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Background: All my life I drove FWD (Front Wheel Drive) cars. I drove FWD in different conditions with all-season tires and always got good and even predictable handling during winter periods. In short I would say that over steer is always cured by acceleration and under steer with a bit of braking and/or hand brake. Also never got stuck in snow and I drive manual gearbox.

Dilemma: Now I am thinking about buying RWD (rear wheel drive), however my friends keep telling me that I will have issues during winter. Getting stuck in snow, over steer, additional set of winter tires (requirement) and such. I google the topic and it seems that generally people agree with above mentioned issues.

Note: I do not intend to have RWD car as a weekend/fun drive. It must be a daily drive: go to work, shop and such in any weather conditions at any time. Also I don't have a garage and storage of winter/summer tire set will be an issue. Therefore I would like to be able to drive all-season tires. Also I am looking only at manual transmission if that makes any difference.


1) How troublesome is it to have RWD with above mentioned conditions?

2) What will be safer: RWD vs FWD on dry pavement, gravel, snow, ice?

3) What generally has better handling and traction during bad weather: heavy rain, snow, ice?

4) Is it more expensive to own/maintain/drive RWD (given that RWD seems to always be more expensive vs FWD at a dealership)?

P.S: Please answer all of above questions and feel free to add your own experiences. I would like to get a feel of what it is like to have RWD before I buy it. I really don't want to make purchase and regrade it later.

Thank you.

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closed as not constructive by Bob Cross Nov 4 '12 at 0:34

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This isn't really answerable: 1, 2, 3, and 4 will all receive plenty of opinions but can't be nailed down without a lot more specific information. – Bob Cross Oct 31 '12 at 14:52
I am coming from a general car layout perspective. I mean there are physical boundaries of each layout. – MeIr Oct 31 '12 at 17:54
Right: a "general car layout perpective" is what makes these almost unanswerable questions. Any answers to all four of those questions boil down to "it depends on your specific car." A comparison between two specific cars would be a much more effective discussion. – Bob Cross Oct 31 '12 at 19:42
Melr - I think you can already see from the answers that there is quite a difference in opinion. I know from my 25 years driving cars that my preference would be 4WD, then RWD and if I had to I would take a FWD car out - but others have different views. This may be too subjective a question in its current form. – Rory Alsop Oct 31 '12 at 22:50
This question is too widely scoped, and is in fact 4 different questions and should be broken up. That's not an opinion. Please read the faq and narrow the scope of your question – hillsons Nov 3 '12 at 23:51
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I grew up in Finland, where winters are long and icy. Mostly drove RWD cars, but also, at times, owned FWD and AWD ones. If you look at all the nordic/scandinavian rally champions, they preferred front wheel drive, until the Audi Quattro changed rallying forever. But that is assuming you are a professional rally driver... :)

There is no clear answer - neither FWD or RWD is clearly better, as long as you have the skills to deal with their respective idiosyncratic traits/features. Do some practice on ice or slip track.

As to complexity/maintenance, the front suspension/steering system of a FWD car has to deal with transmitting torque through a joint, so the steering system is under much more strain - offsetting the added complexity of a drive shaft and rear diff in a RWD car.

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Thank you all. I think I got my answer. – MeIr Nov 7 '12 at 13:35

Some of what your friends have told you is nonsense.

  • You will possibly have less chance of getting stuck in the winter in a RWD car, as RWD gives you more grip when trying to accelerate forwards (as weight moves rearward). Whenever I have had to rescue friends in FWD cars, I usually need to use reverse to get grip.
  • Additional set of winter tyres? Nope - only if you do that anyway for your current car.

Maintenance of a RWD car could be a little more expensive (as you have the extra transmission from the front of the car to the rear) but generally this isn't an issue.

A RWD car can be much safer than a FWD car, however it depends what you are used to. FWD is more forgiving in certain circumstances (eg when coming into a corner too fast it will gently understeer, which many feel is a safer way to have an accident than oversteer) but it is less controllable in general, so an experienced driver will find a RWD car safer.

I would always prefer a RWD car to a FWD car in any slidy conditions, as there is more you can do in an emergency, you can easily tailor the amount of over- and understeer using the accelerator, and the balance in a RWD car is usually better.

tl;dr - none of the issues listed should sway you much one way or the other unless you are an experienced driver, in which case RWD can be safer.

If you want a difference - get 4WD. Slightly higher maintenance costs, but much better grip than FWD or RWD!

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Of course, the biggest fault with AWD is that it leads to over confidence. It's so much easier to get the car moving that it's very easy to think conditions are better than they really are. Then you get bit when you try to turn or stop (which AWD are worse at in general because AWD adds more weight...). :-) – Brian Knoblauch Oct 31 '12 at 12:11
Very true, Brian. That last sentence was mostly an aside...My solution - 4WD with loads of power and big tyres. Heh heh heh. – Rory Alsop Oct 31 '12 at 12:34
Thank you, I think I made up my mind. – MeIr Nov 7 '12 at 13:36

1) How troublesome is it to have RWD with above mentioned conditions?

2) What will be safer: RWD vs FWD on dry pavement, gravel, snow, ice?

3) What generally has better handling and traction during bad weather: heavy rain, snow, ice?

With all do respect i have to disagree with Rory Alsop's asnwer. Please do the following:

a.) Look up advertisments for BMW and Mercedes Benz advertisments in the last 10 years. Many of them are based on the fact that the electronic driving assistance helps your RWD car to get out of snow or a muddy situation. Ever had to push out your uncle's bimmer from a snowy garden?

b.) Look for videos on youtube where people are sliding of their line in the city with their BMW or they can't drive up a small steep road.

c.) Try it yourself in course where they let you 'slide' with your car.

4) Is it more expensive to own/maintain/drive RWD (given that RWD seems to always be more expensive vs FWD at a dealership)? It has more parts. (GARD axis) More parts generally means more thing to go wrong. More to take care. (not taking into account the difference between makes obviously)

Disclaimer: I really don't want to make this a flame so this is not an answer against RWD. Just to make it clear: i love RWD cars. I was just trying to form my own opinion based on my experience.

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You will find with respect to BMW's etc is that the main problem with them is the weight. With a cross comparison with RWD and FWD cars of similar weights, RWD should win every time - assuming you drive them correctly. – Rory Alsop Oct 31 '12 at 14:53
It seems like RWD always heavier in comparison to FWD of the same class/size. Am I mistaken? – MeIr Oct 31 '12 at 16:25
"Ever had to push out your uncle's bimmer from a snowy garden?" - this isn't convincing me that this is a productive question. – Bob Cross Oct 31 '12 at 19:39
@BobCross I think you are right i did not gave enough background on that: it was always this e36 that we had to "trick" out while our other cars managed to "climb" out. – dbalakirev Oct 31 '12 at 20:46
@RoryAlsop "RWD should win every time" can you elaborate please? Can you share some example tests or studies with us? Don't forget the key sentence from the question: "however my friends keep telling me that I will have issues during winter". If you share a test that clearly point out my wrong i will remove my answer so i don't mislead other people. – dbalakirev Oct 31 '12 at 20:49

I guess it depends on where you live. I've driven mostly RWD, with some FWD and AWD. The only car I've ever gotten stuck in snow was FWD (when strong gusty winds blew me sideways off an icy road and into a snowbank). We can get sizeable amounts of snow some years here in Ohio, and even when driving around on Summer tires in the Winter I didn't ever get my RWD stuck. However, it was close to being stuck a couple times (had to do a lot of wheel spinning to keep it moving). Notably though, in both those occasions the snow was so deep that the bottom of the car was riding on it (5.5" ground clearance). FWD isn't going to do any better in that circumstance. Winter tires are highly recommended for all though. Starting and turning aren't too bad on any old tire, but the decrease in stopping distance from Winter tires can save your life.

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