Anything that sticks high out of the rear of a car is usually (conveniently) called a spoiler. However, most often than not, you are seeing a ‘rear wing’ rather than a spoiler. Both these work in different ways and while they share some traits, the results achieved also vary.
Here’s a rule of thumb– Rear wing is usually tall and wide while spoilers are short and body-hugging. The latter is never wider than the width of the car.
In this article, I will explain the difference between a spoiler and a wing.
What is a spoiler
The rear of the car is usually where the airflow is most tumultuous. There is a good amount of drag and even tire-lift due to concentrated low-pressure air-pockets forming at the bottom. This combination of drag and lift causes efficiency to drop and even leads to instability at higher speeds. This is where Spoilers come into play!
This is an example of a spoiler. The magic of ‘fluid dynamics’ makes this car go faster even though the wall-like aesthetics might say otherwise.
When the high-pressure air hits the spoiler, it slows it down and causes a pocket of stagnant (low-pressure) air to form between the spoiler and the windshield. When the next column of air comes, it gently glides over the low-pressure air instead of hitting the back of the car again. This helps to keep the air streamline and flow horizontally over the back of the car, reducing the drag caused by continuous high-pressure air expanding over the rear.
Also, since the air is moving in a streamlined fashion over the car, there is no expansion (or localised low pressure) area forming just behind the car to create rear lift. This makes spoilers the perfect addition for quick-accelerating (and really fast) rear-wheel drive cars which need both the rear wheels planted to the asphalt to get maximum cornering performance.
What is a Wing?
The rear wing on a car does the exact opposite of what the wings on an airplane do- increase downforce and reduce lift. They are usually larger and wider than an automotive spoiler and come in an airfoil shape. Unlike a spoiler, the rear wing works well in any type of car provided your purpose is to increase downforce.
The rear wing is easier to explain than a spoiler as it just deflects the high-pressure air vertically upwards to provide ‘opposite’ downforce. It has a negative effect on straight-line speed and is mainly concerned with keeping the stable at corners or worse yet, preventing it from going airborne.
Spoiler vs Wing – which one makes your car go faster?
Spoiler and wing only really work if the car is powerful enough! Sticking one on a low-spec car might look good but doesn’t really do anything in the way of performance (if not returning the opposite effect).
For high-performance cars, spoilers could effectively reduce drag, reduce lift, and even increase efficiency. In this way, they are more versatile than wings which primarily increases downforce. So, unless you are into cornering a lot, there is really no need to have the latter installed.
Spoiler vs wing: which one makes your car go faster? For the right car spoilers, by definition, should make it go faster than a wing. However, this explanation is not perfect. On a timed lap, it really depends on how effectively the aerodynamics is channeled.
Some cars are faster without any additional rear appendages while others, as I’ve seen, might need both!
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