Rear wheel drive

If the front wheels slip, the car will usually stay in line

That can either be a good thing, or a bad thing. If the roads aren’t plowed very well, or it just snowed more on top of what was plowed, then it can go either way. If someone pulls out in front of you and you swerve to avoid them, but keep going straight, this is a bad thing.

I think that traction also depends on weight distribution. I had a 1947 Pontiac and that had 6.50 x 16 tires. I got a good deal on a set of mud and snow truck tires. I could get the old Pontiac through anything. It had close to 50% of the weight on the rear wheels. I replaced it with a 1955 Pontiac and it wasn’t good at all on winter roads, as it was light in the rear end. One of the best cars I had for getting through the snow was a 1961 Corvair–rear engine, rear wheel drive. The Corvair had a weight bias to the rear.

Years ago, there was a TV commercial that asked the question, “How does the snow plow driver get to work?” The answer was that he drove his VW Beetle to the snow plow. The VW Beetle was a rear engine, rear wheel drive.

The modern front wheel drive has the weight over the front wheels and this is helpful on winter roads.

No, but up North of here in Limestone, the Air Force Base was where we were informed that Winter operations start in ten weeks; we were not happy to hear that on Independence Day weekend. It meant, among other things, that we could wear our knitted caps and we had to tuck in our fatigue shirts. Sometimes, in middle Maine, we can mow the lawn in November.

In Albuquerque, NM. I drove through when the temperature was about 110 that day. I came from the cold coast, just north of Santa Barbara. At McDonalds I ordered the baked apple pies. They had to find them and start the heater.

I finally got the hint when I saw ice cream cones being handed through the drive through window. I didn’t order many of those when the evening temperatures were 52 degrees all Summer. It’s 90 degrees throughout most of Me. today, so I know about ice cream now.

I’ve been driving for over 40 years in New England weather (except for my USAF years in North Dakota). The overwhelming majority of it has been in RWD vehicles. 25 of it was in promarily small Toyota pickups (with mostly RWD family vehicles). Some of these years were even on bias ply tires.

RWD is not as terrible in bad weather as reputed, as long as you remember a few basics.

(1) Get good snow tires, preferably on all four wheels, and always start the winter with at least 60% of the tread left. This may cost you a few bucks in replacing good carcasses now and then, but it’s worth every penney.

(2) put some weight in the rear, preferably a few hundred pounds. Secure it in some manner such that it does not fly free in the event of an accident. A plastic container filled with dry sand is an excellent way, and you can even keep a toy shovel just in case.

(3) it will “lose control” differently. Test it in an icy, empty parking lot when you can to get the feel of it.

(4) leave lots of room around you. This applies to FWD vehiicles also.

(5) plan ahead. Again, this applies to all vehicles.

(6) keep an overnight kit in the vehicle and if the weather gets too bad pull into a hotel.

(7) get a AAA card and a cell phone.

Follow these basic principles and you’ll be fine.

Get a set of chains or a heavier FWD vehicle(Tauruses tend to go better in snow then Escorts,eg;)-Kevin

All the other posters seem to be making good points, but I’m still going to add my two cents. Full disclosure: I live in California, in an area where it doesn’t snow, and I have no snow driving experience.

That said, the biggest safety contribution you can make towards driving in any adverse conditions is to know your vehicle. Despite the improved traction of FWD in snow, I would rather drive my RWD vehicle (a mid-90s Volvo brick, last of their line of rear-drives) than my wife’s FWD (a late-model Scion) because I drive my vehicle far more than hers, so I know how to tell when it’s reaching its limits, and I know what I can do to haul things back from the limits. My reactions are tuned for the vehicle I spend most time driving. As always in snow, you do need proper equipment (the right tyres, emergency kit, chains, means of summoning the cavalry), but you also need to know how to use the equipment. That means making sure you know the vehicle’s characteristics very well, and staying cautious.

Well, I have an 06 Honda Accord with V6, 6 speed manual, heated leather seats, 4 doors, and it gets 30 to 31 MPG on the highway. I’m pretty sure they still make them. It’s FWD, on the other hand, I learned to drive in snowy conditions in a '67 Mustang (also manual tranny) with RWD. With good snow tires and a little experience a RWD is not a problem in snow. But, there are plenty of choices out there that should fill your needs with FWD.

If she gets a RWD car she should definitely spend a little time in an empty parking lot covered in snow to learn how it handles and what the traction limits are. It’s just a matter of getting the feel for it.

A summary of rwd v fwd car advantages that I came across that seem reasonable enough to consider…


The biggest benefit to rear wheel drive is that it spreads the loads of the car across all four tires of a car. In a rear wheel drive car the rear wheels do the pushing while the front wheels are reserved for the steering duties. In front wheel drive cars the front tires must perform both functions. Each front tire in a front wheel drive car must do two tasks. Both the cornering forces and the engine acceleration/deceleration forces in a front drive car act on the same tire.

So in a front drive the tires capacity can be easily exceeded. In a rear drive car the rear tires handle the engine acceleration/deceleration while the front only need to handle the steering forces. Not only does this balance the load on the tires but it reserves the front tires exclusively for the all important steering duties.

Other Benefits to Rear Wheel Drive.

O.K., some assumptions : All comparisons are of equal weight cars without traction control. Braking comparisons assume maximizing the ability (two feet on the pedal pressing as hard as possible) of a perfectly working four channel anti-lock brake system.

* Better weight balance. 
* Better acceleration. 
* Better Road Holding. The better weight balance of rear wheel drive allows the car to handle better.     
  • Better Stopping. Because of the better balance rear drive cars brake better.
  • No Torque Steer.
    • Better Ride and Feel.
  • Better Serviceability / More Rugged.
    • Better Ultimate Ability… Purpose built race cars are almost always rear wheel drive.
      So why do automakers use front drive cars?

    • Traction in Snow and Ice. When not under hard acceleration front drive cars have more weight over the front wheels. This gives more traction for acceleration in very slippery conditions. This is the biggest perceived advantage to a front drive car. However, today’s rear wheel drive cars with traction control and independent suspension do very well in the snow. For areas that have extreme amounts of winter weather this may be enough to justify a front wheel drive car for some who don’t wish to properly prepare a rwd.

    • Packaging.

    • Cost. Due to easier manufacturing and a fewer components it may be cheaper to manufacture a FWD car.

    • Passenger/Trunk Space. Since you do not need to run a driveshaft down the middle of the car you may be able to get more interior room. Funny that many front drive cars have a hump down the middle anyway! Not having a rear suspension can allow the trunk area to be larger.

    • Demand. Until we tell the automakers we want rear drive cars they won’t build them.

I live in New England as well and just wouldn’t do a RWD car here. I have a few friends that still drive them and are quite lonely during the winter. My wife drives a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo that is 4WD. It is her first SUV, has had it about 7 years and absolutely loves it. Will never go back to even FWD again.
At the least, I would look at an AWD sedan.

Several VW’s, Saab’s, Volvo’s, BMW’s, Audi’s, even M Benz meet your specs. European driver’s still like to shift and have luxury as well. Many of the other manual cars out there are more basic econo models.