December 4, 2011

Car Talk

Front-wheel-drive trucks might be on the way

Dear Tom and Ray:
Hi, guys! I've always wondered why there aren't any front-wheel-drive pickups. I would think they'd be a nice alternative to more-expensive four-wheel-drive pickups, and a lot easier to handle than rear-wheel-drive pickups on slippery roads. Got any insights to offer on this?
— Rick

Ray: It's been done, Rick. Volkswagen made a pickup version of its front-wheel-drive Rabbit from 1979 to 1982. You can tell what a smashing success that was by all the Rabbit Pickups you see on the road these days!

Tom: It can be done, of course. Toyota even has a prototype of a hybrid front-wheel-drive pickup that's been floating around for a few years. So someone probably will do it at some point, especially as the demand for better fuel economy increases, and pickup-truck sizes decrease.

Ray: Such a truck might be useful for "light-duty picking up," but there are two design issues that make it somewhat undesirable as a traditional work truck.

Tom: First, there's very little weight in the back of a pickup, even with rear-wheel drive. And if you remove the drive shaft and rear differential, you leave almost no weight back there. That means when the pickup bed is empty, there's no weight to keep the rear wheels pushed down to the ground.

Ray: That would make the rear end of the pickup vulnerable to sliding around — which would cause you to lose control of the vehicle.

Tom: And while electronic stability control can help, it's got to start with something to stabilize! You can deal with that by increasing the size of the passenger cabin and adding a real back seat and/or rear doors. But then you leave less room for the bed.

Ray: The other problem is that when you load up the bed with heavy materials, you weigh down the rear axle and "lift weight" off the front axle. So, if you had a heavy load in a front-wheel-drive pickup truck, you could find yourself in a situation where you'd have a tough time getting traction from the front wheels.

Tom: So we may yet see a front-wheel-drive pickup truck at some point. But it's going to be a "lifestyle" vehicle (i.e., designed to help you look cool), not a real work truck.

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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