a vehicle off-roading in a forest at night

Front-Wheel Drive vs. Rear-Wheel Drive | Pros & Cons

Perhaps you’ve heard the term drivetrain when shopping around for a new car. Simply put, a drivetrain is the series of parts in your car that work together to make your wheels turn. A powertrain, on the other hand, is basically a drivetrain plus the engine and some other parts.

While some praise the advantages of four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, most cars are two-wheel drive (2WD), in which power is either transferred to the two front wheels (front-wheel drive) or the two back wheels (rear-wheel drive).

For off-roading and getting out of sticky situations, 4WD and AWD may be your best choice. In nearly all cases, however, 2WD gets the job done. But, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons of your two 2WD options before making a decision.

Front-wheel drive vs. rear-wheel drive—which one is best for you?

Drivetrain Options

Rear-Wheel Drivetrains (2WD)

In rear-wheel drivetrains, power is transferred to the two back wheels. There are many benefits to having power transferred to the rear wheels, including superior handling, acceleration, and braking.

Front-Wheel Drivetrains (2WD)

This setup transfers power to the front wheels, giving them the responsibility of moving and steering the vehicle. They are typically cheaper to manufacturer and are more space-saving than rear-wheel drive.

Four-Wheel and All-Wheel Drivetrains 

While there are important differences between the two, both 4WD and AWD are drivetrain types that transfer power from the engine to all four wheels of your vehicle. All-wheel drive is typically applied to drivetrains that include a differential between the front and rear drive shafts.

We recommend 2WD for most drivers who drive in mild climates without a lot of snow. Whether or not you should buy a 2WD or 4WD vehicle depends entirely on your driving conditions and how you intend to use the vehicle.

Drivers who go off-roading or live in areas with a lot of snow may want to think about the added benefit of 4WD and how comfortable they feel driving in snow without the assistance of 4WD or AWD.

For most drivers in most conditions, however, 2WD is all you need. Click here for more information on the advantages and disadvantages of four-wheel and all-wheel drive.

2-Wheel Drive (2WD)

As mentioned before, most vehicles are 2WD, which can come in one of two setups: front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD).

Since the engine only needs to power two wheels, they are cheaper to purchase and get better fuel economy than either 4WD or AWD.

Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) Diagram

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Front-Wheel Drive Pros (Advantages):

  • The engine and transmission are located directly above the front wheels, which can provide better traction when climbing hills and driving on slippery roads.
  • Since all the equipment is up front, they create more space and leg room in the back.
  • Front-wheel drive has less components than any other drivetrain setup, making the vehicle lighter and improving its gasoline mileage. That’s why most economy-type cars are front-wheel drive.
  • There is greater tactile feedback through the steering wheel if the wheels are slipping.
  • Front-wheel drive is a simpler system and tends to be less expensive to buy and maintain.

If most of your driving is in dry or rainy conditions, a front-wheel drive system is all you need. Most modern front-wheel drive systems contain anti-lock braking (ABS) and traction control, making them perfectly suitable for light snow conditions as well.

Front-Wheel Drive Cons (Disadvantages):

  • Since all the weight is located in the front of the vehicle, front-wheel drive cars tend to understeer.
  • During sudden acceleration, front-wheel drive vehicles tend to veer to the right or left because of something called “torque steer.”
  • Front-wheel drive tends to have a lower towing capacity than rear-wheel or 4WD/AWD drivetrains.
  • Front-wheel drive has worse acceleration than rear-wheel drive, which is why most sporty and race cars use rear-wheel drive.
  • With all the weight up front, front-wheel drive can make handling more difficult.
  • CV joints/boots in FWD vehicles tend to wear out sooner than rear-wheel drive vehicles.

Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD) Diagram

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rear-Wheel Drive Pros (Advantages):

  • During dry conditions, rear-wheel drive improves handling due to “load transfer” in acceleration and more even weight distribution.
  • Rear-wheel drive tends to have less costly maintenance since there aren’t as many parts packed into a small space. Front-wheel drive repairs and maintenance may cost more since they have to remove more parts for workable access.
  • You won’t experience “torque steer,” the tendency that FWD vehicles have to veer to the right or left during acceleration.
  • Towing large loads is easier since the wheels doing the pulling are located closer to the load. Also, steering is much easier since the back wheels are providing the power while the front wheels do the work of steering.
  • While drifting is not recommended for most drivers, it is easier to drift with RWD than FWD or 4WD/AWD.

Rear-Wheel Drive Cons (Disadvantages):

  • Rear-wheel drive may be more fun to drive, but it also makes it more difficult to master. With modern stability and traction controls, however, the driving differences of RWD don’t present a problem for most drivers.
  • There is less interior space due to more room needed for the transmission tunnel and driveshaft.
  • There may be less trunk room since more equipment must be placed underneath the trunk.
  • The driveshaft, which connects the front engine to the back axle, adds more weight. RWD weighs slightly more than FWD, but less than 4WD and AWD.
  • Additional materials translate to a slightly higher purchase price.
  • Since RWD pushes the car rather than pulls it, it has more difficulty maneuvering in wet and snowy conditions. With modern technology, such as stability and traction control, however, this disadvantage is greatly reduced.

We sell a large inventory of front-wheel driverear-wheel drivefour-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive vehicles. Shop our complete online inventory.

If you have any questions about front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or any other drivetrain setup, don’t hesitate to speak with one of our Online Specialists or give us a call:

Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600

Cleveland, TN – (423) 472-2000

Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600

Dalton, GA – (706) 217-2277

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