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How Fast Can You Drive in 4×4 High?

 photo by Onfokus via iStock

How fast can you drive in 4 high? That’s the age-old question that every new owner of a part-time 4×4 seems to have.

However, the answer to how fast can you drive in 4 high can be a bit obvious. I mean, if you can do a certain speed and upwards, you shouldn’t really need 4WD, should you?

Well, yes and no…

As the question of how fast can you drive in 4 high can become a complicated subject, we decided to publish this article in order to answer the question. Furthermore, we will be covering when to use 4 wheel drive high and the difference between 4D high vs low.

Table of Contents

How Fast Can You Drive in 4×4 High?

4x4 in the sand

 photo by georgeclerk via iStock

The question of how fast can you drive in 4 high isn’t one that can be answered easily because there isn’t a specific number. 

For example, according to Toyota, in a 4Runner, 0-60mph is the speed you can drive in 4WD high without any issues. However, it’s not like your diffs or transmission will suddenly explode if you exceed that speed.

On the other hand, one can argue that if you are doing speeds of 60mph you shouldn’t really need to be in 4wd. Therefore, why worry? 

Well, arguably 4WD at such high speeds can be used on long and open dirt roads or on snowy motorways. However, doing that kind of speed on a dirt road or snowy motorway has some big risks. 

4x4 in the snow

 photo by Far700 via iStock

On a dirt road, you are much more likely to encounter animals as the area will naturally see less traffic than areas with paved roads. Furthermore, dirt is a loose surface; therefore, if a bend is tighter than you thought, you can easily lose grip and end up in a ditch. 

Rain can also lead to ruts that you may not have the time to react to. If those ruts are deep, you could easily get a puncture or damage suspension components. 

In the case of a snowy motorway, doing 60mph just asks for trouble. If the person in front brakes or if you need to change lanes to avoid an accident you will lose control of the vehicle without a doubt. 

So, while the vehicle can do that speed, it may not make sense to do it.

On dirt roads or snowy motorways, it is better to stick to a speed of around 30-40mph while in 4WD. When conditions get better, switch back to 2WD and stick to the speed limit. 

Does It Hurt Your Truck to Drive in 4 High?

Does it Hurt Your Truck to Drive in 4 High

 photo by rest via iStock

Besides the question of how fast can you drive in 4×4 high, it is obvious to ask whether driving in high range can do any harm to your vehicle. 

The short answer here is no. However, this is only true if 4WD is used under the correct circumstances. 

Switching to 4WD should only be done when the vehicle is on loose surfaces such as snow, mud, or dirt. Furthermore, sharp turns should be avoided as they can lead to a bind-up of energy within the drivetrain. 

That’s because when in 4WD, the two axles of the vehicle (front and rear) can no longer spin at different speeds when going around a turn. Therefore, the energy will either be expelled through wheelspin or will be stored in the drivetrain of the vehicle which can lead to breakages.

So, if you are ever in 4WD while turning and the wheels start to spin for no reason, now you know why!

Can You Drive in 4 High All the Time?

two jeeps on a rocky road - Can You Drive in 4 High All the Time?

 photo by 1000kbps via iStock

Well, no you can’t!

The reason behind this is that, as mentioned above, you will inevitably create a build-up of energy within the drivetrain of your vehicle that will lead to excessive wear or even failure. 

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

4x4 on a country road - What Happens If You Drive Too Fast in 4 Wheel Drive?

 photo by piola666 via iStock

The answer to the “how fast can you drive in 4 high” question is roughly 60mph. However, what happens when you go beyond that? 

Nothing, really. However, as mentioned before, if you are doing speeds upwards of 60mph you either don’t need 4WD or are completely crazy.

Keep in mind that using 4WD leads to higher fuel consumption and wear. The difference is minimal, but it is there. 

What is the Difference Between 4×4 High and 4×4 Low?

automatic gear lever and gear shift - What is the Difference Between 4x4 High and 4x4 Low?

 photo by Baitong333 via iStock

The difference between 4WD high and 4WD low is the gearing. In 4WD high, the vehicle uses the normal transmission gearing to transfer the power of the engine to the wheels.

However, when switching to 4×4 low, the transfer box changes the gearing and makes it much faster. 

For example, 3rd gear in low range is pretty much equivalent to 1st gear high range. 

The reason behind this is that through gearing, the torque of the engine can be multiplied. It’s kind of like riding a bike up a hill. When your legs hurt, and the pedals are too heavy to spin, you shift to a lower gear.

Due to the lower speeds of being in 4×4 low range, you can also concentrate on picking your line better as you do not have to maintain momentum to stop the vehicle from stalling. Furthermore, you can avoid damages due to tackling obstacles and rough terrain at lower speeds.

The question of how fast can you drive in 4 high has a different answer here. Because the gearing is lower in low range, the speeds one can do drastically decreases. Furthermore, this shouldn’t really be a question that needs answering. If you need to do more than 25mph, you should switch back to 4WD high if on loose terrain or 2WD if back on the road. 

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

4x4s kicking up dust - How Can Full-Time 4x4s Drive at Any Speed?

 photo by DieterMeyrl via iStock

Now you may ask the obvious question of how full-time 4×4 vehicles such as certain Toyotas and Land Rovers drive in 4×4 high all the time without any issues. 

The answer to the question of how fast can you drive in 4 high in the case of a full-time 4×4 is as fast as you want. 

The reason the above is possible is that they use a center differential that splits the power between the two axles exactly like a normal differential splits the power between two wheels. 

In case you didn’t know, vehicle differentials send power to the wheel with the least grip. This is to enable the two wheels on one axle to spin at different speeds during cornering in which case the inside wheel has to cover a shorter distance than the outside. 

The center differential works around the same concept. The diff will send power to the axle with the least grip which enables differentiation in the turning speeds of the two ends of the vehicle. 

differential rear axle gearbox in section with gears and mechanisms

 photo by Artem Cherednik via iStock

Without locking the center differential, a full-time 4×4 isn’t a true 4×4 in scenarios with low grip. 

Imagine you are trying to set off on an icy hill with all the vehicle’s differentials open. If the left front wheel starts spinning, the center diff will direct all the power to the front axle as that’s the one with the least grip. Then, the differential on the axle will again direct that power straight to the front left wheel. Therefore, your 4×4 is now one-wheel drive.

When locking the center diff, that power will be split 50/50 between the two axles and the rear wheels will also get power, provided they both have grip.

However, this does not mean that the vehicle is a true 4×4 as power will again be split between the two wheels on each axle.

Therefore, a vehicle is considered a true 4×4 only when the center, front and rear differentials can be locked. 

Ending the “How Fast Can You Drive in 4 High” Conversation

4x4 in the desert - Ending the “How Fast Can You Drive in 4 High” Conversation

 photo by oliver de la haye via iStock

The question of how fast can you drive in 4 high is based more on circumstances rather than mechanical limitations. 

You as the driver should be able to judge if the road or terrain you are on requires 4WD, and if it does, whether it is worth the risk driving speeds up to or exceeding 60mph. 

My answer to the question of how fast can you drive in 4 high is no more than 40mph because there should never be a reason to.

However, if you ever happen to need to drive in 4×4 high at speeds of up to 60mph, you shouldn’t have any issues as long as you are on a loose surface. 

If you have any further questions regarding how fast you can drive in 4WD or any other questions related to 4WD, camping, and overlanding, post them in the forum section of our site!

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