AAMCO Explains: The Difference Between FWD and RWD
We come across a lot of questions here at AAMCO Colorado, and one that continues to be raised is what the differences are between front and rear-wheel drive vehicles. Since we are asked this generally when customer arrive during an auto tune up service, we figured it might be best to write a little on it to help demystify to those that don’t already know.
Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD)
Most people have probably driven a rear-wheel drive vehicle before, which is essentially when the power from the engine is transferred to the rear wheels of a vehicle via the drive shaft. Rear-wheel drive is used for vehicles when there is either a sporting purpose or off-road capabilities are needed.
RWD offers a few benefits that front-wheel drive cannot, mainly, it provides better acceleration, handling, and weight distribution.
Better acceleration can be expected from RWD vehicles because the weight shifting and distribution forces the rear tires to dig more into the ground, thus gaining more traction from the tires. The reasoning is the same for the handling, the better overall traction you have, the more control you are going to be able to keep.
So when you are accelerating, the rear portion of the car is going to be forced towards the ground, this helps the tires to remain traction. The same logic is why spoilers are used, forcing the car toward the ground to give added traction.
Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)
FWD vehicles are used for a few good reason, even though it may seem that RWD vehicles are better overall. The main reason is that they are cheaper for manufactures to produce, thus offering a lower purchasing price for consumers.
The engine, gearbox, steering, and other components are all kept together at the front of the vehicle, which means it can be created and fitted in the factory as a single unit. Less work involved in manufacturing, and less parts needed in its creation result in lower costs for everyone.
Another benefit to FWD vehicles, is that they generally handle better in adverse weather conditions. The reason for this being that in the event you start to lose control in rain/snow/ice, your vehicle will not violently swing to one side or another. Rather, you will generally just go straight. Also, when many people lose control they either tend to push the brake or try to speed up.
Using the brake is rarely advisable for either FWD or RWD vehicles. With FWD, you would want to speed up because once traction is regained, the vehicle will be pulled forward, drawing the rear end with it. However, with a RWD, if you speed up, it will cause the tail end to swing out and the vehicle to spin out of control.
The biggest difference between the two is critical to know depending on which one you will be driving, as they both handle in drastically different manners. It is important to remember that a RWD vehicle, in essence, is being pushed from behind. While a FWD vehicle is being pulled. If you imagine this while you are driving, the being pulled or pushed, you can better understand how the vehicle might react under certain circumstances.
If a FWD vehicle is making a turn and loses control, generally the vehicle will remain on a forward path. Accelerating is what needs to occur in order to straighten the vehicle out. A RWD vehicle losing control on a turn will have its tail end swing out in the direction of the turn.
Generally, you will want to let off the gas to slow down and regain control. In neither case would you want to slam on the brake as that will only cause you to further lose control. If it’s apparent you need to brake, a pumping action should be used. This coupled with a modern vehicle’s anti-lock brake system will help to keep some form of control. If you have an anti-lock brake system, do not manually pump the brake.
Visit a Colorado AAMCO location for a FREE ProtectCheck® Inspection to diagnose that your front wheel or rear wheel drive is working properly.
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