Front Wheel Drive versus Rear Wheel Drive

Posted at Fri, Nov 27, 2020 2:00 PM

Front Wheel Drive and Rear Wheel Drive systems both employ different models for acceleration and steering as well as their corresponding components. Likewise, they each possess their own apparent advantages and disadvantages, and with modern technology the gap between the two seems to narrow for the average driver. In this article we’ll be taking a look at these pros and cons intrinsic to each drive train system as they present themselves for typical and everyday use.

Front Wheel Drive

First up, Front Wheel Drive. Front wheel drive operates by sending the power from your engine to your two front tires. This is accomplished by having your transmission and differential connected to one central unit, the transaxle. The wheels are connected to the axle by universal joints, this allows for power to be smoothly sent to the front wheels. However, since the front wheels are also responsible for steering you’ll see an increased wear on your front tires over time. With FWD your vehicle is essentially being pulled forward by your front tires.

Having everything located in the front, with less complicated components, reduces the overall weight of the vehicle which allows for better gas mileage when compared to Rear Wheel or AWD/4WD drivetrains. However the increased weight in the front of the vehicle can lead to worse handling. Another problem that is more prevalent with Front Wheel Drive models is torque steer, which can cause your vehicle to pull to the left or the right when accelerating.

Rear Wheel Drive

Now with Rear Wheel Drive power is sent to your rear axle, resulting in power being generated by your rear wheels, while steering and braking are handled by your front axle. This is accomplished by having your drive shaft connected to the transmission and differential by universal joints. This helps the driveshaft rotate easily which in turn is used to rotate the differential which rotates the wheels. Versus Front Wheel Drive, you’ll see a better weight distribution as the components are distributed between the front and rear of the vehicle. You’ll also see better handling in certain conditions to your rear wheels having better grip. In addition to better handling in dry conditions, you’ll also have an advantage when towing, as the power being generated is closer to the load you’re towing.

Some distinct disadvantages of Rear Wheel Drive are reduced rear interior space due to your transmission tunnel and driveshaft, which can also lead to reduced trunk space as this equipment may be located beneath the trunk. Due to the inclusion of a more complex and spread out drivetrain, your vehicle will also have a slightly increased weight. And because the system pushes rather than pulls your vehicle like with front wheel drive systems you can experience more difficulty handling in wet and snowy conditions. However this is greatly reduced with modern stability and traction control systems.


Differential: System that transfers the engine’s torque to the wheels. Effectively splits the power from the engine allowing wheels to rotate at different speeds.

Drive shaft: Component used to transmit power, torque, and rotation between other components in the drive train that may be separated by distance or a relative need. Necessary component in Rear Wheel Drive systems.

Torque Steering:  The phenomenon found in mostly Front Wheel Drive vehicles where certain factors, such as the placement of the engine and steering components, may cause the vehicle to pull to the left/right when driving.

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The article above was collected from various sources representing cursory overview of Rear and Front Wheel Drive systems. Consumers should pursue a variety of sources when comparing drivetrains. This article is not meant to replace research undertaken by consumers and should not be used as the sole source of information on the topic. North End Motors Inc. is not to be held liable should the above information be used in any way other than for what it is intended to be, a cursory opinionated overview of the topic.

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