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


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.

Related Snow Driving Articles:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.

Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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31 COMMENTS
  1. Just put a few hundred pounds in your trunk if you have a RWD vehicle. It worked for decades and it still works today!

  2. So a Tesla with the batteries/weight in back should be ok? I want one and the RWD is exactly why I am struggling to pull the trigger.

  3. Have a 2009 Crown Victoria cop car with the rear wheel drive a lot of power what kind of weight do I need to put in the back to give me traction thank you 

    • Sandbags! If you ever get stuck and slipping you can always lay some of the sand under your tires/wheels and it should help you get some traction as well! Dual purpose!

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