How Fast Can You Go In 4 High: A Full Guide

Driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle provides you with a unique level of control and stability, especially in challenging conditions. One common feature in these vehicles is the 4H (or 4 High) setting, which engages all four wheels simultaneously, offering better traction.

However, the question many drivers grapple with is: How fast can you go when you’re in 4H? This is an essential consideration, given that speed in different 4WD settings can impact both vehicle performance and safety.

How Fast Can You Go In 4 High

When operating a vehicle in 4 High, the maximum speed can vary based on the specific vehicle and model. However, as a general rule of thumb, it is typically safe to drive at highway speeds in 4H. That said, one should be mindful that this setting is not designed for regular road conditions but rather for slippery, loose, or uneven surfaces where traction might be compromised.

In 4H mode, all four wheels are working together, which provides better traction and more control. This can be invaluable in situations like wet or icy road conditions, dirt roads, or mild off-road terrain. But keep in mind, the 4H setting is not intended for high-speed use on dry pavement. Doing so can cause damage to your vehicle’s drivetrain due to the lack of slippage allowed between the front and rear wheels.

Most manufacturers generally recommend not exceeding speeds of 55-60 mph when in 4H mode, but this can depend on the make and model of your vehicle. It’s always essential to refer to your vehicle’s user manual for specific guidelines on the maximum safe speed in 4H.

It’s also important to remember that driving at higher speeds in 4H isn’t just about the physical limitations of your vehicle. It’s also about safety. When you’re dealing with conditions that call for 4H, such as slippery or uneven surfaces, driving at high speeds can be inherently dangerous. Always make sure to adjust your speed to match the driving conditions, regardless of the capabilities of your vehicle.

A man driving his car.

Does It Hurt Your Truck To Drive In 4 High?

Driving your truck in 4 High (4H) won’t necessarily harm it, especially if you’re driving on the type of terrain 4H is intended for – that is, slippery, icy, loose, or uneven surfaces where additional traction can make a real difference. These conditions include snowy roads, dirt roads, and light off-road environments.

However, if you’re driving in 4H on regular, dry pavement, it could potentially damage your vehicle. This is due to the way 4WD systems work. In 4H mode, your vehicle’s front and rear wheels are turning at the same speed. This is not an issue on loose or slippery surfaces where the tires can slip a bit to account for the difference.

On dry pavement, however, there’s very little tire slippage, and this can cause a condition known as drivetrain binding or “axle wind up”, which can lead to premature wear or even damage to the drivetrain components. So, while driving in 4H is a powerful tool for certain conditions, it’s not ideal for everyday driving on regular, dry roads.

Can You Drive In 4 High All The Time?

Technically, you could drive in 4 High all the time, but it’s not recommended for several reasons. As mentioned above, driving in 4H on dry pavement can cause drivetrain binding, which can lead to premature wear or even damage.

Moreover, driving in 4H tends to consume more fuel compared to 2WD. The reason is the additional mechanical energy required to drive all four wheels versus two. Also, because all four wheels are engaged, it can make your vehicle harder to steer, especially at higher speeds.

What Happens If You Drive Too Fast In 4 Wheel Drive?

Driving too fast in 4-wheel drive, especially in 4H mode, can have several consequences. First, it can contribute to drivetrain binding or “axle wind up”. This occurs when your vehicle’s front and rear axles turn at the same rate. On surfaces that don’t allow for slippage, such as dry pavement, this can cause significant stress on your vehicle’s drivetrain and potentially lead to damage.

Additionally, driving too fast in 4WD can make your vehicle more challenging to handle. Because 4WD provides more traction, it can also lead to overconfidence in poor conditions, causing you to drive faster than is safe. Remember, while 4WD improves traction, it does not improve braking or cornering, and excessive speed can result in loss of control, particularly on slippery or uneven surfaces.

Lastly, it’s important to note that each vehicle has a manufacturer-recommended maximum speed for 4H mode, typically around 55-60 mph. Exceeding this speed could potentially cause damage to your vehicle and compromise safety.

What Is The Difference Between 4×4 High And 4×4 Low?

The fundamental difference between 4×4 High (4H) and 4×4 Low (4L) lies in the level of torque they provide and the speed at which the vehicle can be driven.

4×4 High (4H)

In this setting, your vehicle delivers less torque to the tires than in 4L, but you can drive at higher speeds. This setting is designed for surfaces that are slippery but where you still need to drive at a normal pace, such as on icy or snow-covered roads, loose gravel, or wet and slippery conditions.

4×4 Low (4L)

When you shift your vehicle into 4L, you’re gearing it down to provide more torque at a much lower speed. This setting is meant for situations where you need maximum traction and power but at very slow speeds. Examples of this would include driving through mud, over rocks, up or down steep hills, through deep snow, or in any situation where you need to crawl through at a slow pace due to the difficulty of the terrain.

A photo of the gear stick of a car.

To summarize, 4H and 4L serve different purposes based on the type of terrain and the speed required. You’d use 4H when you need more traction than 2WD offers but still need to drive at relatively high speeds. You’d use 4L in tougher off-road situations where a high level of power and traction is required, but speed is not.

How Can Full-Time 4x4s Drive At Any Speed?

Full-time 4×4 systems, also known as all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems, can operate at any speed because they’re designed to handle the demands of both dry pavement and difficult conditions. This is made possible due to the presence of a center differential, in addition to the front and rear differentials.

The center differential distributes power between the front and rear wheels, but unlike in part-time 4×4 systems, it allows for a difference in speed between the front and rear axles. This prevents the drivetrain binding or “axle wind up” that can occur in part-time 4x4s when driven on dry pavement. This differential can either split the power equally or vary depending on the system design and the current driving conditions.

So, full-time 4×4 vehicles can be driven at any speed, in any conditions, without the risk of damaging the drivetrain. However, they may still have 4H and 4L options for times when you need more control or power.

When Should I Drive In 4 High?

You should consider engaging 4H in situations where you need more traction than 2WD provides but still need to maintain normal driving speeds. These situations generally include driving on:

Wet or slippery roads

Heavy rains can create slick road surfaces where 4H can provide better traction.

Gravel roads

Loose gravel can cause your vehicle to lose traction, and 4H can help mitigate that.

Dirt roads

Especially if the road is uneven or loosely packed, 4H can provide stability.

Snow or light ice

4H can provide better control and traction on snow-covered or lightly iced roads. However, in deeper snow or more treacherous ice conditions, 4L may be more appropriate.

A car in the snowstorm.

Remember, you should always refer to your vehicle’s manual for the recommended use of its 4WD system. Furthermore, driving in 4H doesn’t mean you can drive recklessly in poor conditions. Always maintain a safe speed and be aware of the limitations of your vehicle and the 4H setting.

Venturing off the beaten path can be an exciting adventure, but it can also present challenges that require the right gear. Here are some recommended off-roading items to ensure your journey is safe and successful:

Recovery Straps

Sometimes getting stuck is part of the off-road experience, and having a sturdy recovery strap can mean the difference between getting out quickly or waiting for help.


A sturdy, compact shovel can be invaluable if you need to dig out mud, sand, or snow from around your tires.


This device can pull your vehicle out of difficult situations where a simple push or tow strap won’t suffice.

Hi-Lift Jack

Unlike typical car jacks, a Hi-Lift jack is designed to work in uneven off-road environments.

Tire Repair Kit

A puncture or blowout can happen at any time, so a simple tire repair kit can get you back on your way.

Air Compressor

Handy for adjusting tire pressure to better suit the terrain you’re tackling. Lower pressures can often provide better traction off-road.

First Aid Kit

Safety should always be a priority. A well-stocked first aid kit is essential for treating minor injuries.

A man with a first aid kit inside the car.

Navigation Tools

Depending on where you’re off-roading, cell service may be limited. A GPS navigation system, topographic maps, or a compass can help keep you on track.

Water and Food

Always pack enough food and water for your journey. It’s also a good idea to carry extra in case of emergencies.

Communications Device

A CB radio, satellite phone, or emergency locator beacon can be crucial if you need to call for help, especially in areas with poor cell reception.

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list. The gear you need might vary depending on the nature of your off-roading adventures, your location, the weather, and the capabilities of your vehicle. Always check local regulations and guidelines before setting out on an off-road journey.

Can I Shift From 2WD To 4H While My Vehicle Is In Motion?

Many modern 4×4 vehicles are designed with a feature known as “shift on the fly” which allows you to shift from 2WD to 4H (and vice versa) while the vehicle is in motion, typically at speeds of up to 55-60 mph. However, when shifting into 4L, the vehicle usually needs to be stationary or moving at a very slow pace, often less than 3 mph.

It’s important to note that while “shift on the fly” is a convenient feature, you should only engage 4H when the conditions call for it. Shifting into 4H unnecessarily, especially on dry pavement, can lead to drivetrain binding. As always, it’s crucial to refer to your vehicle’s owner manual for specific instructions about shifting between 2WD and 4WD.

How Should I Maintain My 4WD System To Ensure It Stays In Good Working Order?

Regular maintenance is key to keeping your 4WD system working correctly. This includes regular checks and changes of the fluids in your transfer case and differentials, as these components rely on these fluids for lubrication and cooling.

It’s also a good idea to engage your 4WD system from time to time, even if you don’t regularly drive in 4WD conditions. This can help keep the moving parts within the system lubricated and prevent them from seizing up.

Furthermore, regularly inspect your vehicle’s undercarriage for signs of damage, such as bent or broken parts, leaks, or excessive rust. If your vehicle is often used in harsh conditions, such as off-roading or in corrosive environments (like driving on salted winter roads), more frequent inspections may be necessary.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A 4WD System? Are There Situations Where A 2WD Vehicle Might Be A Better Choice?

Despite their advantages, 4WD systems also have some drawbacks. One is increased weight and complexity. The added components required for a 4WD system add weight to the vehicle, which can reduce fuel efficiency. The increased complexity also means there’s more that can potentially go wrong or require maintenance.

Another disadvantage is cost. 4WD systems are typically more expensive than 2WD systems, both in terms of initial purchase price and potential repair and maintenance costs.

As for whether a 2WD vehicle might be a better choice, it really depends on your needs and driving conditions. If you primarily drive in urban areas with good road conditions and mild weather, a 2WD vehicle may serve you just as well as a 4WD vehicle, but with better fuel efficiency and lower costs. However, if you frequently encounter difficult driving conditions, or if you need a vehicle for towing or off-road adventures, a 4WD vehicle may be worth the additional cost and complexity.

What Is The Purpose Of A Hi-Lift Jack And How Is It Different From A Standard Car Jack?

A Hi-Lift jack, also known as a farm jack or kangaroo jack, is a versatile tool designed for off-road use. These jacks are tall and have a large lifting range, which can be crucial when dealing with large off-road tires and high-ground clearances commonly found on off-road vehicles.

Unlike a standard car jack, a Hi-Lift jack can be used in a variety of ways beyond just lifting the vehicle for tire changes. For example, it can also be used as a manual winch, clamp, or spreader. Its design allows it to be used on uneven surfaces, making it an invaluable tool for off-road adventures. However, Hi-Lift jacks can be dangerous if not used correctly, so proper training and caution are essential when using them.

What Are Some Critical Points To Consider When Choosing A Reliable Navigation Tool For Off-Roading?

When off-roading, reliable navigation is crucial. Often, off-road trails are not well marked, and in remote areas, cellular service for your smartphone’s mapping apps may be unreliable or nonexistent. Here are a few points to consider:


The navigation tool should be able to work in remote areas without requiring a cell signal. A dedicated GPS unit often fits this requirement.


The tool should be durable enough to withstand the rough and tumble of off-road use.

Ease of Use

The interface should be user-friendly, allowing you to easily input destinations and follow the given route.

Map Updates

Maps should be regularly updated to provide accurate navigation.

Battery Life

If your navigation tool is electronic, ensure it has a good battery life or alternative power sources.

A mechanic checks the battery.


Understanding the functionalities of your 4×4 vehicle, especially when using 4 high and 4 low, is vital to maximizing its capabilities and ensuring your safety, whether on paved roads or off-roading trails. Remember, 4H is excellent for improved traction at nearly normal speeds on slippery or loose surfaces, but shouldn’t be used all the time to avoid unnecessary drivetrain wear.

Meanwhile, outfitting yourself with the recommended gear when off-roading can be the difference between a challenging adventure and an unfortunate experience. Always remember to have your vehicle checked and maintained regularly, and ensure you’re knowledgeable about its functions and features. Happy and safe driving!

Avatar photo
About Brock Rangel

Hi, I am Brock, and I am the lead editor/photographer for TheCarColony. I have been a mechanic for over 14 years now, and I am here to spread my car knowledge across the web!