once you identify the purpose for the vehicle, you’ll have a better idea of what options are available for the vehicles that meet your needs.