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Monday, February 13, 2006

 

Wings on front wheel drive cars

It's time for another episode of Mechanical Mythology. This time, I'll tackle a batch of automotive wing misconceptions.

Claim: A front wheel drive car cannot benefit from using a rear-mounted wing to create downforce.

Status: False.

Many people assume the purpose of a wing is to give the driving wheels more traction under acceleration. If this were the case, a rear-mounted wing would have no purpose whatsoever on a front wheel drive car. After all, it's not going to smoke the rear tires when you floor it.

The truth is that many winged race cars cannot generate enough power to smoke the tires at speeds where their wings are effective. In reality, the wings are there to help generate force for cornering, not acceleration. Most compact cars on the market today can benefit from considerably more grip before they are in any danger of overturning.

Some have argued that front wheel drive cars still do not need rear downforce because they are prone to understeer. However, as many experienced racers will tell you, this certainly is not true of all front wheel drive cars under all circumstances. I used to autocross a Ford Probe GT where the rear tires would lose traction if I stepped on the brakes - or sometimes just lifted my foot off the throttle - while turning hard. And a bit of rear downforce can help make sure your car keeps all four tires on the ground, as many front wheel drive cars are known for cornering on three wheels.

Also, note that production race cars that use wings also use air dams and splitters to create downforce on the front wheels. These are often less obvious mods than the rear wing, and such mods frequently appear on both front wheel drive and rear wheel drive cars.

A wing would appear to be more out of place on a drag car, except for high powered rear wheel drive cars like Pro Mods that actually need downforce to get traction. However, some drag racers run wings to stabilize the car under braking at the end of the strip, trading a little speed for a larger margin of safety.

All this assumes that the wing actually generates downforce and the car's tuner has correctly taken this into account when setting up the suspension. Neither of these may be true for the average winged car you encounter on the street.

Comments:
Hey Matt, thanks for your comment on my blog a couple of weeks ago. I didn't see it until just a few days ago. Funnily enough, right after you left your comment, I wrote a blog entry about the significance of the Ford Focus to American automotive heritage. What a coincidence!

If you'll let me brag about my newest three-wheeled shenanigans... http://hondakid.wickedart.org/stealsoul/vtec/threewheelin2.jpg

Drop by again anytime.
 
1)Claim: A front wheel drive car cannot benefit from using a rear-mounted wing to create downforce.

2)Many people assume the purpose of a wing is to give the driving wheels more traction under acceleration.

TRUE!
If people assume that the purpose is to create downforce on acceleration then it's TRUE that the car will not benefit from it.

Using false logic to dispel false logic is counter productive. Wings on RWD street cars also are worthless at any reasonable street speed. As you did summarize, it take a heck of a lot of work to design a functional aerodynamic mod so wings in general (RWD or FWD) are more for show than go.
 
So wings aren't good unless you want to use your car for racing:)) My car is far from racing so I won't need wings unless I want a design change:))
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