Understanding Your Vehicles’ Drive Type And What It Can Offer You

Drive Type in a car is the number of wheels taking in energy transmitted from the torque which is generated by combustion in the engine to provide tractive force from the tire to the road causing the vehicle to move.

Drive Type comes in four major types which are:

  1. Front Wheel Drive (FWD)
  2. Rear Wheel Drive (RWD)
  3. Four Wheel Drive (4WD)
  4. All Wheel Drive (AWD)

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Front Wheel Drive (FWD) is the type of Drive where the engine moves only the two front wheels. Aside from being cheaper and easier to install down the assembly line, the Front Wheel Drive provides less weight to the vehicle by eliminating separate axles, hence giving the car better fuel mileage (i.e. reduce fuel consumption). This is why FWD are mostly common in economy-type and lower-cost vehicles. FWD have better traction than RWD because the weight of the engine and axle sits on top of the (front) drive wheels, which further helps the vehicle get a grip on the road. This makes it perform better in harsh rainy weather. The front wheels pull the vehicle.

Despite its good qualities, FWD has its own disadvantages. They are nose-heavy, which isn’t optimal for handling. The problem is that the front wheels have to do two things at once — put the power to the ground and steer the vehicle, which is not optimal for fast or sporty cars.

Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) typically places the engine in the front of the vehicle and the driven wheels at the rear, this makes the rear wheels to push the vehicle instead of pulling it as in the case of FWD. RWD are rugged because of it’s solid axle. For example RWD vehicles can take a lot of abuse like accidentally running over a curb without needing expensive repairs. This can not be said for FWD.

Because of the location of the axle at the rear and the engine in the front, RWD have better handling due to the evenly distributed weight, giving the vehicle balance on the road while in motion. This is why all RWD cars are sports cars.

Anyone who has owned a RWD knows they are at their weakest in poor weather like heavy rain. Even with modern traction control, a RWD car is more prone to loss of traction on slippery roads.

Four Wheel Drive (4WD) also know as 4X4 or 4WD are vehicles with two axles—-one in front and one at the rear providing torque to the front wheels and rear wheels respectively making them to move simultaneously. As against the FWD and RWD that are designed to move on smooth terrain, the 4WD is designed to move on rough and rugged terrain.

The problem with 4WD is that, for the vehicle to make a turn, the inside wheel has to turn more slowly than the outside wheel, which is covering more ground. If the vehicle can’t do this, the inside wheel loses traction and spins freely. The way modern 4WD vehicles overcome this problem is that they are fitted with buttons which the driver can engage and disengage to activate or inactivate the 4WD. This means you can use 4WD at low speed when traction is at a minimum (for example, in sand or mud), but you can still enjoy the efficiency of two-wheel drive in normal conditions.  But don’t forget the presence of a second axle with its weight which will hinder speed and consume more fuel while in motion when compared with FWD and RWD.

All Wheel Drive (AWD) is a more recent innovation of the 4WD. It gives you some of the advantages of both RWD and FWD — while minimizing the weaker points of either of those layouts. The AWD gives excellent traction both on dry pavement and in poor weather and works without engaging and disengaging buttons like the 4WD.

In AWD, this system works to get power to the wheel(s) with the most traction by splitting torque between the front and rear axles on the center differential, and to the individual wheels by way of the front and rear differentials. This is useful in slippery conditions when different wheels might be getting different amounts of grip from moment to moment. The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG is a perfect example.

But the problem like in the 4WD, is that because of its two axles it weighs more than the FWD and RWD affecting speed and fuel consumption. No wonder they are often fitted with larger engines like V6 and V8 to achieve more power.

About Nonso Okafor

I've worked as a technical support representative in major auto centers in Nigeria for more than twenty years. I have dealt with a variety of problems in my capacity as a customer service representative and auto diagnostics expert. I'm committed to assisting people in properly maintaining their automobiles and in appreciating this magnificent innovation known as an automobile.

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