Know your car talk: Front vs rear wheel drive

2 Nov 15

Choosing the right car isn't as simple as you think. Whether it's your first car, or you have a vague idea of what you're accustomed to driving, all it takes is a new set of specs or a review on the world's most popular ex-car show to throw you off track, challenging your conception of your perfect car. 

If you're new to the world of car jargon, sometimes things can glaze over when a salesperson begins to reel off various features. Turbo-charged? Torque? Fuel injection? You feel like you should know what all these mean, but if you're not too sure, we're here to help. 

To start off, here's a look at one of the key elements of a car, the layout, or the position of the drive wheels. In other words, will you choose a car with front or rear wheel drive? 

Front wheel drive 

Before we go any further, the drive wheels are the ones on the receiving end of the torque which makes the car go. Both front wheel drive and rear wheel drive present their own distinct advantages. 

With front wheel drive, because the weight of both the engine and the transmission is positioned over the drive wheels, it provides better traction and fuel economy, advises Edmunds1.

In addition, front wheel drive cars tend to be less expensive to assemble, which is why many entry level cars tend to utilise this system2, the National Motorists Association (NMA) explains. 

Rear wheel drive

With the drive wheels at the back, rear wheel drive vehicles are able to achieve a more even weight distribution that their front wheel counterparts. However, the additional weight created by the necessary drive shaft that directs power to the back wheels can compromise the fuel efficiency. 

Rear wheel drive (RWD) is a favourite of racers due to better acceleration and the ability to slide a car's tail around corners1 - not that you'd need this capability on your run to the supermarket. 

In addition to handling advantages, the NMA also has this to say about rear wheel drive;

"...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 kerb in a solid axle RWD car, for instance, and you probably won't break anything."

Whichever drive system takes your fancy, make sure you give the used car you're interested in a thorough test drive and get its CarHistory report. With just the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), you can find out lots of important information about a used car, helping you to make a better decision.

1Edmunds, All About Front-, Rear-, Four-Wheel and All-Wheel Drive. Accessed June, 2015. 

2National Motorists Association, Pros & Cons: Rear Drive, Front Drive Or All-Wheel Drive? Accessed June, 2015.