Today we are discussing wheel-drive. How many of you have heard of this term before? Most commonly referred to as front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, etc. Wheel-drive can change from car to car which is why it is important to understand what it is and why it affects you. There are many terms that relate to wheel drive which we’ll dig into soon. Essentially, wheel-drive affects how your car handles the road. More “drive” usually gives off more traction compared to less drive. Don’t worry, it really isn’t as complicated as it may sound!
Wheel Drive 101- What Do You Need?
First, we need to discuss what wheel-drive is. Basically, it is how your wheels handle the road. It will help to understand one specific car term- differential. The differential is a mechanism in your car that equally distributes power to all four wheels so you have easier driving and turning capabilities. For example, if you are driving on an icy road and your left tires hit ice but your right tires don’t, your differential will ignite and create even distribution of power for those tires on the ice; creating more traction so you don’t spin out!
Your differential affects your wheel-drive and your wheel-drive keeps you safe on the road! It’s as easy as that 🙂
There are 5 terms you need to be familiar with when discussing wheel-drive.
Four-Wheel Drive (4WD):
We will start with 4WD. This is most commonly found in trucks and utility cars. Your 4WD vehicle will actually operate in two-wheel drive until you manually engage the 4WD option. When this is engaged, you lock your front and rear drive systems together, forcing all wheels to rotate at the same speed. This will increase traction so you only need to engage four-wheel drive when you are on a very icy or slippery, muddy road. Used for “low-traction surfaces”.
Do NOT engage your four-wheel drive on a regular road. This will ruin your tires and driveline. Trust me.. I’ve accidentally engaged mine and it was not pretty..
Ideally, you only want a 4WD vehicle if you live on a muddy, rainy, snowy, or icy road. Which is why you usually only see this option on trucks and utility vehicles.
Two-Wheel Drive (2WD):
Since we mentioned 2WD above, we will jump straight to it. A 2WD vehicle uses either front or rear-wheel drive. 2WD is the lowest strength performance of the 5 wheel-drive types. Usually used on cars that deal with little to no climate change. You can drive a 2WD vehicle through snow, but you better have great tires! You don’t see a lot of car manufacturers use the term 2WD anymore. Instead, cars are either RWD or FWD, which we discuss next.
Rear-Wheel Drive (RWD):
Rear-wheel drive means the rear wheels of your vehicle, essentially, drive your car. The rear wheels move the vehicle and the front wheels provide steering. Because of this, rear-wheel drive vehicles are better at performance and worse in bad weather. In trucks or heavy cars, the more weight you add, the more traction you have because the weight is pushing on the back, “driving”, wheels. In sports cars and most race cars, rear-wheel is a must because the weight transfer between the wheels increases the traction while accelerating.
Therefore, more gas = more weight transferred to the rear wheels = increased traction = better turning capabilities.
Hence why I mentioned that rear wheel vehicles are better performance cars.
Front-Wheel Drive (FWD):
Front-wheel drive vehicles are better in bad weather, but not as good with performance. Opposite to RWD, the front wheels are the driving force. Most sedans and moderate power cars have FWD. These vehicles have better fuel economy and better space efficiency ( hence why all minivans are FWD).
Less power means the engine, transmission, and other components take up less space.
Don’t get less power confused with less traction, though. FWD vehicles offer very good traction and handle much easier in bad weather. You just won’t get the torque like you would in a sports car.. but you will feel more confident driving in snow!
All-Wheel Drive (AWD):
Lastly, we have AWD. Often confused with 4WD because you still use all four wheels for traction, the AWD actually sends power to all four wheels at the same time, automatically. The 4WD needs to be engaged manually, but AWD is automatically engaged once you hit icy or slippery conditions. The benefit? You just sit back and enjoy the ride. Downfall? You can’t really go off-roading or slip in the snow with AWD on. It is the best form of traction in bad weather.
So the next time you are searching for a new car, or the sales person asks you what wheel-drive you’d prefer…. you can confidently respond and choose the best wheel-drive for your vehicle & lifestyle!
Remember: front-wheel drive has great traction, great fuel economy, and more space. However, not a performance vehicle. Rear-wheel drive has amazing performance but not so good traction in bad weather. The serious off-roader needs 4WD to turn on off when needed, and if you want maximum traction all the time, without hassle, its all-wheel drive 🙂