What does the drivetrain do?

By Product Expert | Posted in FAQs on Sunday, March 22nd, 2020 at 9:36 pm
A mechanic toils away on an old drivetrain.

Frequently-Asked Drivetrain Questions

If you’ve been exposed to car talk lately, you’ve likely heard the phrase “drivetrain” batted about. “But I’m driving a car,” you may have been thinking, “and not a train!” After you mistakenly uttered this sentence aloud and were subsequently berated by your car-savvy companions, you may have been left wondering: what is the drivetrain, and what does it do?

In essence, the drivetrain consists of a series of parts that work together to transfer the rotational power that’s produced in the engine to the car’s wheels. By doing so, the wheels begin to turn, and the car moves.

The main components of the drivetrain include the transmission, deferential, and drive shafts.

Close-up view of some pieces of a vehicle's drivetrain, attached to the engine.

Where does the rotational power come from?

A car’s rotational power begins as a series of tiny explosions in the car’s engine. These blasts lead to a rotating motion in the crankshaft. This rotating motion is what’s typically known as “torque,” and it powers the car.

Is the drivetrain different from the powertrain?

The drivetrain and powertrain refer to slightly different systems. Whereas the powertrain refers to all the components that make the vehicle move including the engine, the drivetrain refers to all these components excluding the engine. Despite this difference, the phrases “drivetrain” and “powertrain” are often used interchangeably by those with less automotive knowledge than you or I.  

Is the drivetrain different on front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive vehicles?

Yes, the drivetrain system differs depending upon which wheels in a vehicle receive the power from the engine. In particular, the system is much more complicated in an all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive set-up.

Use a drivetrain yourself by scheduling a test-drive!

How does the placement of the drivetrain affect the vehicle?

One way the drivetrain placement affects ride quality is through its weight. In a front-wheel drive vehicle, the weight of the drivetrain being located up-front provides more traction on slippery surfaces, like snow, when driven at a lower speed. Conversely, rear-wheel drive provides superior traction at higher speeds.