Pros and cons of front wheel drive

By Tom and Ray Magliozzi
Saturday September 15, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray: 

Except for the most expensive cars these days, almost all cars are front-wheel drive. But unless one lives in a snowy or icy climate, I can't see any advantage to front-wheel drive -- except to the repair people, who get to charge more to fix them. Am I missing something? If one lives in a warm-weather climate, is there any reason to buy a front-wheel-drive car? -- Roger 

TOM: Not really, Roger. As long as you can afford the payments on a Mercedes S430. 

RAY: As you say, most reasonably priced cars ARE front-wheel drive. So if you choose not to buy a front-wheel-drive car, you pretty much limit your choices to little sports cars, trucks and expensive sedans. 

TOM: But you're right about front-wheel drive. It has only a few real advantages. Its primary advantage is that it provides better traction in rain and snow, since the weight of the engine presses down right over the driven wheels. 

RAY: And, since the front-wheel-drive design crunches all the mechanical parts up front, it also allows the overall size of a car to be smaller, which usually means improved fuel economy. Plus, placing the transmission up front leaves more room in the passenger compartment, since it eliminates the "hump" that covers the drive shaft. So front-wheel drive does have a few pluses. 

RAY: But it also has one significant disadvantage: It's harder to work on. Since everything is jammed up front, you have to be Houdini to reach certain things, like water pumps, cylinder-head bolts and sometimes even spark plugs! And the longer it takes to reach things (i.e., the more parts that have to removed first to get there), the more you pay your mechanic in labor charges. 

TOM: In contrast, we had a rear-wheel-drive '79 Caprice in the shop the other day. And there was so much room up front that I was able to climb into the engine compartment, close the hood and take a nap. 

RAY: Oh, is THAT where you were on Tuesday? 

TOM: Yeah, until about 4 o'clock, when Craig started it up and the fan blade turned my coveralls into shorts. 

RAY: Well, for that reason -- among others -- we don't recommend sleeping in the engine compartments of rear-wheel-drive cars. But they're great as long as rain -- and more importantly, snow -- is not a big issue for you, Roger.  





Got a question about cars? E-mail Click and Clack by visiting the Car Talk section of cars.com on the World Wide Web. 









Dear Tom and Ray: 

I recently bought a new 2001 Jetta GLX and drove it at 80 mph for the first 700 miles. I was told that this was not good for my new engine. Is this true? And if so, what damage have I done to my new car's engine? -- Oliver 

TOM: I wouldn't give it a second thought, Oliver. Just forget all about it. It's not even worth worrying about. 

RAY: I mean, if you're really interested, you can read the owner's manual, where it specifically warns you not to do this because it prevents the piston rings from seating correctly and leads to oil consumption. 

TOM: In case you haven't run across it yet, the owner's manual is a little book about half an inch thick -- with large print -- and it's probably sitting at the bottom of your glove compartment. Lots of new cars come with them. 

RAY: But don't go through any trouble to read it, Oliver. It's not really important. When your Jetta is burning a quart of oil every 400 miles and your dealer says he doesn't know why, you will.  


Keep your car on the road and out of the repair shop by ordering Tom and Ray's pamphlet "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $3 (check or money order) and a stamped (57 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. 


Got a question about cars? E-mail Click and Clack by visiting the Car Talk section of cars.com on the World Wide Web. 

(c) 2001 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman 

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.