• Sign in
  • |
  • Sign up

Car Buying

Why Doesn't Rear-Wheel Drive Work in the Snow?

RELATED READING
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs Infiniti cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon

author photo by Doug DeMuro

If you've ever spent time driving in the snow, then you've probably realized that front- or all-wheel drive is a much better choice for traction than rear-wheel drive (RWD). And if you haven't driven in the snow, you're probably curious why so many people recommend against RWD vehicles. We'll explain to help you understand why rear-wheel drive isn't the best choice for the snow.

It's Not So Bad

To start, it's important to understand that moving to a snowy climate with a rear-drive car isn't exactly the end of the world despite what some snow-belt residents might tell you. In fact, advancements in electronics (such as with traction control or stability control) and tire technology have made it possible to own a rear-drive vehicle in a snowy area and not encounter too much trouble. But we still don't recommend it -- and here's why.

Weight Problem

The biggest problem with rear-drive cars in snowy weather is one of weight. Namely, front-wheel-drive cars tend to have the weight of the engine over the drive wheels, which keeps those wheels firmly planted on the ground and allows front-wheel-drive vehicles to push through snowy weather without too much tire spinning.

Rear-wheel-drive vehicles don't usually have the same benefit. Instead, rear-wheel-drive vehicles typically have an empty trunk or cargo area directly over the rear wheels. The drive wheels struggle for traction because they don't have as much weight on top of them. The result is that rear-drive cars sometimes spin their tires at times when front-drive vehicles wouldn't have any issues.

Fishtailing Is Possible

Because rear-drive vehicles have their drive wheels in a lighter part of the car than front-drive vehicles, they're more prone to fishtailing. In this situation, a driver turns the wheel during acceleration, and the car's rear wheels start to push it into a difficult spin. This isn't as likely to happen with front-wheel-drive vehicles, whose wheels tend to have more traction.

As a result, we suggest that anyone with an unfamiliar rear-wheel-drive vehicle in a snowy climate should drive very carefully on snowy or icy roads, especially when turning. We also suggest visiting a snowy parking lot and slowly learning your vehicle's limits so you don't find them out on the road when it's too late.

Don't Mix Performance and Snow

The last reason that rear-wheel drive isn't optimal for snow is that most modern rear-wheel-drive vehicles are performance cars such as Porsches, Mustangs or Camaros. Meanwhile, most common vehicles -- Toyotas, Hondas, etc. -- have converted to front-wheel drive due to improved efficiency and better year-round capabilities.

Of course, performance cars and snow isn't a good mix. Most performance cars use summer tires that are designed for use in warm weather. Most performance cars also have low ground clearance -- not good for the snow -- and lots of power, which makes them hard to manage in low-traction situations. Indeed, many drivers have problems with rear-drive vehicles in the snow because the cars they've chosen just aren't designed for snowy weather.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Close 
Why Doesn't Rear-Wheel Drive Work in the Snow?