Getting it in Gear: Decoding that Four-Wheel Drive Shifter

You know that the four-wheel drive in your truck helps you navigate slippery, snowy and messy road conditions. It also helps you navigate off-road environments. Understanding its core function doesn’t solve the mystery of that four-wheel drive shifter, though. With 4H, 4L and 2H or 2WD on the shifter, how are you supposed to know which one to use when? Here’s a quick look at your four-wheel drive options and when to use them.


Four-Wheel High (4H)

The high gear setting in your four-wheel drive is ideal for more mild terrain and minimal obstacle presence. You’ll want to choose four-high when you expect to be able to travel at speeds beyond 35 miles per hour. Hitting a snowy highway for the commute home? That’s a four-high kind of trip.

If you get started in 2-wheel drive and you feel like your tires are slipping despite the fact that traffic’s moving steady, that’s the time to consider engaging four-high. The improved lateral stability of four-wheel high will make your truck less likely slip or slide sideways on the road.

Whether you’re staring down a trip home in the snow or a side road of loose gravel and mud, four-wheel high will help you improve your traction without slowing you down too much. Just remember that it’s a full-time four-wheel drive setting when you engage four-high, so you’ll have to shift it back to two-wheel drive when you don’t need it anymore.


Four-Wheel Low (4L)

Like four-wheel high, engaging four-wheel low locks the axles into four-wheel drive. The difference between the two primarily lies in the speed. Unlike four-wheel high, you can’t travel at highway speeds in four-wheel low. Instead, this is reserved for roadways and areas where you won’t exceed approximately thirty miles per hour.

It’s important to note that four-wheel low’s slower speeds are essential, because the key to this gear is the torque that it produces. Since it creates more torque, or power, in the tires, that can be problematic for you if the traction is slim. Avoid using four-wheel low anywhere that it’s super-slick, like on wet snow, mud or ice.


Auto Responding Four-Wheel Drive

Some of the newer four-wheel drive vehicles are equipped with an automatic four-wheel drive mode that eliminates the guesswork from engaging your axles. This setting typically uses a sensor system connected to an actuator on the axle. When the sensor detects slipping in the tires, it will engage the actuator and put the vehicle into four-wheel drive without any intervention from you. This can be helpful if you’re driving through a winter storm that’s patchy or somewhere that road conditions are as unpredictable as the weather.


Tips for Safe Four-Wheel Drive Engagement

If you’re new to using four-wheel drive, you may not know that some vehicles are equipped to shift on the go while others are not. Make sure that you know whether your truck can shift while the tires are still turning, because you can damage the axle and transfer case if you shift on the fly in a truck that needs to be at a complete stop.

It is equally important that you remember never to shift into four-wheel drive, low or high, on roads that are smooth and dry. Engaging the four-wheel drive when it isn’t needed can bind the gears in the transfer case and cause costly damage to the drive train, suspension and transfer case.

In addition to understanding how to use that four-wheel drive shifter, it’s in your best interest to know how to be safe behind the wheel. Defensive driving classes and traffic school courses will give you the fundamentals you need to be safe on the road and may help you get that ticket dismissed. Check it out today.

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