Rear vs Front Wheel Drive in Winter
Name: Pamela E.
What handles better in the winter, a vehicle with rear
wheel drive or front wheel drive? Both have anti-lock brake systems. I
drive a car now that has front-wheel drive. That's all I have ever
driven. My husband is looking at buying a car with rear wheel drive and
I am concerned about how it will handle in the winter on icy roads and
such. We live in an area that does get quite a bit of snow.
One of the reasons front wheel drive cars became popular because they
handled better in the snow. Its not stopping the car, but driving the
car. If the front wheels slip, the car will usually stay in line. With
rear wheel drive, the pushing rear wheels slip and the back end of the
car starts to swing.
Technology has helped reduce this problem in RWD cars to a point where
auto makers are returning to build RWD. RWD has definite advantages
under normal driving conditions.
The question of front and rear drive automobiles continues to be debated
among people who drive cars. The answer seems to depend a lot on driving
conditions and personal preference. "Handling" has no definite engineering
meaning. The greatest propulsive force will occur when the driven wheels
have the greatest weight on them.
In principle, four wheel drive is superior because power reaches all four
wheels independently and the electronics allow each wheel to "recognize"
the traction of the other three. Front wheel drive is considered next best
because the "weight" of the engine is over the wheels doing the steering.
Rear wheel drive without added weight is considered to be the least
effective. Having said that if conditions are right, glare ice just below
the freezing point of water it makes little difference. If there is no
traction between tire and road it does not matter. Those of us in the
climates that do not respect that rule learn to regret it. With no traction
the vehicle will continue on in a straight line in accord with Newton's
laws of mechanics, no matter how many wheels you have.
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Update: June 2012