Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Rear vs Front Wheel Drive in Winter
Name: Pamela E.
Status: other
Grade: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 10/31/2005


Question:
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.


Replies:
Hi Pamela,

I apologize for being very late in answering this question, but I have a strong personal opinion and seem to disagree with the others who answered your letter. I was born and raised in northern Wisconsin and have had considerable experience driving on slippery roads.

My opinion is that although the extra weight on the front gives front wheel drive better traction in accelerating the car, it has a severe disadvantage in going around corners.

If you step on the gas too strongly while going around a corner, the wheels can lose traction as they spin and so will lose all ability to steer the car. In that case, the car will continue in a straight line and so go off the road; if the road is curving to the left, the car will tend to leave the road on the right.

With rear wheel drive, if you spin the wheels while going around a curve, the front wheels will continue to guide the car around the curve and the rear wheels will slide toward the outer edge of the curve. This can, however, be countered by straightening the steering wheel or even turning to the right on a left turn. I find this much more reassuring than the almost total loss of steering in front wheel drive cars.

I have checked this many times, often by "fishtailing" down a straight slippery road. I find it easy to control and even fun on a rear wheel drive car, but extremely dangerous on a front wheel drive car. I recommend anyone who doubts these statements to try "fishtailing" themselves. But be SURE there is no other traffic on the road, keep your speed low, and start any maneuver slowly until you know what to expect.

Best, Dick Plano,
Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers University



Click here to return to the Engineering Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory