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In real life, most common cars are front wheel drive. In the movies, there is no such thing as front wheel drive. One part Rule of Cool, one part Two Decades Behind, two parts Did Not Do the Research, and two more parts Special Effect Failure, this trope can be picked out quickly by those who know the cars featured.

The most easily spotted giveaways that this trope is in play:

  1. If the car is prevented from moving, look at which wheels are spinning and/smoking. Only the wheels that are being driven by the engine will turn if the car is not moving.
  2. If the vehicle is prevented from moving by lifting one end of it clear of the ground. The wheels that are lifted must be the drive wheels or it doesn't work.
  3. Skids and drifts are difficult, for two reasons: first, front- and rear-wheel-driven skids can look a lot alike, and second, they tend to happen so fast that it nearly impossible to see the small differences. A good rule of thumb is that the more impressive the skid, the more likely it is that it's a rear-wheel drive skid.

Commonly seen with the tendency for drivers to drive with a heavy right foot.

This can also apply to obviously 4WD vehicles where the driver gets stuck and does not try using 4WD to get unstuck [1].

Examples of Every Car Is Rear Wheel Drive include:


  • Averted by a WalMart commercial. A car attempting to accelerate up an icy road spins its front tires while sliding backwards down the hill. They still didn't get it right, since the rear tires are locked, which would require the driver to be accelerating with the parking brake applied.


  • In the finale of the movie Frank McKlusky, C.I., the bad guy is just about escape. However, Chyna, playing herself, suddenly picks up the car's back end and turns the car toward the nearby cliff. She then sets the car down, causing it to careen off the cliff.
  • Reversed in the Der Clown movie Payday in two cases: A VW Phaeton and a BMW X5 are shown starting up, of course with a genuine burnout. Said burnout is depicted in a close-up of the wheels. Both cars are 4WD, and if they weren't, they would still be RWD, yet in both cases the front wheels spin and smoke. In fact, the cuts are so fast that it's hard to tell if these close-ups show the right cars.
  • Averted in Ronin, where in the initial chase, the front-wheel drive Citroen XM only slides on loose gravel, and in the second chase through Paris, Robert Deniro's FWD Peugeot 406 behaves in a noticeably different manner to Natascha McElhone's rear-drive BMW 5-series, and only goes sideways when the handbrake has been pulled. But then, director John Frankenheimer is a bit of a perfectionist...
  • The first The Fast and the Furious movie featured a Mitsubishi Eclipse sliding out in a corner. The model featured only came in front-wheel drive. The sequence was taped by sliding out in reverse and playing the footage backwards.
    • Then again, some cars actually do get converted to RWD by nutcases aficionados who want to powerslide just that model that was never available in RWD, and who cares about the price. This is a lot easier to accomplish when the target vehicle is natively 4WD (just disable the forward transmission) than when it's FWD-only, in which case one needs to swap the whole transmission and punch holes in the cockpit and/or frame to let the driveshaft through.
      • The Mitsubishi Eclipse featured in that movie is a front-wheel-drive GST, but the car was also available in all-wheel-drive form with the GSX. While the mounting points are available for the back end of a drivetrain, converting to rear-wheel-drive isn't quite trivial, thanks to the transverse engine layout. In reality, what was done in the movie could be done with judicious use of the handbrake by a skilled driver, which Brian is portrayed as.
  • Near the end of Donnie Darko the titular character does a rather spectacular, tire-burning drift in a Ford Taurus station wagon.

Live Action TV

  • Jeremy admonishes Richard for adding rear spoilers to a front-wheel drive Renault Avantime on Top Gear. The car's lap time ended up increasing by almost a second following the addition of a rear wing.

Video Games

  • Many early racing games followed this trope to the letter. This is acceptable, as physics weren't exactly great on the NES at the time. However, many Arcade games and non-racing games with Vehicles tend to follow this.
    • FPS games that have vehicles seem to always depict them as Four Wheel Drive, despite the visual cues to the contrary. This may be due to the Law of Conservation of Detail.
  • Averted by the 3D Grand Theft Auto games. Many cars (especially the less sporty ones) are FWD, with noticeable differences in handling.
    • In a RWD car, you can push gas, brake and direction at the same time to spin the rear tires and turn the car on the spot, which is handy when having to maneuvre in tight spaces. In a FWD car, all that'll give you is some smoke.
  • Notably averted in Burnout Paradise (and possibly earlier games). Some cars are specifically mentioned as being RWD or FWD, and most of the most powerful vehicles are AWD.
    • However played straight in some earlier games in the series.
  • Inevitable with third-party cars for earlier Need for Speed games which support RWD and 4WD only. Some of the later games featuring "Drift" mode allow FWD cars to compete and while competing they appear to be RWD, others specifically ban FWD vehicles from these events.
    • Most Wanted is a Double Subversion, the cars appear to have their correct drivetrain as seen in the burnouts at the start of the race, however this does not affect their handling in any way.
  • Each and every car in Driv3r is a RWD, even those clearly based on French compact and subcompact cars -- most cars in Nice would be FWD in Real Life.
  • While there were AWD cars in the first "Midnight Club", all subsequent games in the series restrict them to 2WD because of the "Burnout" ability added in "Midnight Club 2". Obviously because doing a standing burnout with all 4 tires lit up would be a physical impossibility.
    • This is more of a burning pirouette, but a one-off twin engine Hyundai Tiburon can be seen smoking all four tires at about 1:37 in this video.

Web Comics

  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Dr. McNinja's Honda Accord in this strip almost qualifies, but in gravel a front wheel drive car can drift.
  • The characters of Misfile have many a dispute over the (dis)advantages of FWD/RWD respectively. Needless to say, not Every Car Is Rear Wheel Drive, either.

Real Life

  • A vast majority of pickup trucks, tractors, and other vehicles that tow heavy loads are rear wheel drive. This is done to put more weight on the driven wheels, resulting in higher grip, torque, and better handling. Since most consumer cars do not tow anything, and the majority of the weight is in the engine compartment, they are front wheel driven.
    • FWD drivelines are also cheaper to manufacture, generally lighter and allow more passenger and cargo space for a given size vehicle. It also helps keep them from fishtailing on snowy or icy roads.
      • FWD became cheaper to manufacture only in the latter half of 20'th century, when advantages in manufacturing made it possible to make CAV joints cheap and reliable enough. Before that, these were either too pricey or too prone to breakages to be practical, so RWDs were actually cheaper to make even considering all the additional hardware.
    • CAV Axles are not fond of heavy loads, and this limits towing capacity. Any vehicle with the need to haul is going to use a solid live axle and at least rear wheel drive.
  • BMW makes their insistence on rear wheel drive as one of their selling points, due to RWD cars' better weight distribution (front/rear) which contributes to better handling characteristics.
  • It is common in during the raining season when cars get stuck in the mud to see someone sitting on the back of a car while their friend gives it some gas to get out, even though they are almost always in front wheel drive cars. Also, with the same principle, you see plenty of people adding rear spoilers designed for RWD to the backs of FWD for its assumed beneficial down-force in track or even drag racing. (See the Top Gear example in Live Action TV for what happens when you do this.)
  • Incidentally, the best spoiler for a FWD car is no spoiler at all - make the front air dam as deep as possible and the underside as smooth as practical to get rid of air vortices and get best front grip.
  • And then there's this guy.
  • The most common U.S. police car (Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor) is rear-wheel drive.
    • As is the increasingly-common Dodge Charger interceptor (which also has a 4WD option). The other common American police car (the Chevy Impala) is FWD, and is mostly seen in areas with snowy winters. It's not uncommon for a police department in the northern U.S. to have a fleet consisting predominantly of Impalas with a couple of more-powerful Chargers or larger Crown Vics for summer use.
      • GM has recently begun selling RWD Holden sedans for police. Also, FWD handling in snow is actually greatly exaggerated.
  • Most of the top tier auto racing classes (Formula One [and its sub-classes like Formula 3], Lemans, GT, etc) use Rear Wheel Drive cars, even if the production cars they are based on are not (eg the Nissan GT-R GT1/GT500 race car is RWD even though the production car is 4WD).
    • Subsequently, most Supercars and high performance sports cars even today are Rear Wheel Drive (one of the few subversions being the fastest production car of all, the AWD Bugatti Veyron Supersport).
    • RWD cars have much more equal weight ratio between front and rear axles, which is crucial in racing, as it ensures better braking and uniform down-force distribution, and it results in a much better handling. In fact, when mid-engined cars (where engine sits completely between the axles, as opposed to front- or rear-engined, where it sticks out of the respective end of the wheelbase) were introduced in Formula One, they've handled so much better that they were considered a Game Breaker at first. F1 cars were mid-engined RWDs ever since.
  • In Japan, they do this, and no, it doesn't have a RWD swap.


  1. Note that depending on the type of drive-train (specifically, the type of differentials used) and the type of surface, 4WD might not get you unstuck. Sand and other loose surfaces are notorious for causing 4WD vehicles to dug in even deeper unless you use planks to help the car get enough grip to get out. Getting high-centered, with the center of the car's under carriage lifted high enough off the ground that the wheels aren't getting sufficient traction is another excellent way to render a 4WD vehicle immobile.
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