A 4WD vehicle offers outstanding off-road capabilities thanks to how its powertrain delivers power to the wheels. It can provide better traction and control when tackling challenging terrain or unusual weather conditions. 4WD vehicles perform better on slippery surfaces like snow than their 2WD counterparts.
However, some people still don’t know how to use their 4WD systems when driving properly. For instance, some don’t know how to distinguish between 4H and 4L. They also don’t know the specific snowy conditions in which each setting should be used. Knowing the difference between the two modes ensures that you can safely drive through snowy terrain.
Here’s a quick rundown of what each setting does, just to give you an idea. The 4H setting offers better performance on a highway with moderate snow on the one hand. The 4L mode is better when crawling through deep snow.
Still, the choice between the two is best based on the actual situation. Let’s take a closer look at how each of these settings works.
When to Use the 4L Drive Setting
Let’s start with the 4L setting. 4L stands for 4WD low range. The 4L setting engages the four-wheel drive system, meaning power is sent to all four wheels. 4L locks the car in low gear ratios. It also adjusts wheel rotation based on the engine revs. You can rev the engine to higher RPMs, but your wheels will spin at a lower rate, resulting in more torque and power.
This allows you to crawl through surfaces more capably, like when driving on challenging surfaces like steep hills and declines, deep snow and mud, loose sand, and rocks. Because the mode locks the engine in low gear ratios, your speed will be limited, no matter how hard to step on the gas.
It’s best to engage 4L when driving slowly through deep snow. You should keep your speed within 10 MPH, considering that you use this mode for tricky surfaces.
When to Use the 4H Drive Setting
Next, let’s take a look at the 4H setting. 4H stands for 4WD high range. The setting engages the four-wheel drive system. Unlike 4L, the 4H setting allows you to access higher gear ratios. This makes it possible to maintain average highway speed without putting too much stress on the drivetrain.
Typically, activating the 4H mode synchronizes the front and rear wheels, making them rotate at a uniform speed. The vehicle uses the same gear ratios as it would on the standard drive mode. However, you should be careful not to exceed 55 MPH to ensure optimum vehicle control when driving on ice.
4H mode is ideal for normal speeds for surfaces like firm sand, gravel, and wet tarmac or asphalt. You can switch 4H when cruising in slippery or snow conditions.
What Other 4WD Settings Are There?
4WD vehicles can be switched to two-wheel drive (using the 2H setting), meaning power will be sent only to two wheels. Depending on the configuration of your truck or SUV, it can either be the two front or two rear wheels. It allows for normal driving speeds. If your vehicle allows you to choose among these modes, use 2H for everyday driving. It is more fuel efficient and lessens the potential wear on the two front or rear tires.
Many modern 4WD vehicles would also have an Auto or 4 Auto setting. This mode can vary how it distributes the power to all four wheels depending on how the vehicle “senses” the road conditions. If you are just starting, you can choose and stay in this setting when driving off-road.
What settings you have available on your vehicle will depend on the make, model, and configuration. Some vehicles come as all-wheel drive (AWD) vs. conventional 4WD. While, like conventional 4WD it can send power to all four wheels, how much power can vary depending on the system the vehicle has.
What is the Best 4WD Drive Setting for Snow?
Engaging your vehicle’s 4WD system allows you to get better traction and control when driving in snowy conditions. However, remember that 4H gives you traction and torque while letting you drive at higher speeds. On the other hand, 4L provides higher traction and torque, but you can only move at slow speeds.
So, which 4-wheel drive setting is best when snow driving? It depends on the conditions. If it’s just light snow and you’re driving on paved roads, you can just use Auto or 4H. If the snow is deeper and you start experiencing more difficulty moving forward, engage 4L mode to crawl through the ice.
Remember that your 4WD system doesn’t necessarily make you a better and safer driver. It simply reconfigures your vehicle to behave differently. You’re still the one who should be in control. So, assess your situation accordingly and drive carefully and safely.
Tips When Driving On Snow
Here are some helpful tips when driving your 4WD vehicle on snow.
Avoid Over Speeding
A four-wheel drive vehicle with its 4WD system engaged provides improved traction when driving on snow-covered roads. You might get too confident and start speeding. Be careful not to go over speed limits. Remember that snow increases your braking distance, and you may not have enough reaction time to avoid a dangerous situation.
Understand Snow Dynamics
Understanding snow dynamics is essential when navigating rugged terrain. Hard snow under tree cover behaves differently from soft powdery snow under the sun. You can engage 4H to glide over hard snow. Select 4L to drive through soft snow.
Switch at the Right Speed
It’s crucial to ensure you’re switching between 4H and 4L at the correct speed. Changing your vehicle into 4L requires you to slow down to about 1MPH. You can usually switch to 4H when the car moves under 40MPH. If you have all-wheel drive or Auto, you can just stay on it and drive carefully.
Use Winter Tires
Your 4WD system is just one component that should help you when driving on snow. Your vehicle’s other components, like your tires, suspension, and brakes, also help you gain additional traction and gain better handling and control.
Using 4WD to Navigate Snowy Terrain
Four-wheel drive vehicles give you a clear advantage when driving in snow, but you need to understand how the different modes work. Whether driving in 4H vs. 4L, a 4WD doesn’t make you invincible. Therefore, understand how your 4WD system works, avoid speeding, and always be on the defensive when driving in inclement weather.