As all four wheels rotate when driving, not all cars send the power to all wheels. A front-wheel-drive (FWD) car sends all the power to the front wheels while the rear wheels passively follow.
On the other side, an all-wheel drive (AWD) car sends power to all four wheels, making all the wheels actively spin.
Both FWD and AWD have their advantages and disadvantages. In this guide, we will go through all the different aspects, so you can determine the best drivetrain for your needs.
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What Is Front-Wheel Drive?
As previously mentioned, a car with front-wheel drive will deliver the power generated from the engine only to the front axle.
As the car engine is located in the front of the vehicle, the energy is sent 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 gives both advantages and disadvantages compared to an AWD.
What Is All-Wheel Drive?
Not all-wheel drive systems are the same. Some systems are full-time AWD while others are part-time AWD. As the name suggests, it depends on when all four wheels are powered.
For a full-time AWD, the power is constantly sent to all the wheels. Logically, a part-time AWD will only occasionally send the power to all the wheels.
The all-wheel drive is in most cases controlled automatically by the car. For part-time AWD systems, only one axle is powered most of the time.
This means that a part-time AWD will only engage fully when there is no traction on the main axle, in order to try to find traction in the other axle and keep going.
In most part-time all-wheel drive systems, the power is sent exclusively to the front wheels. An exception is made when the front wheels lose traction which will enable the drivetrain to send the power to the rear wheels as well.
A “real” full-time AWD system sends the power to all the wheels constantly, but they may distribute the power between the rear and the front axle.
For example, the power distribution may be 40% to the front axle and 60% to the rear axle. Nevertheless, all the wheels are powered 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 the last years, all-wheel drive cars have increased in sales, perhaps more than may seem necessary. Many will not use the benefits of an AWD, while some will.
To determine what is right for your needs and driving habits, here are the advantages of the respective drivetrain system:
Front-Wheel Drive Advantages
A front-wheel drive car will be cheaper to service and maintain as it uses fewer parts as everything is close to the engine bay.
Because fewer parts are going to the back of the car, FWD may offer more interior space (due to the transmission tunnel and driveshaft) as well as trunk space.
In short, the greatest advantages are the following:
- Cheap to maintain and service
- Better gas mileage
- Bigger interior space
All-Wheel Drive Advantages
An all-wheel drive system is of great value when driving off-road or you live in an area that is prone to extreme weather such as heavy rain and snow.
The all-wheel drive system 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 it is 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 more often than not, one or more wheels will be either stuck or lack any contact with the ground.
This means that if you live in an area that is not prone to extreme weather and you do not plan to take your car off-roading, you should opt for a front-wheel driven car.
A front-wheel drive car sends the power from the engine to the front wheels only. This makes it advantageous on many points including better gas mileage and cheaper maintenance.
As the all-wheel drive system powers all the wheels, it provides better traction but also comes with many more parts. This leads to a heavier car, and consequently a worse gas mileage and a higher maintenance cost.
All-wheel drive systems come in two editions. Permanent all-wheel drive, power all four wheels constantly and is considered to be “real” all-wheel drive.
A part-time all-wheel drive system will in most cases only power the front axle and only engage the rear if the front axle loses traction.
Most cars come in both FWD and AWD versions. As the all-wheel drive versions tend to be more expensive, you should consider if you will have any use 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 will come in handy.
If you do not plan to go off-roading and do not drive in places where heavy snow or rain is a regular occurrence, it is better to choose a front-wheel driven car.