Do All 4 Wheels Spin In 4 High?


Owners of all-wheel drive (AWD), 4×4, or four-wheel drive (4wd) equipped vehicles might not be aware of whether all four wheels will spin in 4 high or not. 

The truth is that they do not, although all of them will spin in low. 

Some trucks have rear limited-slip differentials that will help the truck move, particularly if put into reverse. 

Is your vehicle one that is equipped with a rear limited-slip differential? If so, you might want to take a moment to learn about when all four wheels spin.

Do All 4 Wheels Spin In 4 High?

All four wheels will not spin in 4 high, only in 4 low. A vehicle equipped with a rear limited-slip differential will work when one wheel spins, then the other kicks in to assist. This can help when the vehicle is put into reverse.

So, how exactly do wheels function in 4 high? And how exactly is that different from 4 low? What role does that rear limited-slip differential play in the spinning of the wheels? 

Read on to learn more about this issue you might never have thought much about before now.

What Is The Difference Between 4WD, 4×4, and AWD?

You’ve likely seen these emblems emblazoned across various vehicles, perhaps including your own: 4WD, 4×4, and AWD. But what do they mean? How do they work, and how are they different from one another?

4WD (four wheel drive) vehicles will run in either FWD or RWD mode. 

The transmission torque gets sent out to just one of the vehicle’s axles. 

If you’re off-roading or hit a slippery surface, the transfer case is engaged by a lever or, on newer vehicles, via buttons or knobs that essentially perform the same function. 

This drives the other axle.

On these vehicles, the transfer case is connected to the transmission, which divides the torque between the front and rear differentials. 

There are a few different types of differentials out there: limited slip, locking, or open – it just depends on which model you are driving. 

The torque delivery is split evenly among the front and rear axles, which means that they will both drive at the same speed.

A 4×4 vehicle is often touted as an off-roader. Just check the tags on the side. 

Yes, this is a 4WD vehicle, but the 4×4 tag signifies that this particular model was built for off-roading purposes. 

You can wager a good bet that a 4×4 puts as much power out as a 4WD.

Now, we have AWD. 

This system is different because it automatically provides power to all four wheels at the same time. It does have rear and front differentials as well as a transfer case. 

However, its transfer case will come with a center differential. 

This center differential makes it possible for there to be different speeds and torque distribution. 

The differential allows for different wheel speeds in the front and rear axles. 

When turning, you get different front and rear speeds, which is the vital role the center differential plays in an AWD system.

Certain vehicles add to their always-on 4WD system by equipping options for locking up the center, front, or rear differentials. 

This can be automatic or manual, based on whether the vehicle detects wheel slip or the driver gives the input themselves.

Not every “AWD” vehicle is made this way though. 

Some automakers do things a bit differently.

Take, for example, the Acura SH-AWD system or the Lexus RX400h or RX450h models. 

On the Lexus’ hybrid system, you actually have a primarily front-wheel drive (FWD) system. 

But, with the electric motor powering the rear axle, you can get AWD performance when the vehicle needs it. 

The front and rear differentials have no mechanical connection between them, unlike on other models. 

And, with the Acura SH-AWD, the electric motors force torque to go to a specific wheel or axle. 

With a sporting system equipped, the power might get sent to the wheel on the outside of the turn to enhance its driving performance.

System Performance

4WD and AWD systems do provide better traction when needed. 

They do not, however, make any surface surmountable. 

Some inclines will be too steep or jagged for them to handle. 

And, of course, slowing down on a slippery or snowy surface is important regardless of whether you have FWD, RWD, 4WD, or AWD.

Spinning in 4 High

How do things work with 4wd low vs high? All four wheels do not spin in 4 high. 

When you have 4×4 equipped, all four wheels do move and should be locked where the limited slip differential does not impact them at all. 

This is why you should avoid using 4×4 when turning on the pavement; the wheels are all at different speeds, and each one gets 25 percent of the available power. 

With the exception of having positraction differentials, you are just running one rear and one front when 4×4 is on and only one rear when it is off. Think of how you make a right-hand turn. 

The left wheel in the rear handles the movements while the right one is freewheeling. 

Knowing how to use your 4Wd system correctly is important. 

4WD low is what you use when you are just doing some slow off-roading or are in a place (such as in deep sand) where torque multiplication will help the vehicle move better. 

Low range isn’t so common anymore, but vehicles like the Toyota 4Runner still have it.

4WD is what locks your front and rear axles together. 

If one side loses traction, the other side will keep on spinning so that the vehicle can be propelled forward. This isn’t something you want to use while cornering, but it is helpful when driving on a straight path. 

If you use it on a turn, you’ll lock the axles together, and the vehicle simply won’t want to turn. It will get shaky and skid a lot if you can get it into a turn that way.

Stability control is what keeps your tires from spinning while you are off-roading. It will mimic the benefits of locking differentials. 

You can find it on newer vehicles like the Kia Telluride. 

Stability control can still get an AWD or 4WD vehicle stuck in snow, sand, or mud though. Sometimes, you need the momentum and spin from the wheels. 

You can turn the system off by holding its button down for a few seconds until it shuts off. 

Closing Thoughts

Understanding how 4wd low vs high works is important for times when you want to go off-roading. All four wheels will not spin in 4 High. 

And low-range torque only comes aplenty on certain off-road-oriented vehicles. Four wheel drive and all-wheel drive are complex systems that take some time to get used to. 

If something doesn’t seem like it is going right when you go to make a turn, consider whether something like stability control is getting in your way.

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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