Four-Wheel Drive: What to Use and When

Various modes of drive allow drivers to adjust to situations they may face while driving. 4 High (4H) is good for when you need extra traction like wet, slick, or icy conditions at normal speeds. 4 Low (4L) is good for when serious traction, like deep sand, mud, or snow and should only be used under 40 MPH. Automatic All Wheel Drive (AWD) is good for situations in which roads are variable, such as occasional patches of snow and ice. AWD allows the car to shift into 4 wheel drive when one of the tires starts to slip.

Key Takeaways:

  • The low-range four-wheel-drive setting is for the serious stuff – deep sand, snow, mud, crossing water, climbing rocks and ascending/descending hills. When you use four-low, keep your speeds low, too (under 40 mph or so), as you’re not actually gripping the road any better but you’re applying more torque to that grip.
  • Designed for maximum traction and maximum power, the wheels will turn more slowly in 4L than 4H, says Popular Mechanics.
  • This is a modern convenience that allows you to effectively “set it and forget it.” In this setting, the vehicle monitors tire traction while in two-wheel drive and automatically shifts into four-wheel drive when one of them begins to slip.

“In high-range four-wheel drive, you can travel at all normal speeds. Engage this setting when you’re on the highway and roads are sketchy – wet, snowy, icy. It’s also good for level, loose-gravel roads, packed sand or mud. Simply put, 4H is used for driving at normal speeds when you need extra traction, according to Popular Mechanics.”