How to Determine if Your Car Is Front- or Rear-Wheel Drive

by Contributor

Generally, trucks, vans and large cars with big engines will have rear-wheel drive. Smaller, economy and compact cars are most often front-wheel drive. But you don't have to guess which one you have - find out for yourself.

Understand that front-wheel drive means the power from the engine and the transmission goes to the front wheels; rear-wheel drive means the power goes to the rear wheels. Four-wheel, or all-wheel, drive means all four wheels are powered.

Open the hood.

Find the front of the engine. The front of the engine is always where the belts are located.

Look to see if the front of the engine is by the fender (side of the car). If so, then you have front-wheel drive.

Check to see if the front of the engine is by the radiator and the grill (front of the car). If so, then you have rear-wheel drive.

Look under the car near each front wheel. If you see an axle with a rubber boot (called the CV boot) on either end going into the wheel, then you have front- wheel drive.

Look under the car between the rear wheels. If you see a large, metal, pumpkin- shaped thing (it's called the differential) with two axles coming out either side, then you have rear-wheel drive.

Check both under the hood for the position of the engine and under the car for the axles to be sure, because not every car follows the rules for engine position and front- or rear-wheel drive (see Tips below for examples of cars with variations on this rule).


  • check There are a few cars out there that are atypical. Some Toyota Tercels have the belts at the front of the engine but are still front-wheel drive. Check for the axles underneath to be sure. Saab puts the engine in backward, so the belts are at the back of the engine compartment. Old, air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles have the engine in the back and the power goes right to the rear wheels, although the overall design is more like a front-wheel-driven car.

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