Debunking Myths: Is Rear Wheel Drive Really Bad in Snow?

Ever found yourself questioning the performance of rear-wheel drive in snowy conditions? You’re not alone. It’s a common query among car enthusiasts and everyday drivers alike, especially when winter rolls around.

In this article, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of rear-wheel drive and its behavior in snow. We’ll explore the science behind it, the pros and cons, and even some handy tips for those snowy drives. So buckle up, and let’s get started on this icy journey.

Key Takeaways

  • Rear-wheel drive (RWD) refers to the drivetrain layout which directs the engine’s power to the rear wheels, enhancing weight distribution and handling. However, this layout can cause traction issues in snowy conditions leading to oversteer or fishtailing.
  • Performance of RWD in snow depends on factors like weight distribution, traction, driver skills, tires, and vehicle design. While RWD vehicles can be prone to skids in icy conditions, professional drivers can manage them effectively with appropriate control techniques.
  • RWD vehicles offer benefits in snowy weather, such as better handling and braking due to balanced weight distribution and task division between wheels, especially when equipped with winter tires and advanced control systems. Car’s ground clearance and type can also affect how it handles the snowy ride.
  • Comparing RWD with Front Wheel Drive (FWD), the latter offers better control in snow due to heavier front-end and better traction. However, RWD gives precise steering and better handling, especially in dry conditions. With the right techniques and conditions, RWD vehicles can perform well in snowy weather.
  • For optimal driving of RWD in the snow, observe gentle throttle control, proper weight distribution, use of winter tires, correct steering techniques, and leverage of traction control systems and ABS.
  • Expert advices suggest the use of winter tires, mastery of throttle control, added weight at the rear of the vehicle, and skid control technique. Most importantly, nothing replaces the value of practicing these techniques in a safe environment.

Understanding Rear Wheel Drive

Delving into fundamentals, a rear-wheel drive (RWD) is a type of drivetrain layout where the engine’s power is sent to the vehicle’s rear wheels. This layout enhances weight distribution in the car, resulting in smoother handling and braking. Examples include sports cars and luxury vehicles, exemplifying its preference for performance-oriented applications.

Rear-wheel drive excels in creating responsive handling and swift acceleration, mainly because the responsibilities of steering and acceleration are divided between the front and rear wheels, respectively. This division of labor, colloquially termed in the automotive world as “tossable,” results in improved handling characteristics, particularly in performance-focused vehicles like the Mazda MX-5 or BMW Z4.

However, RWD’s performance in snowy conditions presents a unique set of issues. Most notably, the reduced traction due to the front wheels doing the steering and the rear wheels providing the power. This imbalance can cause the rear of the car to slide out, a phenomenon known as oversteer, if power is applied too aggressively, especially in slippery conditions. Hybrid examples like Volvo V90 Cross Country leverage all-wheel drive (AWD) to counter this issue.

In the core, understanding RWD and its behavior under snowy conditions involves comprehending the dynamics of weight distribution, traction control, and the division of tasks between the car’s wheels. Acknowledging these aspects is vital in getting the most out of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle and controlling it effectively under challenging weather conditions.

Is Rear Wheel Drive Bad in Snow

Continuing from our exploration of RWD layouts, remember that it’s the traction and weight distribution which determine your vehicle’s performance in tricky weather. In snowy conditions, your rear-wheel-drive car’s performance primarily depends on these factors. Simultaneously, the tires installed, your driving skills, and the overall vehicle design affect its operation in snow.

Your RWD vehicle has most of its weight at the front, yet it’s the rear wheels pushing it forward. Compared to front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicles where power and weight are on the same wheels, it makes RWD prone to skids. Statistically, accidents occur more frequently with RWD cars in snowy or icy conditions because of this, but professional drivers can handle such situations with proper steering and acceleration skills.

RWD vehicles tend to oversteer when accelerating in snowy conditions if you’re not careful. For instance, if your car’s rear tires lose grip while turning, the rear end might start sliding towards the outside of the turn, a phenomenon known as ‘fishtailing.’ However, it’s a snow hazard that drivers can mitigate with proper handling techniques.

You also get benefits from RWD in snow. Improved handling and braking from RWD layouts result from the balanced wheel tasks and weight distribution. If you’ve got winter tires installed, you can achieve improved traction, benefiting both acceleration and stability. Advanced traction control systems help curb slippages, with some vehicles equipped with ‘snow mode’ functionality, altering the power delivery to provide better control in slippery conditions.

Another crucial factor to consider includes the car’s ground clearance. Higher ground clearance helps negotiate deep snow, common in SUVs and trucks, mostly RWD or all-wheel drive (AWD). So, while RWD can have difficulties in snow due to the weight distribution and traction, it’s vital to understand that other factors like vehicle type, tires, traction control systems also influence its functionality. Thus, knowing your vehicle and mastering skillful driving tactics can conquer challenging weather conditions.

Comparing Rear Wheel Drive and Front Wheel Drive in Snow

Understanding the performance difference between Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) and Front Wheel Drive (FWD) in snow proves vital for both safety and vehicle longevity. Each drive system comes with unique characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks in snowy conditions.

FWD vehicles, for instances like the Honda Accord or Toyota Corolla, offer better control in snow, courtesy of the heavier front-end. The engine’s weight over the front wheels provides better traction. As a result, FWD cars exhibit less tendency to fishtail or spin out in snow, providing you a safer driving experience.

Differentiating lies in the placement of the power source. In RWD vehicles, as hinted by cars like BMW 3 Series or Ford Mustang, power generates from the behind. Hence, when you accelerate, weight shifts backward, introducing the possibility of skidding. The downside escalates if you don’t have proper tires or weight in the car trunk to balance it out, making RWD less grippy in snow.

Let’s delve into stability. While FWD offers admirable control, RWD excels in balance and stability during dry conditions, offering you precise steering and better handling. The division of tasks, with the front wheels steering and rear wheels propelling, allows RWD vehicles to distribute weight more evenly.

However, in snowy conditions, the distinction blurs. RWD vehicles might face challenges in slick conditions, leading to oversteer and fishtailing, but with the right skills and practice, you can navigate these issues.

So, is RWD bad in snow? Well, it’s a subjective matter. While FWD cars provide increased control and stability in snow, RWD models need not be discounted entirely. With techniques like gentle throttle control, additional weight in the trunk, and the use of winter tires to increase traction, a RWD vehicle’s performance can significantly improve in snowy conditions. However, always remember, the ultimate control over the vehicle rests in the driver’s hands under any drive system or weather conditions.

Tips for Driving Rear Wheel Drive in Snow

Bearing in mind the distinctions and challenges of rear-wheel drive vehicles in wintry weather, arming yourself with attentive driving techniques can significantly improve your winter commutes. The following pointers provide insights on maneuvering RWD vehicles in snowy conditions:

  1. Adapt Gentle Throttle Control : Snowy surfaces demand less aggressive acceleration. Manage throttle inputs gently to avoid losing vehicle control, helping your tires maintain a grip on the slippery surface.
  2. Ensure Proper Weight Distribution : Adding additional weight to your vehicle’s trunk, especially over the rear axle, can enhance traction and reduce fishtailing. Examples include sandbags or salt bags. It’s worth noting, however, that adding excessive weight can negatively influence fuel efficiency.
  3. Equip Winter Tires : These specific tires are designed to excel in challenging winter conditions. Winter tires retain their flexibility even at extremely low temperatures, enhancing grip and traction on snow and ice.
  4. Master Correct Steering Techniques : Oversteering and understeering are common mishaps in snowy conditions. Understanding how to handle these scenarios can prove instrumental in enhancing safety. In the case of oversteering, avoid panicking, keep your eyes on the path where you want to go and gently steer the vehicle in that direction.
  5. Leverage Traction Control Systems and ABS : Modern RWD vehicles come equipped with advanced traction control systems and Anti-lock Braking Systems. These features can augment your control over the vehicle during slippery circumstances.

Remember, practice makes perfect; hence, honing these techniques in safe, controlled conditions can significantly improve your expertise in driving RWD vehicles in snow. While RWD vehicles can occasionally prove challenging to navigate in wintry conditions, agility and proper equipment can markedly improve the experience.

Expert Opinions on Rear Wheel Drive in Snow

Bringing together the expertise from professionals in the field, discussions revolve around rear-wheel drive cars operating in snow areas. Majority conclude that operating a RWD vehicle in harsh snowy conditions has inherent difficulties, but it’s all manageable with the right approach and special equipment.

Prominent car enthusiasts and mechanics emphatically suggest that installing winter tires on your RWD vehicle is an absolute game-changer. According to a 2011 study by the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, winter tires can improve braking by up to 25% over all-season tires, and can improve collision avoidance by about 38%.

Mastering throttle control often appears as a significant pointer in expert advice. Advice from professional race car drivers, the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, regularly emphasizes the importance of throttle modulation. Delicacy upon depression of the accelerator, they claim, increases your chances of maintaining control in challenging snowy conditions.

In addition, some experts point toward the need for added weight at the back of the vehicle. For example, adding a couple of bags of sand in the trunk can significantly enhance traction by putting more weight above the driving wheels, as AutoGuide recommends.

Lastly, professional driving instructors and experts stress the value of learning skid control for typical snowy scenarios like oversteer and fishtailing. Mastering this technique in a safe, controlled environment, they argue, equips you to handle RWD automobiles more confidently in real snowy conditions.

All experts concurred, however, that no amount of advice replaces practice. Learning how these tips personally affect your car’s handling by training in a safe, controlled environment significantly enhances your driving skills, ensuring that you’re well prepared for the challenges that winter weather presents to RWD vehicles.


So, is rear-wheel drive bad in snow? Not necessarily. It’s all about how you handle it. With the right tools, techniques, and a bit of practice, you can navigate snowy conditions in your RWD vehicle just as well as any FWD car. Remember, winter tires are your best friend, providing the traction you need. Mastering throttle control helps avoid oversteer and fishtailing. Adding weight to the rear improves balance, and learning skid control techniques prepares you for any surprises on the road. Don’t shy away from practicing in a safe environment before hitting the snowy roads. It’s not about the drive type, it’s about the driver. With the right preparation, you can conquer winter weather in your RWD vehicle.

What are the challenges of driving RWD vehicles in snowy conditions?

Rear-wheel drive vehicles can potentially struggle in snowy conditions due to oversteer, fishtailing, and potentially inadequate traction. Additionally, weight distribution can play a significant role in their performance on snow.

How does weight distribution affect the performance of RWD vehicles in snow?

RWD vehicles distribute weight evenly across the whole vehicle, which can limit their traction compared to front-wheel drive cars that concentrate weight in the front, thereby improving traction in snowy conditions.

How can professionals enhance the performance of RWD vehicles in snow?

Professionals suggest the use of winter tires, and traction control systems to improve RWD performance in the snow. Mastering throttle control, adding weight at the back of the vehicle, and learning skid control techniques also significantly enhance handling.

How does RWD compare to FWD in snowy conditions?

In snowy conditions, front-wheel drive vehicles can have an advantage due to their front-heavy design, allowing for better traction. However, RWD potentially offers better balance and stability in dry conditions.

What are experts’ suggestions for driving RWD vehicles in snowy conditions?

Experts suggest the installation of winter tires and mastering throttle control. They also advise adding weight at the back of the vehicle, learning skid control techniques, and practicing in a safe environment to prepare for snowy conditions.