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Pros & Cons: Rear Drive, Front Drive Or All-Wheel Drive?
Posted on February 5th, 2009 in Car Care, Eric Peters, Tips | 21 Comments

Pros & Cons: Rear Drive, Front Drive Or All Wheel Drive?
By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Should you buy a rear-wheel-drive car, a front-wheel-drive car — or an all-wheel-drive car? The answer depends on what kind of a driver you are, the conditions you typically drive in — and what you expect the car to be able to do best.

Here are the main pros and cons of each layout:

Rear Wheel Drive

There are two main advantages to owning a RWD car. The first is that RWD is both simple and rugged — especially if it’s a solid axle design — and can take a lot of abuse without needing expensive repairs. Accidentally run over a curb in a solid axle RWD car, for instance, and you probably won’t break anything. But hit a curb (or even a deep pothole) in a FWD car and the odds are much higher that something expensive will be damaged. This is why cop cars and other “service” vehicles are overwhelmingly RWD.

The other advantage RWD cars offer is better balance — and because of this, better handling. While a FWD car has most of the weight of the engine and transaxle (the transmission and axle assembly are one unit in a FWD car) over the front wheels, a RWD car spreads the weight of its drivetrain more evenly front-to-rear. This is why most sports cars — and virtually all race cars — are RWD.

And cons? As anyone who has owned one will tell you, RWD cars are at their weakest in poor weather — rain and snow. Even with modern traction control, a RWD car is more prone to loss of traction on slick roads. In snow, RWD cars are best left home.

Front Wheel Drive

As with RWD, FWD offers two main advantages — just very different ones. The first is economy. It is cheaper to design and build a FWD car. There are fewer parts — and the drivetrain is easier and cheaper to install as the car rolls down the assembly line. FWD also helps cut...
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