There are pros and cons to front, rear, and four-wheel drive transmissions that make them each better in different situations. Rear wheel (RWD), OEMs (original equipment manufactures), and rebuilt transmissions have been the main design on the market for many years. The front wheel drive (FWD) was invented sometime between 1895 and 1898, but was not put into mass production until 1912. The 4 X 4 was built to travel over rough terrain and was patented by Joseph Bramah Diplock in 1893.
All Wheel Drive
Just as the name implies, all wheel drive engages both sets of wheels. This design will give you the best control on all surfaces, especially on rough terrain. Because of this feature, a large amount of heavy-duty equipment uses these original equipment manufacturers and rebuilt transmissions. Although handling is improved with a 4 x 4 design, it requires more parts than a standard design and can add a substantial amount of extra weight to the vehicle. This added weight results in lower fuel economy and more parts that may need repair in the future. Overall, this system is more expensive.
Front Wheel Drive
Where rear wheel drive original and rebuilt transmissions may fail, front wheel drive versions may shine in many areas. That's not to say the design doesn't have a downside though. Due to the design, the vehicle is pulled forward by the front set of wheels as well as having these wheels steer. As a result, the tires and other front-end parts experience far more wear and tear. Handling of the vehicle may be improved though, especially on wet roads as the majority of the weight sits over the front wheels that move the rest of the vehicle. Another advantage to front wheel drive vehicles is they weigh less, which transforms into higher fuel economy because movement is allowed with less power exhorted.
With a front wheel design, the motor of the vehicle sits parallel to the cab, allowing additional space for passengers and cargo. As a tradeoff, you now have less space under the hood, often making simple repairs more difficult since parts are more compacted. You may have to remove several items before finally reaching the one initially requiring repair. Another drawback is a loss of control should the front wheels suddenly receive too much power.
Real Wheel Drive
For many years, when you went to purchase a vehicle, the real wheel drive design was the industry standard for original equipment manufacturers. Due to the popularity of this type of design, if a repair was required, it was easier to obtain rebuilt transmissions in the open market. The real wheel drive design pushes the vehicle forward instead of pulling it as with the front wheel design. This particular style has better weight distribution and less wear and tear on front-end components. This will give the vehicle better maneuverability and handling, especially in mud or snow. The real wheel drive design allows more room for each component of the transmission so parts are easier to access and repairs or often less expensive.
Because the parts are spread out over a longer space, the extra cargo and passenger space that was such an advantage of the front wheel drive design is lost. Another disadvantage, on wet and slippery roads the handling is reduced compared to its counterparts due to the reduced stability and traction.
Front, rear, and all wheel drive transmissions, whether original or rebuilt transmissions, all have their advantages. Some will work better in a particular situation or terrain the others. When selecting your vehicle, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. Give particular consideration to the type of driving you will be doing and the terrain the vehicle will spend the most time on.
Christine O'Kelly is an author for Dealers Transmission Exchange, the rebuilt Euclid transmissions specialists. Their reman experts have an average of 15 years experience with the company specializing in a variety of drive train parts including the Euclid Transmission and accessories.