Most people get four-wheel drive vehicles so they can go on off-road adventures. However, they can also come in handy when driving on rough roads or during snowstorms. In such conditions, you may want to switch to 4WD for better control of the slippery road. But while this is the best time to engage the 4WD system, there are some things you need to know.
So, can you switch to 4 wheel drive while driving? Older vehicles with 4WD systems require the car to be set to Neutral or Park to be able to switch to Low from High. However, it is different in newer models. They often have an automatic system that is operated with buttons.
Read on to learn the general procedures you need to know when switching to 4-wheel drive mode.
Can You Switch to 4wd While the Vehicle Is Moving?
Modern non-permanent four-wheel drives let the driver switch to 4WD while it is in motion below 60mph. Manufacturers have specific sequences that should be followed, so you need to first read the manual for the proper instructions on how to switch to 4H mode.
For sophisticated four-wheel-drive vehicles, it is safe to switch to 4H while the car is in motion.
With traditional four wheel drive systems that do not have auto-locking hubs, the process is different and could involve stopping the vehicle entirely. The driver may also need to come out from the car and engage the front hubs manually. When it is done, then the 4H can be engaged from the cabin.
While you can switch to 4H in motion conveniently, if the vehicle is not properly switched to 4WD, it can damage your drivetrain. Also, the speed you change to 4WD depends on whether you are switching to low or high. For instance, some vehicles can be changed to 4H at higher speeds while others need to be switched at a complete stop or lower speed.
Switching to 4WD varies from one vehicle model to another. For example, this is how you put a Jeep Wranger in 4WD, while the procedure to switch to 4WD in a Jeep Grand Cherokee will depend on the system.
Safe Situations to Switch From 2wd to 4wd
Manufacturers of vehicles provide certain guidelines on the best situations to engage the 4WD. These scenarios include loose sandy tracks, slippery wet roads, boggy mud trails, icy roads, and beach sand dunes.
Let us consider each condition further to understand when it is safe to engage the 4WD system.
Driving 4WD on Wet Roads
If your immediate surrounding experiences regular or heavy rain, then driving a 4WD vehicle will make a big difference. A 4WD offers a lot of advantages such as the ability to switch to 4H when the road becomes slippery and the car is losing traction due to weather conditions. Wet roads can be life-threatening as they could lead to unwanted accidents.
If you are stuck on a wet road, you can switch to 4WD, but you should only do so when the traction is low. Only engage 4WD when the surface is fully covered in water and it is possible for the tires to slip out.
Note that you could risk driveshaft binding or drivetrain windup if the vehicle still has traction and you drive a semi-permanent four-wheel drive.
Engaging 4WD on Muddy Tracks
Muddy tracks are suitable for 4WD. You can change to 4Lo from 4HI in such situations. In some cases, deep mud has high resistance and can strain the drivetrain system and clutch. Using a modern four-wheel drive, you can switch while the car is in motion. Still, you will need to halt the vehicle before switching to 4Lo from 4HI.
This setting can give you stability as you build momentum through the boggy mud. However, you should be careful as mud holes can cause serious accidents. So exercise caution while engaging the system.
Switch to 4H on Icy and Snowy Roads
You can switch to 4H on a low traction icy road. It is perfect because it locks the rear and front driveshafts to make them easier to handle. These tough surfaces may be slippery at some spots but not always, so they are easier to wade through.
Switching to 4H can make the vehicle stable on the snowy road. However, this doesn’t mean that you can now speed up since you have stability again. Speeding up can make the vehicle spin and this could lead to an accident. Simply drive within the speed limits for 4WD systems in snow.
Use 4-Wheel Drive on Beach Sand
4WD can also be engaged while driving on beach sand. The advantage of this type of vehicle is that it can stick to firm sand rather than those at the shoreline. The moist or wet sand becomes more compact and the vehicle can glide over with ease and will not dig into the sand.
However, you may need to be more careful since there may be more vehicle traffic during peak holiday periods. You also need to be on the lookout for marine animals such as turtles and avoid swimmers and beach campers. Also, do not drive near the shore. Be observant to know when the tide is too high. Note that the vehicle can be swept away by the tide.
Drive on Sand Tracks With 4WD
In sand tracks, you can switch to four-wheel drive mode. If you do not engage the system it may be difficult to wade through the sand and you’ll be stuck. When sand is loose, the traction from the four-wheel drive will make it move easier and it is completely safe.
While you are on the sand, it is necessary to use the momentum to push the vehicle through the soft and deep sand. Also, scan the other surfaces in front for changes in sizes and shapes of a sand dune. It is also important to make sure the tire pressures are properly deflated while driving on soft sand with 4WD mode. It should be the first thing you do before even engaging four-wheel drive.
Once the 4WD is engaged, stick to the speed that’s allowed. Read this to learn how fast you can go while in 4WD.
When Not to Engage Four Wheel Drive Mode
It has been established that you cannot engage your 4WD on high traction areas such as tarmac, cement, and concrete. This is not recommended because if you engage the four-wheel-drive mode on high-traction surfaces, your drivetrain will bind. You need to be cautious to avoid this from happening. Check the driving surfaces to know when it is safe to engage the system.
Another thing to avoid is locking the decanter differential. When you lock the center differential in a permanent four-wheel-drive vehicle on high traction surfaces, the effect will be similar to engaging 4H on non-permanent 4WD.
Where the surface is safe and not slippery, you could damage your gearbox components and drivetrain. It is ideal to check the instruction manual from the vehicle manufacturer. This way, you could be certain of the best way to engage the 4WD system.
While driving, you should not switch to 4Lo from 4Hi. This is not advised and you may find it written in the owner’s manual. Switching to 4Lo from 4Hi while you are in motion is not ideal because the “Lo” stands for low ratios in the vehicle’s gearbox. This means a short ratio for low speed and it is not built to be turned on while driving at over 10mph.
It is possible to switch while driving over the speed limit and the result will likely be a violent reaction from the vehicle. This could not only damage the drivetrain components, but it can cause serious injury for the driver and passengers.