When To Use 4 Hi And 4 Low?

Vehicles and transportation systems are a crucial part of our lives, and understanding how they function can be fascinating. One aspect that intrigues many is the difference between ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’ as commonly used in the automotive world, particularly in relation to 4-wheel drive systems.

In essence, these two modes allow drivers to optimize their vehicle’s performance under varying conditions, be it off-roading, pulling heavy loads, or driving on slippery surfaces. To fully grasp this concept, let’s dive deeper and break down what ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’ truly mean.

What Do 4 High And 4 Low Mean?

In the world of four-wheel-drive vehicles, ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’ refer to different settings that can be manually selected by the driver to adapt to various driving conditions. Both settings engage all four wheels of the vehicle, but they differ in how they utilize engine power and torque.

‘4 High’, also known as ‘4H’, is typically used for high-speed driving on slippery surfaces. When in this setting, your vehicle distributes power evenly to all four wheels, providing increased traction while maintaining normal speed. For instance, this is useful when driving on wet or icy pavement, loose gravel, or light snow.

On the other hand, ‘4 Low’, or ‘4L’, is the setting you’d use for low-speed, high-power situations. This mode provides a significantly lower gear ratio, which means the engine spins faster for each revolution of the wheel. It results in a substantial increase in torque at the wheels but decreases the top speed the vehicle can reach. This mode is best suited for off-roading, steep inclines, towing heavy loads, or maneuvering through deep snow or mud.

It’s important to note that regularly driving in ‘4 Low’ on normal roads can cause unnecessary wear and tear on your vehicle due to the high strain on the drivetrain components. Always ensure to use these modes appropriately to keep your vehicle in good shape while enjoying the benefits they offer.

A black car on a steep mountain road.

Can You Drive In 4 Hi On The Highway?

Yes, it is possible to drive in ‘4 High’ on the highway, especially when the road conditions are poor due to rain, snow, or ice. The 4H setting is designed to be used at higher speeds and will provide increased traction that can help maintain stability and control of the vehicle.

However, it’s crucial to remember that driving in 4H unnecessarily, such as on dry, smooth highways, can result in increased fuel consumption and more rapid wear on your tires and drivetrain. Furthermore, the 4-wheel drive does not improve braking or cornering and can even make the vehicle more difficult to handle in some circumstances due to the increased traction. Always use it judiciously and switch back to 2-wheel drive (2H) when conditions permit.

How Fast Can You Drive In 4 Low?

The ‘4 Low’ setting provides increased torque but significantly reduces the vehicle’s maximum speed. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep your speed below 10 to 20 miles per hour when in 4L to avoid damaging your vehicle’s drivetrain.

Remember, the purpose of 4L is to provide extra power for overcoming obstacles or pulling heavy loads at low speeds. Using it for high-speed driving can strain the vehicle’s mechanics and cause significant wear and tear.

4 Low Or 4 Hi In Sand?

Driving in sand can be tricky, and the correct setting will depend on the type of sand and how deeply your vehicle sinks into it.

For firm, packed sand or when traveling at higher speeds (say, on a sandy beach where the sand is wet and compact), ‘4 High’ should be adequate. It provides increased traction and allows you to maintain momentum, which is essential for not getting stuck.

However, for soft, deep, or loose sand – the kind you might encounter in a desert or dunes – ‘4 Low’ is generally recommended. The lower gear ratio provides higher torque, allowing the wheels to turn more slowly but powerfully, preventing them from spinning and digging into the sand. Always remember to reduce tire pressure when driving in sand to increase the tire’s footprint and improve traction.

Which Is Stronger 4H Or 4L?

In terms of raw power, ‘4 Low’ is stronger. The lower gear ratio in 4L means that the engine spins faster for each revolution of the wheels, providing much more torque at the wheel. This added torque is what gives 4L the power to navigate tough off-road conditions, climb steep grades, or tow heavy loads.

On the other hand, ‘4 High’ allows for higher speeds and is stronger in the sense that it provides better traction than regular 2-wheel drive, making it ideal for loose, slippery conditions at normal road speeds.

Remember, “strength” in this context is about the intended use of the setting – 4L is stronger for slow, tough situations, and 4H is stronger for higher-speed, less stable conditions. Neither setting is “better” in an absolute sense; they’re tools to be used appropriately depending on the driving conditions.

An off-road car in the forest.

How Does The Vehicle’s Drivetrain React When I Switch Between ‘4 High’ And ‘4 Low’?

When you switch between ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’, your vehicle’s transfer case—a part of the drivetrain—shifts gears. In ‘4 High’, the transfer case allows the front and rear driveshafts to spin at the same speed, which provides better traction at high speeds.

Switching to ‘4 Low’ changes the gear ratio so that the engine turns faster for each revolution of the wheels. This increases torque significantly, providing more power at lower speeds, but it also reduces the maximum speed your vehicle can reach.

Can ‘4 High’ And ‘4 Low’ Be Used In A Two-Wheel-Drive Vehicle?

‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’ are specific to vehicles equipped with a four-wheel-drive (4WD) system. A two-wheel-drive (2WD) vehicle lacks the necessary drivetrain components, such as a transfer case, to distribute power to all four wheels.

Therefore, these modes can’t be utilized in 2WD vehicles. However, some 2WD vehicles may have other settings or options, such as electronic stability control or traction control systems, to improve performance in challenging driving conditions.

What’s The Impact Of These Modes On The Vehicle’s Fuel Consumption?

Generally, driving in ‘4 High’ or ‘4 Low’ consumes more fuel than operating in two-wheel drive. The increased traction and power provided by these modes require more energy, which means your vehicle will burn more fuel. ‘4 Low’, in particular, uses a significant amount of fuel due to the high engine revolutions needed to generate increased torque. For this reason, it’s best to use these settings judiciously and only when necessary.

Are There Specific Maintenance Considerations For Vehicles Regularly Driven In ‘4 High’ Or ‘4 Low’?

Vehicles regularly driven in ‘4 High’ or ‘4 Low’ may need more frequent maintenance to keep the drivetrain in good condition. This might include regular checks and possible replacement of components like the transfer case fluid, differential oil, and universal joints.

Moreover, the tires might wear out more quickly due to the increased traction, so regular tire rotation and alignment checks are advisable. Lastly, to ensure safe and efficient operation, always ensure that all four tires are of the same size, type, and tread depth.

Does Shifting Into ‘4 High’ Or ‘4 Low’ While Driving At High Speeds Damage The Vehicle?

Engaging ‘4 High’ or ‘4 Low’ at inappropriate speeds can potentially harm the vehicle’s drivetrain. For example, shifting into ‘4 High’ is often possible at moderate speeds (depending on the vehicle), but attempting to shift into ‘4 Low’ while moving quickly can cause severe damage to the gears in the transfer case.

This is why it’s typically recommended to be at a complete stop or a slow crawl, often with the transmission in neutral, when shifting into ‘4 Low’. As always, consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Are There Any Driving Techniques That I Should Follow When Using ‘4 High’ Or ‘4 Low’?

Yes, there are driving techniques that can optimize the use of these settings. In ‘4 High’, maintain a steady speed to keep momentum, especially in slippery conditions like snow or mud, as abrupt changes can lead to skidding or getting stuck. When in ‘4 Low’, keep your movements smooth and controlled.

Avoid revving the engine unnecessarily to prevent putting excessive strain on the drivetrain. Furthermore, in both modes, avoid tight turns on dry pavement as it can cause drivetrain binding due to all wheels turning at the same speed.

Is The Shift From Two-Wheel Drive To ‘4 High’ Or ‘4 Low’ Noticeable When Driving?

Generally, you may notice a slight change in the vehicle’s handling and noise level when you shift into ‘4 High’ or ‘4 Low’. You might feel the vehicle become more stable and responsive due to the increased traction in ‘4 High’. On the other hand, shifting into ‘4 Low’ can make the vehicle feel much more powerful but slower, and you may hear increased engine noise due to the higher revs.

What Happens If I Leave My Vehicle In ‘4 Low’ While Driving On Regular Roads?

If you leave your vehicle in ‘4 Low’ while driving on normal roads at high speeds, it can lead to severe damage to your vehicle’s drivetrain components. ‘4 Low’ is designed for high power at low speeds, so using it at high speeds can over-rev your engine and put extreme stress on your vehicle’s transmission and differentials.

How Does Tire Pressure Impact The Use Of ‘4 High’ And ‘4 Low’?

Tire pressure can significantly impact vehicle performance in ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’. Higher tire pressure can decrease traction, making it more difficult for the vehicle to grip the road or terrain, especially in ‘4 High’ on slippery surfaces.

Conversely, lower tire pressure increases the tire’s surface area in contact with the ground, improving traction. This can be particularly beneficial in ‘4 Low’ when driving on soft surfaces like sand or mud. However, always remember to reinflate tires to their recommended pressure when returning to normal driving conditions.

A mechanic checks the tire pressure of the car.


Understanding the functions of ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’ in a 4-wheel-drive system is essential for anyone who frequently traverses difficult terrains or drives under adverse weather conditions. These modes are not just about power but are more about the effective distribution of power to suit various driving conditions.

Using ‘4 High’ and ‘4 Low’ correctly can enhance vehicle performance, ensure driver safety, and prolong the lifespan of your vehicle. As always, the vehicle’s manual remains a crucial reference for specific instructions. Happy driving!

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About Matthew Webb

Hi, I am Matthew! I am a dedicated car nerd! During the day, I am a journalist, at night I enjoy working on my 2 project cars. I have been a car nerd all my life, and am excited to share my knowledge with you!