The terms RWD, FWD, and AWD are simply acronyms that refer to the drive wheels of the vehicle. Below we will go into detail and explain the main benefits and drawbacks of each system.
RWD (Rear Wheel Drive)
“Rear Wheel Drive” vehicles use the engines power to turn the rear wheels of the vehicle only. When you push on the gas pedal, only the rear wheels are driving the vehicle forward while the front wheels are coasting along freely. If you were to lift the car in the air and push the gas pedal, you would only see the rear wheels moving and the front wheels would be stationary.
– Simplicity: RWD vehicles are simple to build and maintain due to their low complexity and simple parts. The engine, transmission, and differential are all separated and easily accessible for maintenance such as oil changes and clutch replacements.
– Handling: RWD vehicles are known to be better balanced and better handling on the road due to their driving characteristics. This is why most performance and high end cars stick to RWD.
– Traction: This biggest downside to having a RWD vehicle will be your traction in poor weather conditions. Snow and Rain can prove to be a challenge even with modern traction control. Not only can they struggle with finding tractions, but you may experience slight “drifting” around corners which means your car won’t be travelling in the same direction that your steering wheel is pointed.
FWD (Front Wheel Drive)
“Front Wheel Drive” vehicles use the engines power to drive only the front wheels of the car. The rear wheels coast freely in this case. This is the most common type of drivetrain found on todays roads and for good reason too!
– Simplicity: Like with RWD cars, FWD cars benefit from simplicity. Transmissions are often coupled together with differentials in one unit called a “Transaxle” which can be serviced as one unit. This simplicity also comes at a lower cost since there are no shafts running to the rear of the car either.
– Traction: FWD vehicles have the benefit of the tires always rotating in the direction that the wheel is pointed which means its much less likely to “drift” in poor condition. They also benefit from better traction since the weight of the engine and transmission are usually right on top of the from axle which allows for more grip on snow and ice.
– Handling: The biggest downside to a FWD vehicle is usually its poor handing characteristics. a FWD vehicle has the front wheels doing the majority of the work (accelerating, braking, and turning) which can lead to understeer, torque-steer, and loss of traction under spirited driving. This is usually not a problem for most people since the average commuter will never push his/her car to these limits but its something to consider if you’re looking for a sportier car.
AWD (All Wheel Drive)
AWD – “All Wheel Drive” vehicles are capable of providing the engines power to all four wheels of the vehicle depending on road conditions. This added benefit provides the most superior traction but also comes at a great cost!
– Handling: The number one benefit of having an AWD vehicle is its superior handling in poor weather conditions. Since all the wheels are used to power the vehicle forward, the chances of getting stuck are much lower and drivers can feel more confident with the vehicles ability in poor weather conditions. Keep in mind this doesn’t help braking or stopping!
– Complexity: AWD vehicles have many more moving parts than a FWD or RWD vehicle. Transaxles and driveshafts need to send power to the front and back of the car and be monitored at all times by a computer to optimize traction. Differentials and transfer cases need regular maintenance and fluid changes to run optimally.
– Cost: The added complexity mentioned above leads to a higher purchase price and usually a higher maintenance cost as well.
– Fuel Economy: Added weight from extra components can add a few hundred pounds of weight to a vehicle – this extra weight will reduce a cars fuel economy in city stop-and-go traffic. The added rolling resistance from all the extra components will also be a drag on fuel economy even if you’re driving in good weather conditions.
As you can see, there is no one drive system that is superior in all situations. Many people still argue over which system is the best but it ultimately comes down to the usage environment and personal preferences. Before purchasing, be sure to research as well as test drive the vehicle to ensure that its the right one for you.