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Front Wheel Drive vs Rear Wheel Drive

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Front Wheel Drive vs Rear Wheel Drive

Dennis James
February 18, 2008

If you will take a look on almost any web site or forum on the internet, there will be an active topic in which the front wheel drive (fwd) and the rear wheel drive (rwd) is better.

Let’s talk about the Front Wheel Drive first.

Most of the cars in the United States were rear wheel driven ever since they began to witness public success, in the 1920’s. With the fuel crisis of the 1970’s and the alarmingly rising gas prices, car manufacturers were forced to find new ways of engineering cars with greater fuel efficiency. Because the complexity required to build a rear wheel drive car, one of the simplest ways to reduce the size, weight and fuel consumption in a car was to make it front wheel drive. The engine and the drive axle are both in the same part of the car and thus there is no need to have a complicated transmission and a driveshaft which occupies both car weight and passenger compartment space. Another decision made was to position the engines transversely, reducing the engine bay’s size.

But there are some downsides on building a front wheel drive car. It will not have the same handling as a rear wheel driven car because the front of the car will have the burden to house the biggest weight of the entire car. A front wheel drive is also not as suitable to a sports car, because it will have to deal with the torque steer phenomenon. Torque steer happens when the steering wheel is pulled away from its straight position due to the power of the engine.

Now Rear Wheel Drive

The Rear Wheel Drive is becoming recently a car manufacturer preferred system, after many years in which they mostly built front wheel drive vehicles. It is the preferred system of transmission for powerful cars, because it is more efficient to have one pair of wheels dealing with steering the car and another axle dealing with moving the car. This way the car will be more balanced. Acceleration is improved and rear wheel drive cars and there is no torque steering phenomenon present. The handling is greatly improved, because a rear wheel drive car will be closer to the preferred 50/50 car weight distribution. In the past there were problems with rear wheel cars and slippery surfaces, but due to the recent improvements in traction control systems, such problems do not represent an issue anymore.

Recently some manufacturers began to transition toward introducing more and more AWD (all wheel drive) cars.

But customers are very reticent when it comes to rear wheel drive cars. There has been a lot of publicity on front wheel drive cars and most recently on all wheel drive, in the detriment of rear axle ones.

Because the fuel efficiency of modern cars is better controlled, without sacrificing power, a more objective comparison can be made between the two types of transmissions. A front drive system is more efficient in regards of packaging and interior room, And there is no secret that a rear wheel drive car will have a better handling, acceleration and due to recent electronic stability systems, is no longer penalized on slippery roads. Dennis runs Car Dealer Check which has independent Car Dealer Reviews written by the car dealerships customers and a Car Forum.



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