What Is Wheelbase?Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Alison Smith
Wheelbase is the distance between the centers of the front and rear tires on a vehicle. It’s not equal to the overall length, which is the total measurement from front to rear. For vehicles with more than two axles, the wheelbase is the distance between the steering axle and the center of the driving axle group. The concept can also apply to motorcycles, rail vehicles, bicycles, and even skateboards.
Why Is Wheelbase Important?
Wheelbase is important because it affects a vehicle’s weight balance, handling, ride quality, and steering. For instance, the distance between the tires determines how smooth the ride will feel. The longer the wheelbase, the smoother the ride.
Wheelbase distance doesn’t just affect ride quality. It also helps determine the interior size of a vehicle.
Short Wheelbase vs Long Wheelbase
Vehicles can either have a short wheelbase (SWB) or long wheelbase (LWB). Both short and long wheelbases have their share of advantages and disadvantages.
|Tighter turning radius
|Larger interior space
Short wheelbase cars have a smaller distance between the wheels than those with a LWB. They're more agile as they can maneuver quicker. A tighter turning radius means faster cornering, which is good for city streets and moving through traffic.
SWB vehicles are often better for off-roading as they have better breakover angles. That’s why some Jeep enthusiasts prefer the two-door Wrangler versus the four-door.
A downside of shorter wheelbase cars is that they aren’t as comfortable. Bumps are more easily felt because of the smaller distance between the wheels.
Long wheelbase cars have more room between the wheels, so the interior is larger than those with a SWB. Some manufacturers make smaller cars with longer wheelbases to create more interior space. Many luxury car brands offer a long wheelbase option for more backseat room.
In some instances, LWB vehicles don’t have more room on the inside. Certain sports cars have longer wheelbases so the engine can go behind the front axle. This gives the car better weight distribution and handling, but doesn’t have an impact on interior space.
LWB cars tend to be more comfortable than SWB cars since there’s more time between the front and rear tires hitting bumps. They also have better stability due to the larger footprint. Although they lack agility, they’re less likely to roll.
How to Measure Wheelbase
If you want to know the wheelbase of your vehicle, there are a few methods for measuring it. All you need is a measuring tape. You can also use a steel square with a measuring tape if you want to get more technical.
Check the Sticker
This is the easiest way to find your vehicle’s wheelbase without actually measuring anything. There should be a sticker on the inside of the driver’s side door that lists the wheelbase measurement. It’s usually indicated by the letters “WB” followed by a number, which is in inches. If you want to measure it yourself, checking the sticker is a good way to see if you were accurate.
This isn’t the most precise way of measuring, but it’s a simple way to gauge the wheelbase length. Be sure to park on level ground with the wheels straight. Take a measuring tape and measure the distance between the center of the front wheel and the center of the rear wheel. You should use the spot in the middle of the lug nuts as your measuring points. Measure both sides to make sure the wheelbase is the same on each.
Steel Square & Tape Measure
This method is more accurate than measuring with just a tape measure. You’ll need a steel square and some chalk for this one. The car will still need to be parked on level ground with the wheels straight.
Place the steel square on the ground and align it with the center of the front tire. The short end of the square should be on the ground. Mark on the ground with chalk where the square aligns with the tire center. Then do the same thing on the rear tire on the same side of the vehicle. Don’t make the lines too thick or it will affect the measurement.
Use the measuring tape to measure the distance between the chalk marks on the ground to find the wheelbase. Repeat the process on the other side to ensure it’s even. If the wheelbase isn’t equal on both sides, it can cause issues with the vehicle pulling to one side.
Which Is Better, Short or Long Wheelbase?
There are upsides and downsides for both short and long wheelbases. Which one is right for you will depend on how you plan on using your vehicle.
If you need something that’s good for city driving and can turn quickly, then a short wheelbase is a good option. For lots of highway driving, a long wheelbase will be more comfortable as it provides a smoother ride and more interior room.
Wheelbase can be a particularly important measurement for off-roaders. Vehicles with a short wheelbase excel at dodging obstacles on the trail thanks to their tight turn radius. But longer wheelbases have more stability, which makes them better at climbing those long, steep hills.