Can I Turn Off 4×4 While Driving?


Any car owner can confirm that you can’t just answer all mechanical questions concerning the car by looking at the user’s manual. 

One question that seems to come up pretty often is how to use the 4×4 drive and when. 

With my experience in automotive, I enjoy researching various vehicle systems, and here is everything that I gathered about the 4×4 drive. 

The four-wheel-drive system comes in different configurations and has varying requirements for engaging, disengaging, and operating the system.

Most drivers choose to switch to four-wheel drive in case of unforeseeable conditions while on the road without considering whether it’s safe. 

This guide outlines when it’s applicable to use the 4×4 drive, when not, the risks involved and how to engage it safely. 

Continue reading to learn more. 

Can I Turn Off 4×4 While Driving?

For cars with the modern 4×4 drive system, you can safely switch from four-wheel to two-wheel drive if the speed is below 60mph. But, older 4WD systems will require you to park the car or put it to neutral to disengage four-wheel drive. 

What Does 4×4 Mean in Vehicles?

A 4×4 also referred to as the 4WD, is a vehicle system that powers all four wheels evenly. 

The best way to understand the 4×4 is by comparing other drivetrain options available. 

Generally, there are four drive systems in cars and trucks, and each of them has unique advantages and drawbacks. 

The two-wheel system uses either the front or rear wheels to keep the car moving. 

For the front-wheel-drive system, the front part of the car is more powerful and pulls the rear part. 

This makes the cars lighter, more fuel-efficient, and keeps it in a straight line, so it’s less likely to spin out of the road.

On the other hand, for the rear-wheel-drive, the transmission provides more power to the rear wheels. 

These cars are better in acceleration compared to those with the front-wheel system. 

This is because they press their weight forward rather than pulling it. 

For some vehicles, traction is very important, especially when driving in extreme weather conditions. 

The four-wheel-drive system offers more power for off-road capabilities. 

If you have ever come across the all-wheel-drive system, it’s similar to the 4WD but made for speed and handling rather than off-roading. 

What Kind of 4×4 Drive System Do I Have?

Your car has either the full, part-time, on-the-fly, manual, or fully automatic 4WD system. 

You need to confirm this from the user manual. The fully automatic systems will even detect once the wheels begin to slip and activate the 4WD automatically. 

But for the older brands, you might need to stop the car completely, get off and manually engage the front hubs. 

After this, you can then engage the 4WD from inside the cabin. 

If you have such a model, attempting to switch to the 4WD while the car is still moving can cause extensive damage to vital components. 

How Can I Use the 4WD Correctly?

Any vehicle with the 4WD system has various modes, and you need to use them correctly. They include:

4H (High)

Engaging the 4×4 drive system and setting it to 4H offers high speed and less traction. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t use the 4WD at extremely high speeds. 

Note that manufacturers recommend keeping the speed below 55 miles per hour. 

The best time to engage this mode is on wet surfaces when you are on the highway, and the roads seem relatively snowy or icy. 

This setting also works well in loose gravel roads or those packed with mud. 

4L (Low)

On the other hand, the 4WD low is ideal while driving through rough roads like in extremely muddy conditions. 

You can also turn to this option when splashing through water or heavy sand. 

The car will move slower with the low settings. This mode also gives your car more power and torque. 

The low setting also provides more engine braking power, which gives you better control of the car while driving downhill. 

Note that you should never use the low range at high speed on any surface since it can cause severe damage to your car. 

Auto (Automatic)

With the automatic setting, your car can swiftly change from 2WD to 4WD when need be. 

Once the vehicle detects conditions like a steep slope, the system automatically engages 4WD to deliver power that matches the driving conditions. 

How Do You Disengage the 4WD Mode?

Some vehicles will automatically disengage the four-wheel-drive when you drive the car above certain speed limits. 

In others, you can do this by pressing the push button. 

Higher models like the new Jeep Wranglers have a 4A option on the 4×4 dial selector. 

It enables you to drive the car in either 4H or 2H without any risks, irrespective of the driving surface. 

If you need to disengage the 4WD system in an older car, slow your car to about one to three mph, then shift the transmission to neutral. 

You can now turn the transfer control case to a two-wheel, then put the car back in gear. 

When Can You Use the 4×4 Drive?

If you want the 4×4 to serve you best and for long enough, you should only use it while driving in a certain type of condition. 

In normal circumstances, always use your car in the 2WD system. 

But keep in mind that the 4WD system will deteriorate if you fail to use it for a long time. 

The seals begin to dry out, and the gears may get sticky, so it’s good that you engage it after every few months. You can always use the 4WD system whenever you need more power to tow extra loads at a lower speed. 

This is also an ideal option when descending hills or going down steep inclines. 

You can also use it in the following situations.

When Driving in Slippery Wet Roads

If you live in an area that receives heavy rain or a very wet winter season, you will need to use the 4WD system more often. 

Wet roads present various hazards to drivers, and you can easily get into an accident. 

Usually, there are some water pools on the roads when it rains, and the vehicle can aquaplane. 

While using the 2WD, you can easily lose control of the vehicle, especially in a sharp corner. 

The good thing about 4WD is that it powers all four wheels, which improves the car’s stability and traction. 

When Stuck in Mud

Another perfect time to engage the 4WD is when driving in muddy tracks. 

The high resistance when driving in such a condition will strain your car’s clutch or drivetrain system. 

Using the 4WD system at a high setting gives your car more stability and momentum as you drive through the mud. 

While Driving in Sand

Loose sand requires high traction, so this is an excellent environment to engage your 4WD to increase the momentum to propel through the smooth deep, soft surface. 

When driving across sandy beaches, you need to pay more attention after engaging the 4WD. 

This is because there are likely more vehicles around the beach, especially during the holiday seasons, and marine animals. 

Still, the 4WD will allow you to easily grind over the wet moist sand on the shoreline without digging too much. 

When Should You Not Use 4WD?

You shouldn’t use the 4WD all the time. 

Note that improper use of the 4WD will damage the differential gears and the front axles. 

You should thus always refer to the user’s manual on how to best use this system.

You should never engage the 4WD while driving on surfaces like dry pavements, cement, tarmac, or concrete. 

This will result in drivetrain binding, and fuel wastage. 

So, once you get to such surfaces, shift the car to the 2WD system. 

Also, do not engage 4×4 drive on semi slippery roads like partly snowed or a wet tar road. 

Avoid using this system on winding roads or any driving surface where the grip is good, and the wheels can’t slip off. 

When you engage the 4WD in such situations, the drivetrain components might fail, and the system will begin to lock up. 

In such a situation, the car might understeer, and the gears get jammed since the front wheels are battling the unnecessary rotational force provided to try and slow down, which causes a strain on the steering. 

If you continue to use the 4WD system in such a condition, switching your car from 4WD to 2WD will get more difficult. 

Turning Off 4WD While Driving

The four-wheel-drive system gives your car more traction and power, enabling it to move swiftly even in dangerous driving conditions. 

You can navigate around rocky, snowy, and wet surfaces with ease. 

It also offers a better grip when off-roading. But, 4WD can be a bit dangerous when used wrongly. 

So only use it in the right situation and when necessary to save on gas. 

Keep in mind that the 4WD works best when well-maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Kern Campbell

I've had a passion for four-wheel-drive vehicles since I was a kid riding in the back seat of my Grandfather's Jeep Grand Wagoneer. I have owned a lot of vehicles over the years. They each have their pros and cons and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you so you can find the vehicle that's just right for your needs.

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