How To Put A Jeep In 4 Wheel Drive: The Basics Of 4WD

by Conner Mckay

Whether you need more traction in the snow or want to show off to your off-roader partner, you need 4-wheel drive. Your Jeep Wrangler comes with a 4-wheel drive high auto setting in addition to the regular 4-wheel drive setting, allowing you to switch modes. You want more power on those wheels, but you should first learn how to put a Jeep in 4 wheel drive.

For Jeeps with part-time 4-wheel drive systems, keep a low speed of around 7 to 30mph. Put the vehicle on Neutral and turn the 4-wheel drive selector from 2H to 4H, or 4L, depending on how fast you want to go.

On the 4-wheel drive, you can send more of the power from your engine to all four wheels. But as any Jeep owner will tell you, the four-wheel drive system can be tricky. You need to be at the right speed before engaging the 4WD. This article covers full- and part-time 4-wheel drive, terrain modes, and how you can operate your Jeep in 4WD.

Terrain Settings On A Jeep

Jeep Compass, Renegade, and Grand Cherokee come with Selec-Terrain traction management systems that allow you chose a different driving mode to suit the road driving conditions. These are auto, sport, snow, sand/mud, and rock. You can’t get the full functionality of this setting if you don’t know how and when to engage them.

How To Put A Jeep In 4 Wheel Drive

1. Auto

Auto mode is what most drivers use. It’s perfect for day-to-day driving on paved and dry roads. On Auto mode, the engine distributes torque between all four wheels of the vehicle and tunes the suspension. When in “Auto” mode, the 4×4 system operates only when necessary, improving fuel economy and lowering emissions.

2. Rock

Rock mode offers evenly distributed torque and hill descent control, but it’s only available on Trailhawk trims of the Renegade and Compass. You can crawl over rocky terrains with better control at lower speeds. Rock mode provides the highest traction but can only be used on 4-wheel drive low range.

3. Snow

This drive mode is designed for slippery conditions like snow. It evenly distributes torque to all wheels and sets your Jeep’s suspension for a balanced grip whether in snow, slush or sleet. In this mode, your vehicle launches from second gear. This applies less torque and, as a result, a lower risk of your wheels spinning out when you speed.

4. Sand Or Mud

Sand mode prevents wheel slippage in muddy or soft terrains. It allows more wheel spin and elevates the shift points. It’s suitable for driving through mud and wet grass, so you don’t get stuck or lose control.

5. Sport Mode

In sport mode, you’ll get a taste of its most athletic driving capabilities. It offers sporty handling coupled with smooth performance. Sport mode keeps the transmission in gear longer and provides better throttle response. The engine will rev higher and harder when you accelerate.

There’s also some exhaust sound enhancement that happens when you select this mode, which makes for a more fun driving experience overall. In other words, it makes your Jeep behave sort of like a high-riding performance car.

How To Put A Jeep In 4 Wheel Drive

4WD Lock Vs 4WD Low

Unlike the Jeep Wrangler with its part-time 4-wheel drive systems, Renegade and Compass Jeep models have full 4-wheel drive systems that send torque to the rear wheels when sensors indicate a loss of traction in the front wheel (where most power goes to).

4WD Lock

The 4-wheel drive lock is a feature on full-time 4-wheel drive systems that allows front and rear wheels to rotate at the same speed. All wheels get the same torque generating extra traction. It’s called lock because the front and rear axles are locked together once engaged. It’s ideal for off-roading conditions like inclines and rocky and snowy terrains.

To engage the 4WD Lock, push the 4WD lock button by the steering wheel or turn the 4WD selector to 4WD Lock. The indicator light will come up on the instrument panel. Alternatively, select one of the terrain settings (sand, rock, snow, and mud). If you increase the speed beyond 25mph, it switches to 4WD Auto.

4WD Low

4WD Low is a low gear ratio on Jeeps used where traction is needed, like when driving in deep sand or rocky terrain. On 4WD L, the engine runs on low RPMs while generating enough power to keep the vehicle moving. Since 4WD Low uses shorter gear ratios, the revs will be high and within the vehicle’s power band/range at all times.

Some people erroneously think that 4WD Low increases the vehicle’s torque; however, it only makes the existing torque more quickly and easily usable by maintaining the car in its highest torque band at higher revs. You can learn more about this in our guide on the P0730 code.

Part-Time And Full-Time 4 Wheel Drive On A Jeep

Jeep owners often get confused about their car’s drive system, and it’s no surprise because there are many of them; front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive. 4-wheel drive is available part-time and full-time and is standard in Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Folks with full-time 4-wheel drive systems Jeeps spend more on fuel because more torque means more fuel. If your Jeep has a part-time 4-wheel drive system, only engage when you need it or be ready to spend more money at the local gas station. This section will explain the similarities and differences between the systems.

Full Time 4 Wheel Drive System

A full-time 4-wheel drive system can move securely and safely on any surface and is set up to drive in the four-wheel drive by default. It’s similar to an all-wheel drive system. Vehicles with a full-time 4-wheel drive system automatically switch between 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive based on needs like traction, whether you’re accelerating or braking, etc.

An example of a full-time 4-wheel drive vehicle is the Jeep Renegade and Jeep Compass. This allows you to enjoy your trip without switching drive modes as driving conditions change. The full-time 4-wheel drive can transport you across the driest roads and most demanding terrain without your effort except steering the wheel.

Part-Time 4 Wheel Drive System

The difference between full-time and part-time 4-wheel drive is that in part-time 4-wheel drive cars like Jeep Wrangler, you decide when to engage 4-wheel drive, but in full-time, sensors do the job. Part-time 4-wheel drive systems operate by locking the front and rear axles via a shift lever. They’re designed for mild off-roading, while full-time systems are meant for heavy-duty.

A part-time 4-wheel drive system allows drivers to choose the appropriate drivetrain mode for the driving circumstances. This provides you additional control and flexibility behind the wheel. You can adjust the center differential to establish a mechanical lock between the front and back wheels, initiating a 4-wheel drive.

According to Consumer Reports, using 4WD on flat, smooth, and dry roads might harm your car’s drivetrain. Hence, it is critical to always shift out of 4WD once back on dry pavement to avoid binding that can occur when the center differential is locked in high-traction driving. Binding can cause overheating or early component failure.

How To Put A Jeep In 4 Wheel Drive

Four Wheel Drive Gear Ranges

Jeeps come with three gear ranges; 2H, 4H and 4L. Each denotes a certain allowable speed for different terrains. Knowing when to use them keeps your car’s drivetrain safe.


It’s ideal for driving on paved roads since your car won’t require extra traction. This setting provides the least traction because when one of the rear wheels leaves the ground, an open differential follows the path of least resistance. If a wheel is lifted off the ground, that wheel will get all of the engine’s available torque.


It’s suitable for tougher roads where you need maximum traction. 4H is for higher speeds and less traction than 4L. Once in 4H, power is distributed equally to the front and rear axles and all 4 wheels. When a wheel loses traction, all the torque on that axle will be sent to that sliding wheel since power often follows the path of least resistance.

To engage 4H:

  • Maintain speeds of 7 to 30mph while driving.
  • Put the car on Neutral.
  • Press down the brake pedal.
  • Turn the 4WD selector from 2H to 4H.
  • Apply the gas pedal.
  • Return the gear to Drive and continue driving.


When you engage 4L, your car will drive in the low range. You’d like it for rocky, muddy, or snowy terrains where you need maximum traction and a sharp incline.

To switch from 4H to 4L:

  • Reduce your speed to 2-3 mph.
  • Put your Jeep in Neutral and turn the 4WD selector to 4L.
  • Put your Jeep back into Drive.


  • Don’t go from 2H to 4L or the other way around. First, switch from 2H to 4H, shift into neutral, then transition to 4L.
  • Don’t drive faster than 55 mph when using 4H.
  • Don’t go faster than 25 mph when in 4L.

How To Put A Jeep Wrangler In 4 Wheel Drive

The Jeep Wrangler was made to be driven off-road. If you plan on taking your new Jeep off-road (being wary of how much does a Jeep cost and how much is a Jeep), you must know how to put it in 4-wheel drive mode. You should engage the four-wheel drive when you park, so you don’t damage components.

However, to put your Jeep into 4-wheel drive high, you need to drive around 7–30mph and not more.


  • Stop the vehicle.
  • Move the gear shift to Neutral and keep your foot on the brake pedal.
  • Turn the 4WD selector from 2H to 4H.
  • Change the gear selector to Drive and continue driving.

If the terrain is rocky, you need to move your car slowly, so what you should go for is the 4L.

To switch to 4L:

  • Park the car.
  • Move the gear shift to Neutral while depressing the brake pedal.
  • Then let go of the brake pedal and allow the Jeep to roll at 2 or 3mph (without applying the gas pedal).
  • Move the 4WD selector from 4H to 4L fast.
  • Return your gear selector to Drive and continue driving.
  • Do not go faster than 10 mph.

Note: Putting your Jeep in neutral preserves the transmission and drivetrain. It’s also essential to control your vehicle when putting it into 4WD because having too much power going to one axle can cause an accident. You do not want to accidentally lock up one of your tires while trying to maneuver through the mud. 

Also, this applies to Wranglers with automatic transmission.

How To Put A Jeep Gladiator In 4 Wheel Drive

Jeep Gladiators are now equipped with full-time and part-time 4-wheel drive systems just like a Jeep Wrangler, so the procedure is similar. The notable difference between these vehicles is the body design. While the Jeep Gladiator is a convertible truck with an SUV body and the open bed of a pickup truck, the Jeep Wrangler is a compact off-roader.

Depending on the terrain, you can go for 4H or 4L. The high range is for speed and traction, while the low range is for maximum traction at reduced speed.

To put the Jeep Gladiator in 4-wheel drive;

  • Reduce your speed to between 7 to 30 mph or park the vehicle.
  • Put the car on Neutral while depressing the brake pedal.
  • Move the 4WD selector from 2H to 4H or push the 4H button.
  • Return the gear to Drive.

To switch to low range:

  • Stop the vehicle.
  • With your foot on the brake pedal, move the gear shift to Neutral or push the N button.
  • Move the 4WD selector from 4H to 4L quickly and return your gear selector to Drive.

4-Wheel Drive Vs All Wheel Drive

Full-time 4-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are similar in that they both provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. The key difference is that all-wheel-drive cars lack the 4WD Low setting. AWD cars are significantly less capable off-road than full-time 4WD vehicles as a result, but they perform just as well on the road.

4 Wheel Drive vehicles have a mechanical center differential that simultaneously allows for power distribution to both front and rear wheels. You can also lock the center differential, which will send 100% of your engine’s power to the front or rear axle, depending on the required traction. All-wheel drive vehicles use center, front, and rear differentials to achieve the same function.

Notably, the part-time 4-wheel drive does not use a center differential. Instead, the system locks the front and rear driveshafts, making it better suited for usage alone while traveling off-road or in difficult driving conditions.

Both 4-wheel and all-wheel drive systems are beneficial for different reasons. If you’re looking for better traction on snow, ice, or mud, the 4-wheel drive is probably your best option. If you want better handling on dry pavement, you should get an all-wheel drive Jeep.

Towing With 4 Wheel Drive Jeeps

When it comes to off-roading, the Jeep is one of the most popular options. It’s got a legendary history and is known for its versatility and ruggedness. So, it’s no surprise that many people want to tow trailers with their Jeeps. There are a few factors to consider; towing capacity and payload capacity. You should never tow beyond the Jeep’s payload and tow capacity.

For instance, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler has a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. You can use it to tow pop-up trailers, hybrid trailers, airstreams, and small RVs. The 2022 Jeep Gladiator has a 7650-pound towing capacity. You can safely pull a Cruiser Embrace EL260 or something similar with the Gladiator.

The Jeep’s payload capacity is the entire weight of the driver, passengers, gasoline, winch, skid plates, and any items you place inside or on top of your Jeep. The 2021 Jeep Wrangler has a maximum payload between 1064 lbs and 5800 lbs, depending on the trim level. You can check the driver’s side door to know your Jeep’s payload capacity.

Pros And Cons Of 4 Wheel Drive

Although 4-wheel drive systems serve the purpose they were made for, they have their flaws. You’ll weigh the options, and if it’s worth it, you can go ahead and engage the 4-wheel drive any time you need to.


  • The 4-wheel drive offers stability while driving because torque is evenly distributed to all wheels. It also reduces the stress on each tire, ensuring the corners’ stability.
  • It’s more durable in bad weather conditions like snow, rain, or ice because it generates maximum traction to prevent wheel slippage. The front and rear wheels assist each other since 4-wheel drive distributes power to all four wheels.
  • Even though 4-wheel drive vehicles are equipped with high-output motors, the tires do not rotate when the car starts up or accelerates since the tire grip is almost double that of 2-wheel drive vehicles. This significantly enhances initiation and acceleration.


  • 4-wheel drive vehicles cost more than all-wheel drive.
  • The drivetrain is sophisticated. Hence, maintenance costs are high.
  • They consume more fuel due to their weight.
  • Weight increases balance and grip but also stretches the braking distance required to stop completely. Lighter cars have a better chance of avoiding crashes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How To Put A Jeep Wrangler In 4 Wheel Drive

If you are driving and want to shift to 4-wheel drive, maintain speeds between 7 to 30 mph; put the car on Neutral and move the 4-wheel drive selector from 2H to 4H. Change the gear selector to Drive, and continue driving. To switch to the low range, park the vehicle and put it on Neutral. Move the 4-wheel drive selector to 4H and return the gear selector to Drive. Don’t go beyond 10mph.

How To Put A Jeep Rubicon In 4 Wheel Drive

To put your Jeep Rubicon on a 4-wheel drive high range, maintain 7 to 30 mph speed, put the car on Neutral and move the 4-wheel drive selector from 2H to 4H and return the gear to Drive. Alternatively, park the car and shift into neutral. Move the 4-wheel drive selector from 2H to 4H and return the gear selector to Drive.

How To Put A Jeep Compass In 4 Wheel Drive

The Jeep Compass has an automatic 4-wheel drive system that engages when needed. If you are driving in snow or mud, sensors will detect the change in wheel speed and engage the 4-wheel drive to generate traction. The standard drivetrain Jeep Compass is front-wheel drive (2WD), while the 4-wheel-drive system is optional and full-time. You cannot engage the 4-wheel drive manually on Jep Compass.

How Can I Tell If My Jeep Is In 4 Wheel Drive

If you’ve engaged 4-wheel drive, the 4-wheel drive light next to the 4H or 4L on the dashboard will be illuminated. Also, check the position of the 4WD selector; it should be on 4WD. If you’ve engaged 4-wheel drive but can’t get the traction to pull through the terrain, but the light blinks, it’s probably not working. Voltage and current flow deterioration can cause abnormalities in the signal transmitted by the wire, which a sensor may perceive as a failure. The 4WD actuator won’t work correctly if that happens, and 4-wheel drive will not engage.

Is 4 Wheel Drive Important In A Jeep Wrangler

The four-wheel drive system in Jeep Wranglers is important because it helps you conquer any terrain, whether sand, mud, or rocks. It is designed for people who have active lifestyles and love getting outdoors. If you love getting out into nature or taking long road trips, a Jeep Wrangler is for you.

Do I Need To Adjust Tire Pressures When Using 4 Wheel Drive

You must adjust your vehicle’s tire pressures before off-roading with your 4-wheel drive vehicle to avoid pressure build-up on the tire. Under normal driving conditions, your tire pressure is between 30-35psi. You need a tire pressure between 14-18 psi for rough terrains. When using 4WD, you should always check the tire pressures before heading off on a trip. The wrong tire pressure can cause excessive wear on your tires, poor handling, and even blowouts from increased heat and pressure.

What Is The Difference Between 4WD Auto And 4WD Lock

The 4WD Auto mode is the default setting for full-time 4-wheel drive system vehicles. . In this mode, the car can detect when it needs to engage the four-wheel drive system and will do so automatically. 4WD Auto is great for everyday driving because you don’t need to worry about switching between two-wheel and four-wheel drive. 4WD Lock, on the other hand, is used when you want to engage your four-wheel drive system in mud or snow. You must manually engage it by pressing a button or moving a lever.


As long as the terrain just requires some extra power to push through it, you can trust the 4-wheel drive setup to make a rough situation a little easier on your Jeep.

If you don’t know how to put a Jeep in 4-wheel drive (Part-time 4WD), you may find it challenging to navigate off-road. When in 4-wheel drive, the vehicle is less likely to slip on an incline or snow. With this guide, you can now switch your Jeep’s drivetrain with ease.

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