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What is Rear-Wheel Drive in Cars?


Rear-wheel drive (RWD) used to be prevalent in the car industry. However, in today’s automotive landscape, only a handful of vehicles commonly come with RWD. You’ll typically find RWD in pickup trucks, performance cars, and many luxury cars and SUVs.

RWD cars can also be described as 2-wheel drive (2WD). Two-wheel drive can also describe a front-wheel-drive car. All-wheel drive (AWD) describes a car that’s capable of sending power to all four wheels.

Let’s take a closer look at how rear-wheel drive works and whether it’s right for you.

What is Rear-Wheel Drive?

Rear-wheel drive is pretty self-explanatory. In a traditional gasoline-powered RWD car, the power goes from the engine to the rear wheels. The engine produces power that is sent through the transmission, turning a driveshaft. The driveshaft turns a differential, which is what finally sends power to the rear wheels.

Some all-electric cars, including the Tesla Model S, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and Volkswagen ID.4, are also available in RWD form.

What Types of Cars Have Rear-Wheel Drive?

Rear-wheel drive is most commonly found in pickup trucks, performance cars, and luxury vehicles. Pickup trucks with a traditional body-on-frame construction like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 come standard with RWD, and they’re usually available with 4-wheel drive.

RWD is advantageous in sports cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Corvette because it’s better for weight distribution and performance. Having the front wheels dedicated to steering and the rear wheels dedicated to accelerating creates a sportier driving experience than front-wheel drive.

Luxury vehicles like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class commonly use RWD for largely the same reason as performance cars. Luxury automakers try to deliver engaging driving dynamics, which is best achieved with either RWD or AWD.

Advantages of RWD

Rear-wheel drive allows drivers to have more fun while driving in dry conditions. Since the back two wheels help the car accelerate and the front two wheels are responsible for steering the vehicle, the power coming from the rear allows for a faster driving experience.

Not only does RWD allow for faster driving, but better steering as well. Remember how only the rear tires are receiving power? Well, since the front two are focused on steering, you have a better handle when driving and a better overall driving experience.

Outside of the exceptional driving experience, RWD also allows the car to tow and haul heavy amounts of weight– which is why it is commonly found in pickup trucks. The power generated from the back gives trucks and SUVs a leg up compared to AWD and 2WD.

Disadvantages of RWD

Rear-wheel drive is great for a lot of drivers, but it also comes with some disadvantages. For starters, a RWD vehicle is almost always less fuel-efficient than its front-wheel-drive counterpart. 

To go along with spending more at the pump, you’ll probably find yourself spending more money at the dealership as well. Rear-wheel-drive vehicles tend to cost more than other types of cars. This is especially true since they are typically found in luxury cars and pickup trucks.

Another disadvantage of RWD is the lack of traction. Rear-wheel drive tends to work best under perfectly dry conditions. When driving a rear-wheel-drive vehicle in the snow or rain, it is easier to lose traction. While stability control does help vastly with this problem, if you live in a snowy area, it might be best to avoid a RWD vehicle. 

RWD vs. 2WD

All rear-wheel drive (RWD) cars are 2-wheel drive (2WD), but not all 2WD cars are RWD. Two-wheel drive simply describes any car with two powered wheels. That means front-wheel drive (FWD) cars are also 2WD. RWD and FWD are different, but they’re both 2WD.

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FAQ

Is Rear-Wheel Drive Good in Snow?

A rear-wheel-drive car can be manageable in the snow with a good traction control system and proper winter tires. However, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive is preferable on snowy roads.

What is 2-Wheel Drive?

Two-wheel drive describes a car where either the front wheels or the rear wheels are powered by the engine, but not all four wheels.

Are Mustangs Rear-Wheel Drive?

Yes, all Ford Mustang models are RWD.

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