4Lo vs 4Hi – When And Where To Use Them?

4Lo vs 4Hi – When And Where To Use Them?

If you drive an AWD truck or an SUV, then you’ve likely seen multiple gears that you can select. Some of the main gears are for improving traction i.e 4Lo vs 4Hi. Every gear that you see serves a purpose.

Gears work by altering the truck’s differential to send the power from the engine to where it is required. The common gears that you will see in a 4WD are:

2Hi – this is the gear that is the most commonly used and refers to the 2-wheel drive mode. If you drive an automatic 4WD or if you have an AWD that comes with an automatic 4WD option, then this means that you will be able to change from 2WD or 4WD automatically and without the need to manually shift gears.

4Lo – this gear allows you to send the torque from the engines to all the wheels of a vehicle. This is a great choice when you are towing heavy loads or when you are driving slowly uphill.

4Hi – shifting to 4Hi gear allows you to lock both the front as well as the rear differentials. This results in a high level of traction. One thing to keep in mind however is that the 4Hi does not offer the same level of torque as you will get with the 4Lo. It is therefore ideal when going over slippery roads or when you are trying to take yourself out of a situation.

In this post, we will take a closer look at the 4Lo vs 4 Hi gears and find out the best situations to use each. For easier navigation throughout this post, feel free to use our table of contents below.

4 High Vs 4 Low

Often driving on uneven terrain requires you to choose between 4Lo vs 4Hi. If you are driving your car on relatively flat ground where you will also drive relatively fast, but you need traction, the gear that you would look to engage is 4 high. Think of driving over a dirt road or snowy road.

On the other hand, if you are driving on an uneven surface and where you require a high amount of torque, then the gear you would look to use is the 4 low. Think of driving in deep sand.

While most 4×4 vehicles come with a 4 low gear, nowadays you are more likely to see this option on vehicles that are designed with off-roading in mind such as large trucks and SUVs. For instance, you can find the 4Low gear in a Toyota 4Runner but you will not find it in a Toyota Highlander.

4Lo vs 4Hi – How To Decide

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation. Assume you are planning to drive off-road and perhaps take your car to the beach. Of course, it’s important to ensure that you let out some air from your tires. This helps with traction on slippery and sandy surfaces.

If your vehicle comes with automatic gear, then you will likely see a button that shows an X with four tires. This could also be displayed on your dashboard. This displays the rear differential lock.

While the 4High will lock both the front and the rear differentials, the rear differential will connect the side-to-side of the rear end.

This simply means that in case one of the wheels on one side loses traction, the other will keep spinning.  This ensures that the vehicle keeps moving forward. This can come in handy and prove very useful, especially whenever you are driving straight.

4Lo vs 4Hi – The Locking Differentials

4 High Vs 4 Low

One thing to keep in mind is that it is not a good idea to lock the differentials when cornering. This is because the role of the car’s differential is to enable it to turn smoothly all while ensuring that the outside tire is spinning at a faster rate than the inside tire.

If you were to lock the differentials, the vehicle isn’t going to want to turn. Whenever it turns you are more likely to make it skid or it judders.

Some vehicles though feature a front differential lock. That said, you want to ensure you have set the traction control if you plan to go off-road. Ultimately this will translate to you turning it off. You will locate the traction control button which is shown by squiggly lines.

4Lo vs 4Hi – Stability Control

Then there is the stability control button. Stability control tries to stop the wheels from spinning. This can be a good thing when driving over rocky terrain. Sometimes the stability control will mimic the function of the locking differentials.

However, you may get stuck with stability control whenever you are on slippery ground such as mud or sand. This is even while having decided between 4Lo vs 4Hi and engaged the 4-wheel drive. The reason for this is that sometimes having the wheels spin to gain momentum is actually a good thing.

When you are driving on sand, the stability control will find the wheel that is spinning and cut power from this wheel. In this case, this will include all the wheels. As a result, the car will come to a stop.

To deactivate stability control, you will need to press down on the button for a few seconds. This will work by first disengaging the traction control and then as you continue to press down on the button, the stability control will deactivate.

Note that where the stability control button is located will oftentimes depend on the vehicle model. Sometimes this function can only be accessed via the menu on the infotainment system.

4H Or 4L For Snow

Another situation where you need to decide between 4Lo vs 4Hi is when driving on snow. If you live in colder climates and you often find yourself having to drive over snow, you may be wondering which gear is ideal. Let’s take a closer look to find out which one of either of these gears to use when driving on snow.

Firstly, having a vehicle that is built for tough conditions is ideal if you live in snowy regions. The Jeep for instance features military-grade materials. This tells you that you dealing with a capable car. That said, there are many other models that will still handle the snow.

So which 4 wheel drive option do you use when driving on snow?

As a rule of thumb, you want to use the 4Lo gear when driving on snow. This is especially if you are driving when the snow is deep. That said, if you are driving on light snow, which makes the driving more slippery then the 4h option is ideal.

Simply put, you will find that you need to use both options when driving on snow. It also comes down to the level of snow and how slippery the road is. Let’s find out more on this topic, shall we?

4Lo vs 4Hi – When To Use 4H

If you find yourself driving at normal speeds of about 50 mph over snow, then it’s not hard to figure out which gear you should select for traction between 4Lo vs 4Hi. In this case, you want to engage the 4h option. This provides your vehicle with better traction when driving at relatively higher speeds and when on snow.

4h will provide you with some peace of mind on snowy roads where a 2-wheel drive would struggle to get traction.

This however is not to say that you shouldn’t be careful. The 4h gives you the best traction whenever you are driving straight ahead or directly backward. If you are turning, then you lose the advantage and the 4h is less useful.

Therefore whenever you are turning your vehicle, it is essential that you are extremely careful. Also if you come into a corner then the 4h will not help much.

That said if you are driving at speeds of less than 50mph then you may be able to shift in and out of 4h.

4Lo vs 4Hi  – When To Use 4L

If you are dealing with high levels of snow, then this is the time you will need to employ the 4Lo option. During normal conditions, this gear comes in handy. During rock crawling or when driving uphill, or on uneven terrain, the 4Lo option works great.

You are able to handle deep snow with ease after engaging the 4Lo. If you are driving at high speeds, you will not be able to engage the 4Lo, unlike the 4Hi. To be able to engage the 4Lo, you will need to drive slowly to an almost complete stop.

What To Consider When Using 4h And 4L In The Snow

Even if you have some of the best driving conditions in the snow, it is still going to prove challenging.

Therefore it is important to start by ensuring that you have taken precautionary measures. Let’s learn more about some of these precautionary measures.

1. Avoid Over Speeding

When driving a 4WD vehicle over the snow, choosing the right gear between 4Lo vs 4Hi and gaining traction could give you a false sense of security. This could in turn cause you to step on the gas pedal and increase driving speed.

Keep in mind that even while you may have the benefit of having a 4WD vehicle, not all the other drivers on the road will do so. So ensure that you are mindful of both your safety and theirs.

In case the other drivers cause a situation that requires quick reaction, you may not be able to avoid this situation if you are driving at high speeds.

Remember that 4WD is most effective whenever you are driving directly backward or directly ahead. Swerving due to an emergency situation will cause you to lose the benefits of 4WD.

2. Slow Down When Making Turns

If you have engaged the 4WD system, then it is paramount that you take caution when taking turns. We’ve said again and again how important it is to be careful during those turns. You will not enjoy traction from the 4WD system if your car is moving sideways.

3. Change Gears At Proper Speeds

If you are going to shift gears from 4Hi to 4Low, then it is highly important that you do so at the right speeds. The car needs to come to almost a complete stop when you are engaging the 4Lo gear. If however, you want to engage the 4Hi, then you can do this when the car is moving at relatively high speeds provided the speeds are under 50mph.

Difference Between 2WD And 4WD

Whenever you are looking to buy a new car, there are of course a few things to keep in mind and to watch out for.

 One of the more important choices is whether you need a 4WD or a 2WD. Here we will look at the main differences between the two to help you make a good choice.

1. The Drivetrain

The drivetrain is a system that is responsible for taking the power from the engines and distributing it to the wheels. The type of drivetrain that you choose will significantly affect your vehicle handling on different road surfaces such as snowy, wet, muddy rocky, or even sandy.

Electronic stability control is one feature that came with cars that were produced in 2012 going forward. Together with traction control, stability control helps provide traction when driving on the road whichever the drivetrain.

That said, no amount of traction control or stability control will outperform a good old 4-wheel drive system and the between 4Lo vs 4Hi gear system.

The majority of passenger cars come with 2WD as standard. This system allows the evening to only send power to two wheels while the remaining wheels are left to spin. Since power is only sent to two wheels as opposed to four in a 4 wheel drive system, then the car is usually more fuel efficient and lighter.

2. Two-Wheel Drive Cars

Difference Between 2WD And 4WD

You can get a two-wheel drive vehicle in either a rear-wheel drive setting or a front-wheel drive configuration. This means that either the front wheels get the engine’s power or the rear wheels.

If you live in an area where the weather is often mild, then a two-wheel drive vehicle can be a great choice. They can also be a sufficient choice if you live in areas where you experience snow on a few occasions.

Pros Of Two Wheel Drive Vehicles

  • They are more affordable than the four-wheel-drive cars
  • They need less energy to drive which makes them more fuel efficient
  • They are lighter which makes them agile

Cons Of Two-Wheel Drive Cars

  • You get less power with two-wheel drive cars
  • They are unsuitable for certain terrains

The majority of the two-wheel drive vehicles will feature a front-wheel configuration. It is the smaller number of SUVs that come in a rear-wheel drive configuration. That said many SUVs are front-wheel drive but will also feature some more components that can help engage the rear wheels if you require more traction.

The reason for this is that it is much more costs effective to build front-wheel drive vehicles. Since the engine is also placed on top of the front wheels, you get more traction from a front-wheel drive vehicle than a wheel drive vehicle.

Furthermore, you will not get the driveline hump as you will often see with rear-wheel drive vehicles. This results in plenty of cargo and passenger rooms.

Rear Wheel Drive

You will often find this type of configuration on high-performance cars as well as large pickup trucks and SUVs. Often this configuration will not feature the 4Lo vs 4Hi system you find on trucks and SUVs.

One of the benefits of a rear-wheel drive system is that the car can take larger and more robust components. In the case of a truck, you can get better traction when towing.

With performance cars, the rear-wheel drive configurations help to balance the car’s weight from the front to the back resulting in better traction and handling.

The suspension can also be optimized thanks to the rear-wheel drive configuration. That said, you will often find that luxury cars come with an all-wheel drive option since the rear-wheel drive configuration in most cases will have less traction.

The strange thing is that the majority of car drivers are unable to tell the difference between the rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive configurations. The FWD is often designed with safety in mind while the RWD is designed with performance in mind.


You will often find vehicles with a four-wheel drive system that are designed for off-road driving. They are also common in large pick-up trucks. That said, more SUVs, as well as crossovers, are featuring the AWD system.

A 4WD system is where all four wheels receive power from the engine. This is often through selecting between 4Lo vs 4Hi. This results in more traction and more control. This will come on its own whenever you are driving your car off-road.

The four-wheel drive systems can function full-time, part-time, or in an automatic system.

In the latter case, the car has sensors that detect road conditions and decide on the ideal time to change from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive.

Cars can either have an automatic four-wheel drive system or a part-time four-wheel drive system.  When the driver engages the 4WD manually, the vehicle is often more fuel efficient as in the majority of instances the car uses less energy in two-wheel drive mode.

Where Things Get Dodgy

There are some people who will confuse four-wheel drive with all-wheel drive. there are however notable differences between the two systems.

The four-wheel drive systems will feature multiple gears which include the between 4Lo vs 4Hi to help handle different terrains and provide traction. Four-wheel drives will also feature locking differentials to help maximize traction.

Granted, four-wheel drive vehicles will handle rough terrain much better than any other type of drivetrain. That said, all-wheel drive vehicles perform better on slippery roads such as ice, mud, or sand.

With an all-wheel drive system, all the wheels of the car spin at the same time. This results in more traction. If a car has two of the wheels stuck in slippery snow or mud, the other two wheels can pull out the car.

All-wheel drive cars feature a computer that distributes power to the wheels and determines which wheels require more power. All four wheels spin full-time.

While it will come down to the type of all-wheel drive, one major benefit is improved acceleration. Since all the wheels are providing traction. Furthermore, when the system detects slippage of the wheels, it can take some of the power from these wheels and distribute it to the other wheels.

Subaru models for instance have 20 percent of their power sent to the rear wheels while 80 percent is sent to the front wheels

Pros And Cons Of 4wd

Just as we saw with the 2WD cars, there are some benefits as well as drawbacks to driving 4WD cars.


  • They are great for off-road driving
  • Many 4WD allow drivers to change to 2WD when driving on road.


  • They are heavier
  • More expensive
  • Less fuel efficient

In some cases, you will find more benefits from good tires than the type of drivetrain. For instance, you may benefit from snow tires if you live in winter ciliates.

FAQs On 4Lo vs 4Hi

What Does 4×4 Mean On A Truck

A 4×4, also known as 4WD, four-wheel drive, or 4 by 4 refers to a drivetrain system where the car’s engine sends power to all 4 wheels. Four-wheel drive is one of the four main drive trains that you can get with a car. Others include all-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, and front-wheel drive.

What Is 2WD

A 2WD otherwise known as a two-wheel drive is a drivetrain where the car’s engine sends power to two wheels. This could be the front wheels or the rear wheels.

How Fast Can You Go In 4 Wheel Drive

If you often use the 4-wheel drive system and often drive off-road, it is important to understand when you can energy the 4Hi. This information is critical to ensuring that your car remains in top form and that you do not incur unnecessary repair costs. As far as the 4Hi gear goes, you should never try to engage it above 50mph. You should also not try and engage either 4 low gear beyond 1 mph.

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