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Name: Pamela E.
Status: other
Grade: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 10/31/2005

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.

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

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