Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Front-Wheel-Drive Sucks

Okay, brace yourselves. I'm about to post a link to an article from slate.com written by Mickey Kaus. You're not going to see this very often, unless I'm picking apart a political argument, but this is a non-political topic and Kaus is a skilled writer. He explains, in laymans terms, why front wheel drive cars are bad. It's a good read for you non-car people and may influence your thinking on your next car purchase depending on the type of car you're shopping for--RWD isn't available in every segment.

http://www.slate.com/id/2081194/


One rebuttal to this article might be that RWD is bad in the snow. My response is that's not true with just a little bit of preparation. A sandbag or two in the back of the car or truck will work miracles. We've gotten so lazy on things like this because vehicles require very little maintenance any more and FWD has gotten us by with no preparation in the past. Sandbags seem foreign now but I'm willing to bet it was common in the past when everything was RWD. Another anachronism are snow tires. No one buys them outside of states that have hardcore winters, but I run them in KS on my cars. They go on in December and come off in late February. It's not much work or expense. The end result is that my RWD BMW with snow tires and sandbags is an above-average car in the snow. It seems to be better off than a lot of FWD cars, including our own FWD Mazda station wagon. About the only thing more sure-footed in snow is an AWD vehicle. That's a good choice if it's available and you don't mind the reduction in fuel mileage, but again, it's not available in every segment either.

19 comments:

chill24 said...

Our son thought we should just put spikes on our tires in snow and ice. I like how he thinks. It wouldn't matter if the car was front OR rear wheel drive!

Anonymous said...

Um, okay. Read the article. I am confused. Maybe even a little frustrated? So car enthusiasts still prefer RWD over FWD? And I should keep sandbags in the garage to make a fun summer car safe to drive in the winter? I deal with sandbags in the Army. I'm never touching one agian at home if I can help it. Or keep an extra set of tires/wheels in the garage for winter? Maybe... but I'm not sure I buy into this argument. So RWD is more fun, but who wants a car that you have to "modify" to drive year round? Maybe I'm just getting lazy. Of course, there's still AWD.

Kim won't get behind a manual transmission unless she learns how to drive it. The one time years ago that I tried to teach her I made her so flustered she quit. I would love to drive a manual again but need to get Kim tought first.
-Robert

Jason R said...

Sorry for the frustration, R. The point the article was trying to make was that RWD handling is safer and more predictable. But think of it this way; why compromise predictable safe handling 355 days a year so that we can have FWD's minor snow advantage for the 10 days a year we drive in snow? Especially when this minor advantage can be overcome by 2 small sandbags. And don't forget that your truck is really an extreme example of weight imbalance. It's very nose heavy and has almost no weight in the back. The effect is much, much worse than a typical RWD car.

But bottom line here, I'll help you find whatever car you want with whatever transmission you want. We've also got some manual trans cars for Kim to learn on if she wants. I taught Annie 3 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I drive a front wheel drive honda in the snow all the time and it is fine, it doesn't matter what you have as long as you go slow and leave space between the car ahead of you. No drive system is going to make you stop any sooner.

Anonymous said...

Snow or no snow front wheel drive is better than RWD.

Anonymous said...

"Snow or no snow front wheel drive is better than RWD."

LOL must be a civic owner xD

Anonymous said...

"Snow or no snow front wheel drive is better than RWD." i think he just LOVES under steer and torque steer.

gv280z said...

This is stupid. I will never put my wife in a rear drive only vehicle, they spin out too easily in wet weather and she only just learned to drive a couple years ago.

If she got sideways or started spinning out she'd have no clue what to do. You don't have that problem with Front wheel drive, if traction is lost the front end will just slide back and forth a little bit but because it's pulling and not pushing, there's not much threat of loosing control.

I desperately want a 4wd 4Runner or Pathfinder but most of the really good deals I find are of rear drive only, so...no deal.

Anonymous said...

I can recover almost any overseer situation I get myself into by managing the throttle and counter steering, if that is too hard to figure out you shouldn't be driving in the winter anyway.

I had to buy a front wheel drive because that's all they make these days in the small car market. The under steer is horrifically unsafe. On a few occasions I have gone around a corner and hit some ice I didn't see. On every occasion I lost the front I just had to hope I didn't hit anything as I try to get the front to do three things at once (brake, throttle and steer).

Anonymous said...

I drive a front wheel drive car, and don't think it's as good on wet pavement or ice than a well balanced rear drive vehicle. Every time I drive across a cross walk in the rain, the front wheels spin on the white strips.One time I tried to drive the car up a snowy street and it wouldn't make it, because gravity shifted the wieght to the rear making the front too light. I turned the car around and backed up the hill with much less trouble. It was like driving an old rear engine, rear drive VW bug, which I also used to have. I could drive that VW just about anywhere. With the front end so light you had to take it easy steering around icey corners.

Anonymous said...

To continue my above post, the front end of a car gets light as you accelerate from a stop. You may notice this if you're a pedestrian seeing the front end of a car lift slightly as it accelerates from a stop.For this reason a front drive car is more likely to lose traction when accelerating hard from a stop. Check the Youtube video RWD versus FWD BMW.Motor Trend Magazine had a good article on FWD versus RWD back during the 80s. There's also weight transfer from front to rear as you drive up a hill. That's why sometimes it works better to drive a front drive car in reverse up a snowy hill. I personally would like to see rear engine, rear wheel drive cars again, like the old VW bug. They still produce a Porshe like that, but they're expensive.

Anonymous said...

If you don't know how to countersteer in a slide the I don't care if you've been driving longer than I've been alive, you still don't know how to really drive and you NEED to learn. To any that that think that a FWD car won't oversteer could be in for a nasty surprise one day. Just try an abrupt avoidance maneuver with all the typical reactions of the inexperienced or uneducated driver, ie. at say 45+ mph someone pulls out in front of you or there drifting into your lane and you didn't see them until the last second. The driver typically will jerk the steering wheel AND let off of the gas at the same time. With the exception of the most extreme understeering cars, at which point your not going to avoid anything, now that's unsafe, the rear is going to start to step out or even snap out abruptly. Usually, the better handling the FWD vehicle, the more easily the rear is unsettled because it's more willing to rotate around the front(hmm, like a RWD under power, immagine that). Then follow that move up with the next typical reaction, go for the brakes and watch the rear snap around. All of the actions that the average driver dose in a FWD are the exact wrong thing to do, but surprise, the correct thing to do in a rwd, except going for the brakes unless you HAVE to stop, that's always the wrong thing, avoid if possible. Now even with the extreme scenario I've laid out FWD over steer can still happen in lesser conditions. Say it's raining, somewhat unfamillier area, you misjudge a corner and are going just a little faster than you want to go but nothing crazy, you let off of the gas mid corner. That can also unsettle the rear enough to barely step out, but no big deal. The thing is that the feeling the driver gets from that can be quight unsettling and cause a stab at the brakes pushing the rear out because it gets even lighter than it already is due to weight transfer. Now many will state the ABS and stability management systems ability the control that, they are correct to a fault. No matter how good the system, it can still only use what available traction there is to try to stop you from crashing or spinning out. and then there's the driver, if they are absolutely useless behind the wheel, the systems can't make up completely for that either.

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Anonymous said...

Front wheel drive was really hyped up the 80s but a transverse engine looked stupid then and still does!!! That should have been a dead ringer right there since previous large cars like the cadillac eldorado and the oldmobile toronado used a longitudinal engine. It is like they didn't know how to put the engine in there the right way.