RWD cars lose control easier in rainy/wet conditions. True or false?

Jason · Sep 1, 2021 10:10 AM

RWD cars lose control easier in rainy/wet conditions. True or false? 01

My experience - having owned both FWD (VW Golf GTI) and RWD (Subaru BRZ) cars - also seem to reinforce this belief. Mind you, both cars ran the same tyres, with factory suspension. 

Yet, when driving in wet conditions at broadly the same pace, the RWD car will feel more twitchy and nervous, compared to the FWD car, especially through standing water. Why is that so?

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With that being said, these are by no means conclusive findings, but thoughts gleaned out of my own experience.

Different layout, different weight distribution

With RWD cars, the weight distribution is pretty even (most often a 50:50 front/rear ratio), while FWD cars have more weight at the front (nominally a 60:40 distribution). For this reason, RWD cars have a sweeter handling balance versus a FWD car.... when conditions are dry. 

RWD cars lose control easier in rainy/wet conditions. True or false? 01

In wet or slippery conditions, RWD cars become more delicate to control compared to FWDs. The main reason is.... the extra weight over a FWD's front axle is now beneficial in such conditions. Think about it. Won't it be better to have more weight in your front axle when driving through standing water? Yes it is. 

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The benefit of having the weight of the engine above the driving wheels is that it helps pin the tyres more firmly to the wet or slippery road surface. This contributes to that 'secure' feeling for the driver in such tracherous conditions. Don't believe me? Watch the video below (at the 3:00 mark), featuring a certain Jeremy Clarkson. 

Without this extra weight, wheel-spin and fishtailing occur more frequently when accelerating, coupled with traction issues. And, as witnessed in the video, the higher the speeds, the more abrupt the loss of control happens. 

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That's not to say that FWD cars are impervious to losing control in the wet. It's just that, due to its inherent weight distribution (there's more weight at the front axle), FWD cars are a bit less prone. But if you drive in a ham-fisted way, no amount of weight distribution will prevent you from losing control. 

Also read: BRZ vs GTI: Different ways to driving pleasure

The driven wheels 

Another reason why RWD cars feel more nervous than FWD cars in wet/slippery conditions is because of the location of the driven wheels. Say you're taking a corner, and you apply too much throttle, a RWD car will more often than not, oversteer.

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This is caused by the driven rear wheels easily overcoming the lack of traction on wet/slippery surfaces. Such a phenomena can be quite frightening for drivers who've never so much as hit a cone in a car park.

Do the same in a FWD car, and chances are that you will experience some understeer. Sure, it's still a disconcerting feeling, but rest assured that it is a lot less scary for the average driver to experience understeer compared to having a car snap into oversteer.

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Oversteer vs understeer - no such thing as one is superior to the other, good drivers know how to go fast and safe with either layouts, and work with the car's character

The main reason being that, correcting an understeer is much easier. When the car washes wide of your intended path, just lift off the gas or apply the brakes to bring the car back in line.

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With an oversteer situation, you'd probably need to recite your Hail Marys, countersteer, stay calm, apply the brakes and regain control of the car all at the same time.

Also read: How not to crash while driving in the rain

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Jason

Road Test Editor

Jason's foremost passion is all things automotive, where he spent his formative working years as a Product Planner and Trainer. An Advanced Driving Instructor by training and an all-round enthusiast, Jason loves going into intricate details about driving dynamics. Will drive anything with 4 wheels and a steering.

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