Although all four wheels rotate when driving, not every car sends power to every wheel. A front-wheel-drive (FWD) car sends all its power to the front two wheels while the rear wheels rotate passively.
In contrast, an all-wheel-drive (AWD) car sends power to all four wheels, meaning every wheel helps propel the car.
Both FWD and AWD have advantages and disadvantages.
In this guide, we will explore all the different aspects, so you can determine the best drivetrain to fulfill your needs.
Let’s jump into it!
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What Is Front-Wheel Drive?
As mentioned previously, a car with front-wheel drive will only deliver the power generated by its engine to the front axle.
As the car’s engine is located in the front of the vehicle, the energy travels a minimal distance, providing a more efficient transfer of energy.
What this means is that the front wheels pull the rest of the vehicle. This provides both advantages and disadvantages when compared to an AWD car.
What Is All-Wheel Drive?
Not all AWD systems are the same. Some systems are full-time AWD while others are part-time AWD. As the names suggest, it depends on when all four wheels are powered.
With a full-time AWD, the power is constantly sent to all four wheels. On the other hand, a part-time AWD only occasionally sends the power to every wheel.
In most cases, the all-wheel drive is controlled automatically by the car. For part-time AWD systems, only one axle is powered the majority of the time.
This means a part-time AWD will only engage fully when the car lacks traction on the main axle, in an attempt to find traction in the other axle and keep going.
In most part-time all-wheel-drive systems, the power is sent primarily to the front wheels. An exception is made when the front wheels lose traction which will then prompt the drivetrain to send the power to the rear wheels as well.
A full-time AWD system sends the power to all the wheels constantly, but it may distribute the power between the rear and the front axle.
For example, the power distribution may be distributed 40% to the front axle and 60% to the rear axle. Whatever the ratio, all the wheels are powered constantly in most cases.
The Pros And Cons Of AWD And FWD
As the drivetrains differ and are constructed differently from each other, there are many advantages and disadvantages of both systems.
In recent years, all-wheel-drive cars have increased in sales, perhaps more than seems necessary. Many drivers will not see any benefits from an AWD, while others will.
To determine which type is right for your needs and driving habits, here are the advantages of each drivetrain system:
Front-Wheel Drive Advantages
A front-wheel-drive car will be cheaper to service and maintain. This is because it uses fewer parts as everything is close to the engine bay.
Because fewer parts connect the front and back of the car, FWD may offer more interior space (due to the transmission tunnel and driveshaft) as well as more trunk space.
The main advantages are the following:
- Cheaper to maintain and service
- Better gas mileage
- More interior space
All-Wheel Drive Advantages
An all-wheel-drive system is of great importance when driving off-road or if you live in an area that is prone to extreme weather such as heavy rain and snow.
The all-wheel-drive system’s advantages include the following:
- Great off-road capability
- Better traction in rain and snow
Cars that use front-wheel drive generally have better gas mileage as they are lighter. They are also cheaper to maintain and service as the system is much simpler than an all-wheel-drive one.
If you live or drive in areas that are prone to extreme weather such as snow, an all-wheel-drive car is the way to go.
The all-wheel-drive system is also much more suitable for off-road driving as one or more of the car’s wheels are likely to frequently lose contact with the ground.
This means that if you live in an area that is not prone to extreme weather and you don’t plan to take your car off-roading, you should probably opt for a front-wheel driven car.
A front-wheel-drive car sends its power from the engine to the front wheels exclusively. This makes it advantageous in many aspects including better gas mileage and cheaper maintenance.
As the all-wheel-drive system powers every wheel, it provides better traction but also requires many more parts. This results in a heavier car, meaning worse gas mileage and higher maintenance costs.
All-wheel-drive systems come in two types. Permanent all-wheel drive provides power to all four wheels constantly and is considered to be “real” all-wheel drive.
A part-time all-wheel-drive system will usually power the front axle and only engage the rear axle if the front loses traction.
Many cars come in both FWD and AWD versions. As the all-wheel-drive versions tend to be more expensive, you should consider whether or not you will use any of the benefits of an all-wheel-drive system.
The greatest advantage of a car that has AWD is its traction in extreme weather conditions such as rain and snowfall. If you plan to go off-road with your car, an AWD car will also come in handy.
If you don’t plan to go off-roading and do not drive in places where heavy snow or rain is a regular occurrence, you’re probably better of choosing a front-wheel-drive car.