When you purchase a vehicle, one of the features is the wheel drive type: front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, all wheel drive, or 4×4.

An important feature of a vehicle is the wheel drive. The two main types are front wheel drive or rear wheel drive, although there are even more options: all wheel drive or 4×4. We want to help you understand the similarities and differences between the two main types.

Front Wheel Drive

If a vehicle features front wheel drive (FWD), the transmission transfers power from the engine to the front wheels. A great thing about FWD is that it’s cheaper to design and make than other drives, which means the vehicle may be less expensive for consumers.

Most of the time, front-wheel drive cars get better gas mileage because the weight of the drivetrain is less than that of a rear-wheel vehicle. FWD vehicles also get better traction because the weight of the engine and transmission are over the front wheels. Generally speaking, good traction in snow and rain makes your drive safer than if you were in a vehicle with rear wheel drive (RWD).

The downside of an FWD vehicle is that the handling suffers somewhat. While traction is good, handling the vehicle around corners and curves isn’t as strong as an RWD car, especially at faster speeds. If you do a lot of driving on winding roads, you’ll likely notice a difference between the two different types. The FWD won’t be as responsive or nimble on the road as an RWD.

Front-wheel drive vehicles may also feature all-wheel drive. In this case, all four wheels will get power when you need it, and you’ll have better traction.

Rear Wheel Drive

Vehicles that feature rear wheel drive are a bit more complicated. Power is transferred from the transmission to the rear wheels by way of a long driveshaft to a differential. RWD vehicles handle much better than front-wheel drive vehicles and you will notice the difference in curves, turns, and when navigating through traffic situations. Traction won’t be as good, especially in wet or snowy road conditions.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles are better for towing because the front wheels have better steering without a ton of weight on them. Plus, with the power transfer and the tongue weight of the trailer, the rear of vehicle squats, which gives the rear wheels more traction. If you get stuck, adding weight over the rear wheels may help.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles sometimes feature 4×4. When you put the vehicle into 4×4, the vehicle will get power to all four wheels as needed.

Recommendations

For long drives with little traffic, you may want an FWD car that gets good gas mileage like a Chevrolet Cruze or Hyundai Elantra. If you aren’t worried about gas mileage or road conditions and you want better handling, you may go for a Chevrolet Silverado or a Cadillac CTS

When it comes to choosing the wheel drive for your next car, think about what you plan to use your vehicle for to help inform your decision.

Traci Benoit

About the AuthorTraci Benoit

I'm an automotive copywriter with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. I've written automotive content, articles, how-tos, magazine articles, sales copy and more. I have more than 15 years of professional hands-on experience in the automotive industry.