Apart from passenger seating, horsepower and color, wheel drive should be a consideration when car shopping. Metro News Service photo

Choosing a vehicle based on wheel drive

Several factors are considered before drivers purchase new vehicles. Wheel drive may not be the first such factor to come to mind, but it can be an important consideration when vehicle shopping.

Despite the considerable rise in popularity of sport-utility vehicles, automotive expert Edmunds says most passenger cars sold in the United States today use a two-wheel-drive system. With options such as 4WD, AWD, FWD and RWD, consumers should understand the differences of each type of drive in order to make the most informed decision.

Rear-wheel drive

With rear-wheel drive, the power goes to the back wheels to drive the vehicle. This used to be the system of choice because RWD systems were relatively easy to manufacture, offers Kelly Blue Book. RWD is the choice for many trucks because added load can offer additional traction in the back. Furthermore, rear-wheel drive is coveted for sporty vehicles and luxury cars. That’s because as vehicles accelerate, the weight is transfered to the rear wheel, enhancing traction and further acceleration. This drive also distributes weight more evenly, so cornering and handling are better.

Front-wheel drive

The National Motorists Association states that front-wheel drive, which has become ubiquitous in cars produced today, is cheaper to design and build than RWD. Fewer parts mean the drivetrain is easier to install. It is also less heavy than others, helping vehicles to be lighter and consume less fuel. In rain and snow, FWD has excellent traction, so it’s an asset under poor weather conditions. Front-wheel drive vehicles are not prized for their handling because the front wheels have to put power to the ground and steer the car. Furthermore, unlike RWD, which is more rugged and durable, FWD is more fragile.

4-wheel-drive & All-wheel-drive

4WD is designed for rugged, off-road applications and AWD is for pavement driving. Pure 4WD is good for low-traction situations off pavement, where additional grip is needed. In some 4WD vehicles, this drive needs to be engaged through a transfer switch. In such automobiles, the vehicle operates in FWD or RWD until that switch is engaged.

All-wheel-drive provides the best of FWD, RWD and pure 4WD systems. The main advantage is excellent traction on both dry pavement and in poor weather. Some AWD vehicles may be able to go off-roading as well. Potential disadvantages to AWD include cost, vehicle weight and, because there are more components in AWD, more parts can fail and require servicing. AWD typically comes in part- and full-time versions.

Choosing a wheel drive requires an understanding of how one plans to use the vehicle and which attributes are most important.

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