Determine if Your Car Is Front or Rear Wheel Drive

Automobile drive trains come in 3 types: front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and 4-wheel or all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive cars tend to be smaller, easier to steer and offer better traction in snow or mud, while rear-wheel drive cars tend to be larger, accelerate more quickly, stop more easily and offer a smoother ride. To determine if your car is front- or rear-wheel drive, follow the steps below.


  1. Locate the engine. Most cars have the engine at the front; these cars may be either front- or rear-wheel drive. Cars with the engine at the rear, such as the Volkswagen Beetle, are always rear-wheel drive cars.
  2. See how the engine is mounted. If the engine is transverse-mounted (that is, mounted sideways), with the belts facing one side of the car, your car is most likely a front-wheel drive car. If the engine is mounted longitudinally (front to back), with the belts facing the front grille, your car is most likely a rear-wheel drive car.
  3. Look for a differential. The differential is a large, pumpkin-shaped housing that transfers power from the driveshaft to the wheels. If there is such an assembly on the car's rear axle, the car has a rear-wheel drive. On front-wheel drive cars, the differential is integrated with the transmission in a unit at the rear of the engine called a transaxle, and the wheels are connected to the driveshaft by constant velocity (CV) joints.


  • Knowing whether your car has front- or rear-wheel drive is important when you're spinning your wheels on an icy surface. You'll want to throw sand or gravel under the drive wheels to get the car moving again; if in doubt as to which wheels are the drive wheels and you're in a hurry, you can throw sand under all 4 wheels.
  • Because more of their weight is in the front of the car, front-wheel drive cars tend to keep traveling straight ahead when skidding, while rear-wheel drive cars are more likely to fishtail from side-to-side. In either case, ease up on the accelerator or take your foot off it completely.
  • If you travel a lot, front-wheel drive cars generally offer more room for cargo and passengers; however, if you usually pull a trailer, rear-wheel drive vehicles offer a greater towing capacity than front-wheel drive cars.
  • On both front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles, the front wheels turn when you turn the steering wheel. When getting stuck in snow or mud in a front-wheel drive car, you can regain traction by turning the wheels slightly in one direction so the tires have a new surface to bite into.

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