Grippiest tires on the front or back of a front-wheel drive car?

We have had two tire experts tell us two different things - one said that your grippiest tires go on the back of a front-wheel drive car, the other said that your grippiest tires go on the front of a front-wheel drive car. The rationale for on back is that they need to go on your control wheels (the rear); the argument for on front is that they need to go on your power wheels (the front). So, anyone have the definitive answer for this? Oh yeah, this is for winter driving conditions. I don’t know if it matters in places where you don’t get snow and ice.

I’ve always been told that they go on the front, I think especially in winter driving conditions. Your tires wear faster up front due to the weight of the engine being over them in a FWD vehicle, and they are your power wheels.

IANAM but I vote for up front. I always rotate my tires that way and have never had any issues.

What you don’t want to do is put studs on the front and not on the back. I did this once and drove around with great aplomb until I hit the breaks on a slight downhill and spun 360 degrees pivoting around my front tires.

Definitely front.

If the front wheels lose traction first it results in understeer, which most drivers can handle reasonably well. If the rear wheels lose traction first it results in oversteer, which most driver’s don’t handle so well (see post #3 for extreme example). So it is considered safer to put the grippiest tires on the rear, particularly by businesses that install tires and that don’t want to get sued for the death or injury caused by a fool who takes a curve too fast on a slippery road.

Most of the time this issue comes up in the context of tread depth, typically when a driver has two tires with a fair amount of tread left and two that have very little. Most people don’t want to buy four tires in that situation, so they buy two new ones. Some shops will insist that the new ones go on the rear for the reason mentioned above. Of course, this is in direct opposition to the logic of putting the new ones on the front, where tires wear faster, so that the front/rear tread balance can approach evenness - which is the safest state and the whole reason to rotate tires. If those new tires are left on the rear, the discrepancy between front and rear treads increases, which is its own problem, but one less likely to result in a lawsuit.

My preference is to put them on the front, while warning the driver of the above. My colleagues are split about 50/50 in their opinions on this issue.

Gary, do you think this is less of an issue in a car with on-demand 4WD?

Having tires of unequal wear on a 4WD vehicle is just a bad idea. It will can result in anything from uncomfortable ride to thousands of dollars in repair.

On my front wheel drive cars I’ve always put the best tires on the front. On 4 wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles I pay more attention to making sure I keep epaul wear on all tire by regularly rotating and replacing them

I agree with installing them in the rear, for the reasons given. If you don’t know how to drive out of a spin you will hit something if the rear end breaks loose.

Nope, the same advice goes for RWD and AWD cars.

Put the new ones on the rear.

Hmm. I just now thought about the AWD angle. Today I got 3 tires. The (full-sized) spare had never been used. Therefore, they all have “equal wear”; however this 4th one is not the same brand. They are all exactly the same size and of very similar tread design. The layout is: 2 new on the front; passenger side rear is new; driver side rear is the old (never-used) spare.

Did I just mess up?

(2000 Honda CRV AWD)

Alright, now I’m worried. Looking at the specs for each of these kinds, I see that one has shown 795 revolutions per mile and the other 785. Only one of these says ‘at 45 mph’ however. Is that a standard thing (speed at which tested)?

Also one tire’s width and diameter are 8.1 and 26.2, and the other is 8.3 and 26.5 . Tread depths are different, too.

The manual also says: “Your CRV is equipped with a unique 4WD system. Normally power is delivered only to the front wheels. When the system senses a loss of front-wheel traction, it automatically transfers some power to the rear wheels.” I take that to mean that’s it’s not in 4WD all the time, is that correct? Or is this one where the parts spin around even when it’s disengaged?

Probably not. The issue I am concerned about is not one of grip but rather of size.
Some AWD systems are very intolerant of different (Physical) size tires.
Tires are a lot like shoes. Two of them may say they are the same size, but in fact they aren’t. With tires they could be a 1/2" different in height. Or they might be the same height in your driveway, but at 70 mph one of them has grown much more than the other (tires get bigger as they spin).
On some purely mechanical AWD systems a different sized tire drove the system nuts and could cause large repair bills due to damage to the mechanicals. This was caused by the front and rear of the car running at a slightly different RPM at the wheels.
Modern electronic AWD systems don’t have this issue.
Check your owner’s manual to be sure.

Thanks. I’m wringing my hands over this, now. I can’t belive how stupid we were not to think of it. The manual only says to get at least 2 tires at a time. “Replacing just one tire can seriously affect your vehicle’s handling.” Nothing about systems being damaged, but I can just imagine.

The worst part? Hubby is a mechanic. No, THE mechanic. He was our City’s first full-time mechanic and for the last 20 years he’s been the head mechanic in charge of every City vehicle on the road.

He’s going to be SO embarrassed!

Look at it this way. If he screwed up, you can always point and laugh.
You can always buy a 4th tire.

Yes, I realized that a minute ago. “Honey, be good or I’ll go down to the shop and tell the boys that you …”. :smiley:

First thing Monday.

Thanks - also, thanks to boytyperanma for bringing it up in the first place.

I’ve done a similar experiment by applying tire chains to a (part time) 4WD vehicle.

Best all around traction is crossbar chains on all 4 wheels. But this puts some pretty intense vibration into the steering. I now only use this for deep loose snow, sand, or mud, where the surface allows the chains to sink in, avoiding the vibration.

Still excellent is crossbar chains on the rear, cable type “chains” on the front. The cables add enough traction to help on polished surfaces without excessive vibration. The cables are lower profile than real chains, so help with clearance concerns.

OK is chains (either type depending on surface) on the rear only. You don’t have the traction to pull the front end around turns with power, but as mentioned upthread, this is understeer and not to hard to manage.

Chains on front only is horrible on ice or polished snow. The oversteer is wicked in turns, and unmanageable if braking in a turn. Even stopping straight ahead is tricky. It can be OK on loose surfaces, where the rear tends to stay in the ruts left by the front wheels.

I was able to find this on Honda’s “Dual Pump” system:

Based on the bolded passage, it sounds like using tires of different size or grip could be a bad idea, depending on what the speed difference needed to actuate the center clutch pack is. I suspect it’s probably higher than that caused by differently worn tires.

In any case, using only two winter tires is a terribly bad idea and simply shouldn’t be done. If you can afford a car you can afford to buy 2 extra tires. Sheesh.

Thanks for the detailed info on the transmission. But who said anything about 2 winter tires? I was replacing 3 worn-out ‘all-season’ tires.

Front, no question about it. However, tire manufacturers may feel otherwise. When I go to Costco to get tires (usually 2 at a time), they actually refuse to put new tires on the front only. They claim the manufacturers say this is best even on front wheel drive cars, so it’s company policy. Bullshit.

I would bet dollars to doughnuts that it’s company policy is because Costco’s lawyers say it’s best.

It’s pretty damn hard to get the back end to step out in a FWD car, though. You have to be actively trying to do so, or going way too fast in poor conditions.