Front Wheel vs. Snow!

I own a 2010 Versa and its front wheel drive, it snowed about 2 feet the other night and I drove home in it, and it handled well. Now I’ve read posts about front wheel drive, rear wheel drive etc…etc…etc…Personally I always handled front wheel drive better in snow than RWD and that’s out of necessity. Now I’ve also driven trucks and SUV’s in snow and never had a problem with RWD either. I fishtailed once in the pickup but I let up on the gas and and turned the steering (not jerked it) in the direction of the skid and I was able to straighten the truck out and go on my way. So which is better? RWD or Front wheel drive or is it just a matter of your driving skill?

Front wheel drive is better. rear wheel does take more skill and can be more entertaining…

Yeah I know about the entartaining part with RWD especially if you get stuck in the mud lol…Been there done that…But I just put the truck into 4wd and drove forward rather than keep trying to back it up more and bury the tires deeper…

TIRES vs snow.
is the rest of the equation.

My tires are in great shape lol…I got about 20K more to go before I need to buy new ones. And I have them rotated about every 6k miles. I dont’ want to be sliding around the road like a hockey puck…

No matter how much tread is left on your tires, the reality of the situation with tires is that so-called “all-season” tires can be relatively good on snow or they can be absolutely useless on snow. That is because there is no standard for what constitutes an “all-season” tire.

As a result, a tire mfr can label any tire as “all-season”, whether it really fits that definition or not. Case in point is the Bridgestone RE-92 and RE-92A “all-season” tire. That tire is actually a hazard on wintery roads as a result of its exceedingly poor traction. There are undoubtedly many other “all-season” tires that are essentially useless on snow, but the RE-92/92A is the one that I am most familiar with.

You may have lucked out with “all-season” tires that have decent winter traction, but many people have bought “all-season” tires and found out the hard way that the tire manufacturer lied about that label.

If you want to maximize your ability to get going and–more importantly–to be able to STOP and to corner safely in winter conditions, you should get a set of 4 WINTER tires. (The term “snow tire” is archaic, and represents old technology)

FWD is better for traction in small to mid-size cars because it puts the power to front drive wheels which have a lot of weight on them. However FWD cars of any kind are horrible in a skid. They get traction to start and go, but don’t go too fast. Once you are in a skid in a FWD car you simply hold on and see where the car takes you. There is little the driver can do, until the speed of car decreases enough to regain traction.

A RWD car might skid and spin more on start up, but it much more controlable in a skid. Is one better than the other? Not really, it depends on the skill of the driver and how well the driver understands the handling characteristics of the car he/she is driving.

Neither fwd nor rwd is necessarily better. Which ever has the better tires, weight balance and ground clearance. Driving experience and decision making while and before driving are more importabnt sometimes.

I agree fully with concise assessments of VDC and Uncle about tires and drive trains. The one mongrel exception to non snow tires are AT (all terrain) tires which can give excellent performance in snow and used all rear round. The problem is, they don’t ride or handle as well in dry summer or rain and may not come in a size for you car.

When my Daddy taught me how to drive, he’d take me on the backroads all over the county in his big old dodge. And the backroads of rural northern nevada could be quite a challenge to drive on. My Dad figured if I could drive these roads without tearing up his truck or losing control I’d do a lot better on the regular roads.

Yep front wheel drive because the weight of the engine is over the drive wheels for better traction. It does handle different though. Actually my little Corvair with rear wheel drive and the engine in the back would go through anything.

Yeah forgot about that 59 VW I had with rear engine, rear wheel drive. It was pretty good in snow although I do remember starting to slide on the freeway once but backed off and regained control for the rest of the 200 miles.

There are two reasons FWD is better.

#1 Is the weight…Which has already been pointed out.

#2 Is the ability to turn out of a rut. With a RWD if you get stuck in snow you start going back and forth trying to get yourself out. What happens is the rear wheels create grove that it keeps riding in as you go back and forth and this actually makes it harder to then get moving. With fwd you can turn the wheels and get yourself out of those groves. You have much more control over the direction of the vehicle.

The old VW bugs were legendary for their ability to deal with snow. The hill I grew up on upstate NY…When one of those 2’ lake effect storms hit…you either had to have a 4wd pickup or a VW bug to make it up the hill. RWD vehicles with studded snows and 300lbs added to the trunk didn’t even make the hill.

One of the biggest limitations of fwd usually has nothing to do with the drive system. Wider performance tires and low overhang in the front severely limit your ability to handle deeper snow. Backing a fwd car up a hill is a good way to get a little of that VW advantage. The VW had narrower tires, less overhang and better clearance. All helped in the 4 VWs we had in our family where no one ever got anything but temporarily stuck in one. Two of us could easily move the car physically out of any rut and man handle it into area with better traction…you know…the older we are the better we were. Now, driving down a snow covered unplowed road in a VW with ruts from other traffic…that was an experience.

Let’s not forget another reason why the old rear-engine VWs were good in snow, namely their low torque!

One of the best ways to get stuck on a slippery surface is to drive a car with a large, high-torque engine.
Yes, a traction control system can help to override the high torque, but if you begin with low torque, you will have a better chance of not losing traction in the first place.

Those VWs had really poor acceleration, but when it came to snow, that low torque really helped!

Are you saying 40 hp is low powered ?

Volkswagen had one of their famous ads that read: How does the snowplow driver get to the snowplough.

I was filmed in New Zealand and showed the bug plowing through deep snow to get to the snowplough garage.

Overall I prefer front wheel drive, but as pointed, out rearwheel drive with positraction works well if you can control the power applied. I had a rear drive Caprice with positraction and good winter tires and never got stuck. Small rear drive cars with large engines and poor weight distribution, are bad news however. Ask any Mustang owner.

"Are you saying 40 hp is low powered ? "

No, actually the old bugs were the Bugatti Veyrons of their day…


VDC; I meant “small rear drive cars with large FRONT mounted engines”.

Katydid, it sounds like yuo have a combination of good tires, good technique, a good head on your shoulders, and a great dad who taught you well. Those attributes combined will easily overwhelm the differences between vehicle designs. You’re fine no matter what you’re driving.

Sincere best.

I agree with all the above, mostly. Just want to add, if you are teaching a new driver, or sending an inexperienced driver out into the snow, RWD is better.

With 4wd or FWD, the driver will find that they get better traction and can maintain a higher speed, but when they do eventually lose control. they will be going at a higher speed than they would in a RWD. So knowing your kid will lose control as he/she is learning the limits of traction on various slippery surfaces, how fast do you want them to be going?

My daughter and oldest son learned on FWD. They learned to SLOW down. I drilled it in them that driving in snowy conditions you have to SLOW DOWN. They didn’t have any problems. I also didn’t allow them to get their license until I thought they were ready. And my son didn’t really like it because a couple of his friends had their licenses months before mine.