Wing vs. Spoiler: What’s the Difference?

Both are among the most famous components when it comes to car tuning. Besides, their relatively low cost and simple installation make them the go-to option for beginner tuners. Do you know which one should you get?

First of all, it is interesting to make some clarifications about the concepts used in the text. Both parts refer to an automotive component which could be formally named “air diffuser”. After all, their main function is to alter how air flows over the car’s body and, at least in theory, do that in a positive manner – in other words, to make it more aerodynamic.

The terms “wing” and “spoiler” are merely everyday names used to the big groups in which we can divide the wide variety of options available in the market. This text explains each one according to their common uses and makes some comparisons aimed at helping you decide which is the best option in case you are looking for ways to customize your car.

What’s the Difference Between Wing and Spoiler?

Both mainly aim at making the car more aerodynamic, but wings are physically detached from the body to do a better job. Spoilers are simply extensions of the body, but that makes them less effective.

But let’s get into details now.

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What Does a Wing Do?

The term “wing” is usually applied to the type of air diffuser located on the car’s rear end, either above the rear windshield (hatchbacks, SUVs, etc.) or on the trunk lid (sedans, coupés, etc.). It is always a horizontal shelf-like component supported by pillars, generally two of them; the wing never directly touches the car’s body.

As previously mentioned, a wing is a type of air diffuser. It is designed to alter the air flow through the car body in a favorable way, that is, to make a desirable aerodynamic effect.

The main function of a wing is to increase downforce on the car. In other words, it modifies the car’s aerodynamic profile in a way that the air flow creates a higher pressure downwards than usual.

Sports cars are often designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, but that comes with the negative consequence of their side profile resembling an airplane wing. This type of wing is designed to generate pressure upwards in order to keep the airplane airborne.

Cars would take off as well if they had sufficient power, but the concept is relevant to them even in a scaled-down interpretation: any pressure generated upwards reduces their grip on the street and that makes them less stable, which is especially dangerous at high speeds.

Wings are applied to counter that effect and keep the car’s firm grip on the ground. On the other hand, the pros and cons sections show that this effect is harmful if executed at an excessive magnitude. Over the years, the industry improved the original concept by designing moving wings.

In modern sports cars, the wing may have its elevation and inclination electronically adjusted – this is usually done by the car’s ECU in order not to distract the driver at high speeds. In short, adjusting the wing’s position allows the car to receive just the right amount of downforce it needs at all times.

Also read: Can You Add a Spoiler to Any Car? What are the Costs?

What Does a Spoiler Do?

This component can be considered a broader interpretation of air diffusers. While it has the same function as a wing, “spoilers” are always directly attached to the car’s body. Because of that, they may be applied not only to the same locations previously mentioned but also to the lower portion of the front, sides, and rear.

Those characteristics make the spoiler an extension of the body, that is, a direct attachment that is not adjustable. That is valid for all its possible positions, including the same ones where wings are normally placed.

Because of all that, spoilers contribute to the car’s aerodynamics simply with their geometry: they are carefully designed to promote a smoother air flow around the region where each one is located. They are usually cheaper to purchase and simpler to install, but their contribution is also smaller than that of a wing.

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Adding spoilers, especially those of the lower body, is a simple, low-cost solution to get started in automotive tuning. They do not add significant weight, their aerodynamic contribution does not change the car’s nature, and the fact that they increase the area painted in the body color usually makes the whole car more attractive.

On the other hand, recent car models have been using such complex designs that installing aftermarket parts like that has a chance of doing more harm than good to their visual balance. Many automakers have opted for creating entirely new bumpers to sporty versions instead of adding parts to the regular ones.

Also read: 3 Reasons Why Sports Cars are Rear-Wheel Drive

Wing: Pros and Cons

  • Pro: the market offers them in a huge variety of designs and sizes. Besides, there are several famous examples used by automakers, like that of the Ford Escort Cosworth in the 1990s.
  • Pro: they build a strong visual connection with sporty and racing cars. After all, those cars meet all the criteria previously mentioned to make installing wings worthwhile.
  • Pro: adjustable parts bring huge aerodynamic gains. However, you have to pay close attention and hire professional support to check whether it is actually possible on your car.
  • Con: as mentioned, there are limited possibilities of position to place wings on cars.
  • Con: wings with excessively large sizes usually break the car’s visual balance – that Escort mentioned earlier became memorable precisely because of its exaggerated wing.
  • Con: high cost of purchase and installation, especially considering adjustable wings.

Spoiler: Pros and Cons

  • Pro: as mentioned, it is possible to apply them to several parts of the car.
  • Pro: they may contribute to the car’s visual balance by increasing the area that is painted in body color.
  • Pro: cheap purchase and simple installation – some automakers even offer genuine aftermarket kits, which can be installed at official shops without voiding the warranty.
  • Con: their simple nature implies a small contribution to the car’s aerodynamics.
  • Con: low-quality parts may not cause any effect at all, or actually make the car worse.
  • Con: declining popularity in modern cars because of the complexity of their designs.

Who are Wings for?

The fact that the automotive industry reserves them for high-performance cars, such as coupés and roadsters, says it all. Installing a wing implies deep changes to the car’s geometry, whether stopped or in motion, so they are only worth it in case you are pursuing large gains.

It is highly recommendable to seek professional advice not only to install a wing but to choose it from the beginning. You have to take into account variables such as the body shape, where and how to fix the pillars, the wing’s width compared to the car’s, how to safely install it, and how exactly it will affect the car’s aerodynamics.

Reckless selection and/or installation may cause problems such as negative visual impact, the tendency to corrosion on the points where it was attached to the body and, especially when it comes to sports cars, dynamic changes that make it less stable and even aerodynamically worse, which would mean worse performance and higher fuel consumption at the same time.

Wings are powerful components in automotive tuning, so the driver must be attentive to every detail involved so as to effectively make an improvement on their car.

Also read: 10 Best 300 HP Cars for Less Than $20k

Who are Spoilers for?

Spoilers are cheaper to purchase, less complex to install, and cause smaller effects on the car’s dynamics, so they are recommendable to pretty much anyone who just wants their car to look better or to make small aerodynamic improvements.

Since this part can only rely on its geometry to work (spoilers offer no adjustments), it is important to buy from well-known suppliers. If you choose a spoiler thinking of nothing but the price, you may end up with something that causes no effect at all or even makes your car worse than before.

Besides that, you should keep in mind that even the best spoiler will not cause a gigantic effect on your car’s performance because that is simply not its purpose. As if that was not enough, even the best effect is highly dependent on the speed because we are talking about aerodynamics; if you are essentially a city driver, appearance should be most important to you in a spoiler than performance.

There are many options of spoilers available, especially if your car has a reputation for being tuning-friendly. However, this is precisely a sign for you to pay attention to when choosing one: most options are part of a body kit and body kits are usually designed with themes. If you do not take care, you may end up with something much flashier than you wanted and/or front and rear spoilers that are simply mismatched.