Front vs Rear Wheel Drive

Front vs Rear Wheel Drive

Last Updated July 21, 2021 | Andrew Boyle

The main difference between rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive is self-explanatory: Either the front or rear wheels provide the driving power for the car. However, since this is quite a large distinction, it’s important to know what you’re looking to do with your vehicle before deciding between the two.

What Is RWD?

"RWD cars have the essential sports car feel"

Rear wheel drive is the favorite of performance vehicles of all sorts. With the car’s power being provided by the back tires, the front wheels are stuck on permanent steering duty. In fact, this delegation of responsibility amongst the tires is one of the most frequently cited arguments for RWD. Since the front tires don’t have to bear the burden of accelerating, it’s more viable to accelerate through turns while maintaining control of the vehicle. Though a loss of traction in a RWD vehicle often leads to oversteer, there's a fun side to this as well. Rear-wheel drive opens up the possibility of performing both drift turns and burnouts, two automotive tricks that are practically impossible for front-wheel drive cars without flagrant abuse of the emergency brake or cafeteria trays. Finally, and arguably most importantly, RWD cars have the quintessential sports car feel. With the weight of the car more evenly balanced, the feeling of acceleration is significantly more palpable, making for a more invigorating driving experience. Given that, it should come as no surprise that the Ford Mustang uses a RWD drivetrain.

Rear-wheel drive cars, however, struggle in bad weather. If you’ve ever seen a RWD car attempting to pull out of a snowy parking spot, then you’ll surely understand. If you're in a powerful car, rain isn’t much better either, with the heightened risk of the rear wheels fishtailing out of control. There are similar issues with steep slopes with RWD cars as well since the back wheels have to push the entire weight of the front of the car. Basically, you should avoid bringing out your RWD vehicle in the snow; save it for better weather.

RWD Mustang Spinning Tires

What Is FWD?

"They are generally cheaper, lighter, and consequently more fuel-efficient"

On the other hand, front-wheel drive cars are more engineered for everyday driving. Compared to RWD vehicles, they are generally cheaper, lighter, and consequently more fuel-efficient. Since the main engine components are located under the hood of the car, there is more weight on the front wheels. The nose heaviness of FWD cars does mean that there is an increased amount of traction on the front wheels, endowing them with increased performance in poor weather conditions and on steep slopes. Even though RWD cars are the go-to for performance driving, FWD can still prove fun to drive. Both the Focus ST and Fiesta ST are FWD cars with considerable oomph.

Unlike the front wheels on a RWD car, the front wheels on a FWD system are forced to be a jack of all trades, taking charge of turning and accelerating. In this case, the back wheels are subordinate to the front. This puts more wear and tear on the front two tires, meaning that they are more likely to wear down faster than the rear tires. FWD cars are more likely to sustain serious mechanical injury by hitting curbs or potholes as well, owing to their smaller and more fragile drive shafts. A final potential problem with FWD cars is a phenomenon known as torque steer. Since the front wheels are responsible for both turning and accelerating, it’s more difficult to maintain tight control of the vehicle when accelerating quickly from a stop. This situation can cause either front wheel to spin faster than the other, especially if your car isn’t equipped with a limited-slip differential — most front-wheel drive cars aren’t. In turn, this could cause your steering wheel to jerk back and forth under hard acceleration. However, it’s very easy to control by simply lifting your right foot off the accelerator pedal.

FWD Orange Focus ST

FWD or RWD: Which Is Better for You?

Ultimately, there is no clear victor between the two. RWD and FWD have different utilities, so the question shouldn’t be which one is better, but rather which one suits your driving practices the best. These aren’t the only widely available drivetrains either; All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles are viable options as well. Most simply put, if you are looking to have a fun and exhilarating driving experience, the RWD is your best bet. If you want an efficient and affordable vehicle, then you’ll have more luck with a FWD. If you are still not satisfied, you should consider looking at AWD and 4WD drivetrains as well. Regardless of what you pick, CJ’s will have the parts you need.

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About the Author

Andrew is a Jeep TJ owner and car industry aficionado with over 150 articles under his belt. Read full bio →

Front vs Rear Wheel Drive

The merits and disadvantages of RWD and FWD are numerous, so deciding between the two could seem difficult. However, there are several important differences between the two, that when chosen correctly, can improve your driving experience. This guide will help outline the best uses for a RWD and FWD to help you pick a drivetrain best suited for your needs.

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