What Is Front-Wheel Drive?

Dan Cavallari

Front-wheel drive is an automobile layout in which the drive systems are at the front of the vehicle. This means the front wheels of the automobile will pull the vehicle forward, unlike rear-wheel drive vehicles, on which the rear wheels push the vehicle forward. Front-wheel drive automobiles are quite popular because they tend to handle well in inclement whether, particularly snow and ice, though advancements in rear-wheel drive vehicles have made those a viable alternative as well. Most of the drive components, including the engine and transmission, will be located in the front of the vehicle, which means the front of the automobile will be much heavier than the rear.

Front-wheel drive vehicles run better on snowy roads than their rear-wheel drive counterparts.
Front-wheel drive vehicles run better on snowy roads than their rear-wheel drive counterparts.

The engine weight positioned over the front wheels also improves traction, since the drive wheels of the front-wheel drive system will be more likely to accurately track the ground. Other advantages of this system include the reduction of necessary components to drive the vehicle, thereby saving weight and reducing the likelihood that a component will fail. A lighter car means better fuel efficiency in most cases, and the interior of the vehicle can be much larger without increasing the overall weight of the front-wheel drive vehicle too significantly.

The handling in every day situations of a front-wheel drive vehicle can be more sluggish than that of a rear-wheel drive vehicle. Cars that are designed to go fast and handle well in tight corners tend to be rear-wheel drive vehicles for this reason. The drive wheels of a front-wheel drive automobile will experience more torque when steering since the wheels will be driven as well as turned, which means steering can be sluggish and not as responsive in high-speed situations. This does not necessarily make the vehicle any less safe, but drivers may notice the difference in handling.

In snow and on ice, the front-wheel drive automobile has the advantage. The wheels in the front will pull the vehicle rather than push it, ensuring that the front end of the vehicle tracks the ground well even when slipping. Rear-wheel drive vehicles push the vehicle, and the front end of the automobile can slide left or right as the rear wheels push forward. This means more difficult steering on ice or snow, and less ability to maintain a straight line on the road. Advancements in rear-wheel drive technology has improved, though it is questionable whether such advancements have improved the system enough to make it comparable to the handling of front-wheel drive systems.

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Discussion Comments


Front wheel drives are great if you are living in a place that gets a lot of ice and snow. I remember my first car was a front wheel drive 88 Buick regal that I had been handed down from my grandmother.

We were living in Madison and had pretty rough winters. As long as the roads were mostly plowed I had no problems getting around on the slick roads. And the regal is not a great car by any means.

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