A 4WD vehicle demonstrates exceptional performance under extreme loads and harsh conditions, such as when you are riding on muddy terrains or hauling a boat. It is powerful but can be quite confusing and overwhelming to drive for newbies. One thing to understand is 4 high vs 4 low.
When driving a 4WD, you can choose from 4×4 High or 4×4 Low. The right choice depends on the driving conditions.
Read on as we talk about their major differences, so you can easily decide what setting is right for a specific situation.
Main Differences Between 4 High vs 4 Low
The main differences between 4 High and 4 Low are:
- 4 High is for steady and slippery environments, whereas 4 Low is for off-roading
- 4 High is for snow, ice, and rocks, whereas 4 Low is for deep sand and steep inclines
- 4 High is for driving less than 55 mph, whereas 4 Low should not go over 25 mph
What Is 4 High?
Also known as 4WD High, 4×4 High, 4 Hi, or 4H, 4 High is the default setting in most vehicles. The vehicle needs to be engaged to activate this function. After pushing the button, turning a knob, or flicking a switch, the front axle engages. In turn, this is what sends torque to power the car.
By activating 4 High, you are locking front and rear differentials. In this situation, all four wheels are moving the vehicle while using a high ratio. As a result, you can expect better traction from your tires. It engages the transfer case and reduces speed, making it possible to optimize grip.
What Is 4 Low?
Also called 4WD Low, 4×4 Low, 4 Lo, or 4L, this is for driving situations wherein you need low-speed traction. It also uses all four wheels but with a low gear ratio. It engages the low-range mode in the transfer box while the four wheels propel forward.
By using shorter gear ratios, 4 Low Mode keeps the rev high while maintaining it within the power band or range of your vehicle. A lot of people assume that it increases torque, but it doesn’t. Instead, it uses the existing torque more efficiently, demonstrating a significant improvement in performance.
With the lower gearing of 4 Low, you are also improving the braking capabilities of your vehicle. It maximizes engine braking. As a result, it is easier to be in full control of your progress, especially when you are riding downhill.
4 High vs 4 Low: When to Use
Being aware of the right place and time to use 4 High and 4 Low can spell the difference between performance and disaster. They are not for all conditions, and more importantly, they are not interchangeable.
The best situation to use 4 High is when you are in unsteady and slippery conditions wherein you will need maximum traction, especially when running at high speed. You can use it when there is snow or ice. It is also a great choice for rocky and muddy roads.
On the other hand, 4 Low is best in slow off-roading and instances when you need torque multiplication. It helps you get out of a bind. It is useful whenever you are stuck or when you need to go through a steep incline. It is the default option when you are in deep sand, such as in the desert.
4 High vs 4 Low: When to Not Use
More so, it is also good to be aware of the specific instances wherein you should not be using the two settings. Otherwise, you will end up with an underpowered performance, unable to get through a specific situation.
Do not use 4 High when you are driving fast, specifically above 55 mph. Otherwise, you will end up risking damage to the transfer case, which can be complicated and costly to repair. Not to mention, it will compromise the performance of your vehicle over time.
Meanwhile, you should not use 4 Low on dry and smooth roads. Otherwise, the car suspension will bump and thump when you are turning in corners. This is an indication of the binding of axles, which can result in premature wear. It is also not for high-speed driving.
Another instance when you should not be using 4 Low is when you are stuck in snow and mud. Otherwise, the extra torque will result in the spinning of tires, making it unsafe.
How Fast to Go
Speed is another essential consideration when you are deciding what to choose between 4 High and 4 Low. Going more than the recommended speed limit can have serious consequences, especially if it is habitual.
Do not go more than what the surface conditions permit. It is commonly used on ice and snow, so watch out for your speed. As a rule of thumb, do not go beyond 55 mph to stay safe while also avoiding damage to the suspension.
Meanwhile, 4 Low is strictly for a slow pace. The wheels are turning slowly when you are in this setting. It is rare to use this, except when you are on terrain or you want to escape an incline. In most cases, you should not go over 25 mph.
When to Disengage
Proper timing is an important skill that you need to learn when driving a 4×4, especially when it comes to disengaging. Do it too early or too late and the performance can suffer, making it difficult for you to get out of the situation.
Disengaging 4 High depends on the system that your vehicle has. For instance, if it is a full-time 4WD, you can engage high range as long as you like. Meanwhile, if it is only a part-time system, then you will need to disengage when you are no longer on slick and smooth surfaces.
On the other hand, with a 4 Low, you should disengage only when you are already at low speed. If the vehicle has automatic transmission, you should shift to neutral. If it has a manual transmission, depress the clutch pedal as you disengage. Regardless, you should never disengage when you are at a complete stop.
What About 4WD Auto?
Most modern SUVs, trucks, and pickups will have an automatic setting. It eliminates the guesswork on your end, optimizing the performance of the vehicle regardless of the condition.
The Auto setting relies on traction-control systems and sensors. It automatically switches from 2WD to 4WD once the wheels determine that it needs to change its set-up. This is a great feature to have, and you’ll appreciate it more when it is raining or when you are driving on gravel roads. All in all, it is a good daily setting.
Nonetheless, take note that the 4WD Auto setting is only to switch from 2WD. This is not a setting that will let you automatically switch from 4 High to 4 Low or the other way around. That is one thing that you will still need to do manually.
Things to Remember About Using 4WD
Knowing the differences between 4 High and 4 Low isn’t enough to maximize your vehicle’s performance. Here are other things that you can do to unleash your vehicle’s full power while also staying safe on the road.
Know Your Car
The more familiar you are with your vehicle, the easier it is to drive safely. You should know its limitations and capabilities. This is one thing that you can learn by knowing the vehicle’s features and by gaining more years of experience driving it.
Plan Your Route
More than knowing your car, you should also know your route. Instead of hitting the trail without prior knowledge about its conditions, do your research. This way, you can better prepare not just your car but also yourself. Your onboard navigation system can help.
4WDs are designed for difficult conditions, such as challenging terrains and steep climbs. It is not for highway driving or paved surfaces. Driving a 4WD should not be a race. Pace your run and scan the environment. Look for obstacles and carefully plan how you will approach them.
Set the Right Tire Pressure
Before you go, see to it that the tires have the right pressure depending on the driving conditions. If you will be on sand or gravel, you need more traction. Hence, you should reduce the tire pressure. In most cases, the tire pressure should be anywhere from 18 to 20 psi. Look at the side of the tires to know the pressure that the manufacturer recommends.
Tread Water With Caution
In many advertisements of 4x4s, you have probably seen them hitting the water as if it is nothing. Truth is, it is more difficult than it seems.
Before you hit the water, know its depth, making sure that it can be handled by your vehicle. If it is too deep or if you aren’t sure, it is best to back out rather than be stuck.
Especially if you are new to 4WDs, it is easy to panic. For instance, getting stuck in mud may instantly alarm you. This won’t help you get out of the situation. Relax and think about your next move once you are in a difficult situation.
Drive Within Your Ability
Know yourself before you drive a 4WD. Be honest and realistic about the assessment of your driving knowledge and skills. From soft sand to sticky mud, 4WD conditions are so much different from city driving. Take the time to learn the right techniques before you venture into more difficult paths.
Is driving a 4WD safe on the highway?
Yes, driving 4WD on the highway is safe, but there are certain conditions. One of the most important is that you must be going slowly while not being a disruption to other vehicles. This can be quite challenging since some highways impose a minimum speed limit. To make highway driving safer under 4WD, engage to 4 High.
What are the other 4WD modes?
Depending on the specific brand and model of the truck or SUV that you are using, there are several 4WD modes. Aside from F high, 4 Low, and 4 Auto, you will also find 2 Hi. Also known as a two-wheel drive, 2 Hi is the most versatile setting. Some might also have a rear differential lock and hill descent control.
Can you switch from 4 High to 4 Low when driving?
Yes, you can switch from 4 High to 4 Low when you are driving. However, you need to slow down before you change the setting. While you lower your speed, you should not depress the gas pedal. Meanwhile, the transmission must remain neutral.
In older 4WDs, automatic locking hubs might not be present. If that is the case, then you will need to completely stop before switching. Manual engagement of the front hubs is a must, which also requires going out of your vehicle.
Riding a 4WD is exciting. Whether you are conquering muddy tracks or sandy dunes, it offers an optimal riding and driving experience with the right setup. For the best performance, you need to know the differences between 4 High vs 4 Low, which will let you pick the right one depending on a specific setting.
4 High is best when you are on slippery and unsteady terrains, including surfaces with ice, snow, mud, and rocks. It will maximize traction. Watch out for your speed as you should not go above 55mph.
On the other hand, 4 Low is when you need to get out of a bind or when you must tackle a steep incline. You should not go over 25 mph. It is also the best choice if you are on a slow off-road ride or on sandy surfaces.