From experience, we know that stuffing a heaping helping of horsepower into a front-wheel-drive car isn't exactly a good idea. But why? We aren't talking about torque steer and lack of control - those are effects. We want to know the cause, and we imagine that you'd like to know that, too. As we are but humble writers, we can't possibly begin to explain the physics at play when a big boot-full of power is sent to the front axle, though. Thankfully, we don't have to.

Wired's Dot Physics blog has an excellent rundown explaining the forces at work in a high-powered, front-drive car. We aren't going to pretend to understand what they're talking about, but we imagine it all makes a good deal of sense.

If you're interested in being totally confused, hop over to Wired for an automotive-themed physics lesson.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 17 Comments
      Mike
      • 11 Months Ago
      I'll sum up his article. You need to balance load transfer to optimize your traction. The End.
      wafflesnfalafel
      • 11 Months Ago
      Just mathematically confirms that it don't work too good. If you are are ten 10ths on dry pavement you want rear wheel drive. But for normal transportation it works fine.
      Radioactive Flea
      • 11 Months Ago
      FWD = rise of the appliances.
      • 11 Months Ago
      [blocked]
      edward.stallings
      • 11 Months Ago
      The guy sure talked a lot of crap to say that weight transfer under acceleration is not good for traction in a front drive car. Can see why he is a professor. Guys in industry spot that habit a mile away and steer clear.
        infra
        • 11 Months Ago
        @edward.stallings
        And there's a reason that people who quantify these things get paid a lot more than those who simply use the tools and parts they design.
      BipDBo
      • 11 Months Ago
      Real forces, fake forces, interesting way to explain the Newtonian physics. Here is an experiential way to explain it. You know how if you're about to break into a sprint, you first lean forward before your legs push you forward? That's because your weight support needs to be further back. If you didn't first lean forward, your legs would go and your head would not. You would fall backward and land and your butt. You see, we actually learn all of this physics stuff when we are learning to walk as toddlers. It's just a matter of communicating a very simple idea. You know how when a car accelerates, the nose pops up and the back drops. That's because the weight is shifted back. The front suspension springs are fighting less weight and the back springs are fighting more. You want the traction on the wheels that are being pushed into the ground with more weight while accelerating, not less. The front wheels, with less weight, will be more likely to spin.
      jjmoonen
      • 11 Months Ago
      Talk about over complicating a simple concept.
      ThinkAboutIt
      • 11 Months Ago
      It's too easy to significantly compensate for the apparent "lack of traction" for a front-wheel drive car. Go '70s hotrodder on it. Jack up the rear wheels to wedge down the front and counteract accelerating weight transfer. I've done that with great success, using air shocks and an inline air compressor. Tail rises in ten seconds and you GO! With a Rabbit pickup, that's an almost invisible hop-up trick. Now beefing up the transaxle to survive? That's a whole 'nother issue ...
        paulinator66
        • 11 Months Ago
        @ThinkAboutIt
        I also thought of this in the 80s when cars were beginning to switch to FWD. All my friends were mentioning that FWD will NEVER work for more than ~100 HP because the weight transferred off the drive wheels. I suggested jacking up the rear end to limit the transfer and they just looked at me like I was from Mars. At the time, it was only acceptable to jack up rear wheel drive cars to fit bigger tires (which effectively ruined their gear ratios for quick starts, BTW) but jacking up the non-drive end of the car seemed stupid. . .at least to people back then.
      bullitt2605
      • 11 Months Ago
      When he power slides into oncoming traffic and kills the people in the other car that will be his final lesson in physics.
      PatrickH
      • 11 Months Ago
      What a waste of time. Just a super long drawn out explanation of how weight transfer hurts acceleration in a front wheel drive car.
      Douglas Hamner
      • 10 Months Ago
      The comments about the difficulty of building a transverse mounted transaxle that can handle power is complete and total be. Half of these comments seem to be written by muscle fanboys who still live in the 80's. The Dodge Srt-4's tranny can handle 400 ft lbs easily, and 800 ft lbs with an upgraded input shaft. The 5-speed Evo transmission can handle 500 ft lbs and AWD stress in stock trim. The Corvette is another example! I can cite numerous examples of strong transaxles. The problem with FWD is the transfer of axle load under acceleration shifts from front to rear. This fixed with traction bars, limited slip differentials, solid motor mounts, equal length half shafts and slicks in FWD performance cars. While it is not ideal to have a front engined fwd setup ( like a rear engined rwd setup) the problems can be engineered out. Keeping the inherent traction, packaging and efficiency advantages of the FWD configuration.
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