How To Disengage 4×4 On A Ford F-150 (Explained!)

The Ford F150 remains the best-selling full-size pickup truck in North America. It is and has been a rugged and consistent truck ever since it was first introduced. By the 3rd generation, America’s favorite truck was blessed with 4 wheel drive as a factory option. This increased traction and enhanced handling on slick and slippery surfaces. But operating the 4WD system on the Ford F150 is not a walk in the park. A lot of owners struggle to shift back from the 4X4 back to RWD.

If you’ve been blessed with snow, sand, or rocky terrain, you know 4WD on your Ford F-150 can be a godsend. We will show you how the user’s manual tells you to shift 4WD, and then go over some of the common issues that can be encountered.

First off, we need to understand how a 4×4 system operates to start diagnosing issues when things go south. By the end of this article, you will be able to get your disengage 4×4 on your truck without needing help from professionals or any high-tech equipment.

How to disengage 4×4 on an F-150?

Most times,  while switching between RWD and 4×4, you shouldn’t have to look any further than the toggle switch put on by Ford. When you want to switch from 4×4 Hi drive simply bring the vehicle to a stop, hold the brake, put it neutral (if it’s a manual transmission, press the clutch), and Now move the 4WD control (from 4H or 4 L) to the 2H. It’s just that easy. Well, it should be anyway.

Sadly, we do not live in an ideal world and like many F-150 owners, you may struggle to disengage the 4 wheel drive. Learning to overcome the trouble troubles associated with disengaging the 4×4 system on your truck can be quite easy. All you need to understand is how a 4×4 system works and where to look if issues come up.

How does the Vacuum system work?

The front 4×4 system on an F-150, in a nutshell, is vacuum-activated. The vacuum that allows your front hubs to engage the 4×4 through a part called, strangely enough, a vacuum actuator. When the truck is in 2WD or RWD as it’s more commonly referred to, vacuum from the engine causes the actuator to pull a gear that disengages the 4×4 system. When you want to switch back to 4×4, it stops the vacuum off and disengages the entire system.

In case of malfunction, the first thing you should look out for is a possible vacuum leak. You need to carry out a vacuum system diagnosis to ensure that your vacuum pressure and the hoses do not have any leaks and cracks. You don’t need a vacuum gauge for it, simply follow the following steps:

  • Locate the solenoid situated on the passenger side of the truck next to the battery
  • Remove the vacuum hoses from the solenoid
  • There are 2 vacuum hoses held together with a black plastic housing. One should have a permanent vacuum when the engine is running. The second hose should only have vacuum pressure once 4WD is engaged
  • Remove the hose from the check-valve connection and stick it in the second hose that feeds pressure to the IWE’s. This will provide a continuous vacuum when the engine is on.
  • Now activate the vacuum pressure jack up the front wheels. If the vacuum increases with your RPM, you are leak-free. If not, there is a leak somewhere.

However, small cracks alone don’t make the system malfunction. The low vacuum causes the metal hub to grind with the spline and creates a noisy driving experience. Cracks and leaks are problematic even when the system is partially working. You can simply fill the cracks with the help of some fixing agents or DIY vacuum delete kits.

A more permanent solution will be to replace the tubing itself, which can be fairly cheap. It takes approximately 7 feet of  ¼” copper tubing, a 3/16” silicone vacuum hose, and some poly tubing to build a new vacuum line. The total cost of all this is around $30. Using the copper tubing as the vacuum line and poly tubing as a protective sleeve over the copper is the optimal cheap fix. If the damage is severe enough, you’ll have to get the vacuum hub replaced, but in most cases, you should be able to fix without trobule.

How is the Actuator responsible?

Now that we’ve determined it’s not the vacuum’s fault, we can solve the problem with a 3-step, quick fix.

  • Disconnect the battery
  • Remove the motor from the transfer case and manually switch it back to 2WD
  • Reinstall the transfer case motor

However, this method is not feasible every time and there could be a bigger underlying problem in the form of the actuator motor itself. To have a closer look at the motor, loosen the four bolts and pull out the actuator. Now have someone switch 4L, 4H, and 2H. If the motor doesn’t engage, the actuator is shot and will need replacement. Take a pair of Channellock pliers, and rotate it clockwise to the point where it wouldn’t go further. That’s the 2W drive position.

If you can’t buy a new actuator immediately, you can keep manually get it out of 4×4 by following the process explained above. Of course, make sure that the transmission is neutral every time. you might want to avoid the laborious process of taking out the actuator every time you want to shift. If you want to take the easy route, just take it off permanently until you buy a new one. Some will even fit a small container like an old coffee can to keep any dust, debris, or mud from making its way in there.

Can You Cancell The System Entirely?

If you hardly use your 4×4 and want to reduce some of that unsprung, rotational mass, you can do it with the help of some clever re-engineering. This involves replacing the driveshafts and getting rid of the front axle and transfer case. Some will simply take out the front driveshaft and that’s that.

First, try taking the front driveshaft from between the transfer case and the front axle. If that doesn’t work, remove the rear driveshaft, the transmission, and the transfer case. Replace your transmission with a regular RWD “long shaft” version. The reason why someone goes through all the trouble of installing a 2WD transmission instead of trying to repair the old one is mind-boggling. Nevertheless, some have done in the past.

Depending on the year and trim lever your F-150 came with, you may have to give the ECU an update. That’s right, up to this point everything has been mechanical, grunt work. Now, it’s time to get computers involved. If you are unfamiliar with ECU’s, maybe this step is better left to the pro’s.

How to disengage 4x4 on a Ford F-150


Despite the F-150 being a 21st-century, hi-tech truck, resolving 4×4 problems can be simple in certain cases. The system is rather basic and with some common knowledge, you should be able to fix most of the problems, keyword being most.

Unfortunately, for the sake of convenience, America’s favorite truck is becoming more and more electronic. This has been known to cause once simple, 4X4 issues to become more complicated. But, with articles like these, you can still fix your truck!

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