Can You Drive 70 MPH in 4 Wheel Drive and When to Use 4WD

Can You Drive 70 MPH in 4 Wheel Drive and When to Use 4WD

Whether climbing rocky trails or traversing slippery winter roads, four-wheel drive (4WD) offers unmatched traction for a variety of terrain. However, many motorists are unsure of the appropriate speeds and conditions for using their 4WD systems on paved surfaces. This article explores the capabilities and limitations of driving at highway speeds in 4WD.

What is 4 Wheel Drive?

4WD, also known as 4×4, refers to a drivetrain configuration that provides power to all four wheels of a vehicle simultaneously for improved traction over two-wheel drive (2WD) systems. A typical 4WD system uses a transfer case to split torque between the front and rear differentials, with some models allowing the driver to select between 2WD and various 4WD modes. This article will touch on the key components and benefits of 4WD systems.

Can You Drive 70 MPH in 4 Wheel Drive and When to Use 4WD

Components of a 4WD system include:

  • Transfer case – Distributes torque from the transmission to the front and rear differentials
  • Front differential – Splits power from the transfer case to the left and right front wheels
  • Rear differential – Same for the rear wheels
  • Axles – Shafts that transmit torque from the differentials to the wheels

The main benefits of 4WD include superior traction for off-roading or slippery conditions, heightened towing and payload capacities, and enhanced acceleration ability from all four wheels powering efforts uphill or when loaded. Proper use of 4WD aids safety by providing better control and braking performance when roads turn treacherous.

Can You Drive 70 MPH in 4 Wheel Drive?

While 4WD excels off the pavement, most models are perfectly capable of cruising at highway speeds on dry roads when in part-time or full-time 4WD modes. However, extended use at 70+ mph brings a host of inefficiencies and increased component wear that motorists should be mindful of.

For safety, vehicles with part-time 4WD or transfer cases are typically limited to 55-65 mph when left in 4WD on dry roads. Factors like axle temperature rises, differential windup torque, and reduced fuel efficiency become heightened concerns above these speeds. Still, many modern SUVs with advanced full-time or automatic 4WD systems are designed for extended highway use and speeds upwards of 75 mph pose no mechanical issues when other conditions are met.

 Risks of Driving in 4WD at High Speed

Prolonged use of 4WD at motorway speeds brings tangible downsides worth knowing about. Extra stress is placed on drivetrain components like differentials and axle shafts. The transfer case splitting power front and rear must also work harder to synchronize speeds in 4WD versus 2WD. Over time, this excess load accelerates wear and shortens replacement intervals for expensive components. Fuel economy also takes a noticeable hit, negating some of the benefits of 4WD, with estimates of 5-15% lower fuel mileage possible versus 2WD mode on highways. Pavement-only use also increases the potential for handling quirks unique to 4WD like higher crossover speeds and steering sensitivity changes during medium-fast cornering.

Tips for Driving Safely in 4WD at 70 MPH

The risks of 70+ mph 4WD use can be reasonably mitigated with a few safety-minded practices. Relentless attention to tire inflation and tread condition is paramount to maintaining steering control at speed. Purchasing highway-rated all-terrain tires optimized for noise and traction balance further ensures stability. Be vigilant for any changes in steering feel or cornering traits that signal a need to disengage 4WD until conditions warrant its use again. Know your vehicle’s capabilities by taking time to adjust to its on-road dynamics in various 4WD modes and speeds before extended motorway journeys. As always, adverse weather or reduced visibility warrants slowing down until roads clear regardless of drivetrain mode.

Tricks for Improving Fuel Economy in 4WD at 70 MPH

Not all fuel economy is lost when cruising in 4WD. Deploying mechanisms like cruise control during extended highway stints helps maintain a steady speed and lighter foot pressure which translates to better miles per gallon. Likewise, avoiding unnecessary and rapid acceleration or braking that taxes the drivetrain provides marginal yet valuable savings. Relentlessly monitoring tire pressures also pays dividends through reduced road resistance. Beyond driving habits, ensuring fluids and differentials receive timely changes per the owner’s manual keeps 4WD components operating smoothly. Proper maintenance like this aids efficiency while extending service intervals that lower long-term costs.

 When to Use 4-Wheel Drive

While 4WD aids all-weather capability, it shouldn’t be relied on as a substitute for good tires, appropriate speeds for conditions, or defensive winter driving practices. Here are some appropriate scenarios for engaging 4WD:

  • Slippery conditions like snow, ice, rain-soaked roads, or loose gravel where added traction provides the margin of safety needed
  • Steep inclines and declines where extra low-speed wheel torque helps maintain control
  • Mudding, sand, rock crawling, or other loose, unpaved surfaces requiring low-range power
  • Heavy towing loads in poor conditions that benefit from 4WD’s torque multiplication
  • Restarting on an incline where the initial pull of all wheels minimizes rollback risk
  • Deep unplowed snow where the added power to all tires may be the only path forward
    Remember, cautious driving and allowing extra braking distance remains important in any weather.

Characteristics of 4WD Systems

The traction rewards of 4WD systems come with some inherent traits motorists should understand:

  • Provides equal torque distribution to all four wheels to maximize available grip
  • Enhances acceleration and uphill climbing ability thanks to each wheel powering efforts
  • Transfer case distributes torque through front/rear differential coupling for flexible balance
  • Allows for extra payload/towing capabilities over 2WD due to surplus drivetrain bolstering
  • Improved control and braking when tires lose traction on slippery or loose surfaces
  • Reduces differential damage by sharing rotation workload across front/rear axles
  • Some models include low-range gearing for maximum low-end torque in severe conditions
    While benefitting off-road ability, 4WD’s constant power to all wheels necessitates certain tradeoffs versus 2WD that must be anticipated.

Types of 4-Wheel Drive Systems

AWD vs 4WD: What's the Difference | Edmunds

There are multiple methods automakers apply 4WD technology, each with benefits for different needs:

  • Full-time 4WD – Torque constantly split front/rear for maximum control during all driving
  • Part-time 4WD – Driver-selectable 4WD for varying conditions, but 2WD is primary mode
  • Automatic 4WD – The system engages 4WD automatically when the front wheel slip is detected
  • All-wheel drive (AWD) – Torque-vectoring cross-axle systems relying on braking, for street
    Knowing the distinctions between these 4WD/AWD configurations aids in selecting the optimum drivetrain for an owner’s terrain encounters and driving style.

Which Type is Right for You?

Choosing between 4WD or AWD boils down to assessing individual needs versus daily driving habits and locations traversed. Factors include:

  • Terrain – 4WD is best for serious off-road/winter conditions. AWD sufficient for most pavement
  • Hauling/towing – 4WD transfers more power for heavy loads in any conditions
  • Budget – 4WD repairs are generally more complex than AWD, affecting ownership costs
  • Fuel economy – AWD is most efficient for pavement commutes with occasional light off-road
  • Driving mix – Full-time 4WD most capable anywhere. Part-time best if mostly pavement
    Test driving different configurations aids in deciding what optimal approach matches an owner’s lifestyle, location, and vehicle uses.

Dynamics of 4WD at High Speed

While 4WD grants benefits, motorists should understand some inherent handling traits unique to all four wheels receiving constant power:

  • Torque distribution challenges – Keeping approximately equal power at varying front/rear loads like during cornering demands extra effort from differentials and transfer case
  • Different traction levels – Front/rear wheels may have diverse available grip in certain situations like mid-corner that software tries mitigating
  • Increased difficulty steering – Constant front/rear coupling adds heft and inertia versus decoupled rear axles of 2WD under acceleration/braking forces
  • Alignment sensitivity – 4WD systems react to the slightest changes like slightly out-of-spec components magnifying handling quirks
    Taking time to experience these nuanced 4WD characteristics aids in developing instinctual mastery of each model’s on-road comportment.

 What to Do if Your Vehicle Gets Stuck in 4WD

Should inclement conditions or overzealous exploration leave a 4WD Vehicle stuck, there are a few potential remedies to consider:

  • Shift back to 2WD (if selector allows) while the vehicle very gently rocks/maneuvers itself free – avoids damage from binding components
  • Rock vehicle by shifting weight front/back with throttle and braking inputs – carefully! Can mar nearby surfaces
  • Manually disengage the front driveshaft or transfer case (consult manual!) and tow/winch/dig out of the predicament
  • As a last resort, very carefully and progressively spin one wheel at a minimal rpm via throttle while the other axle is braked to try worming loose – gentle is key
    Precise modulation and never abandoning safety for haste help prevent self-recovery attempts from making a situation much worse.

4WD Maintenance Tips

Given 4WD’s complex mechanics and rigorous operating conditions encountered, a cadence of proactive maintenance is important:

  • Change transfer case and differential fluids no later than every 30k miles to flush contaminants
  • Inspect all driveline connection points like CV joints and ball joints for leaks or wear indicators
  • Re-grease front/rear U-joints if part-time 4WD system every 1-2 years to deter corrosion
  • Check and adjust if needed tire pressures monthly and before/after rigorous off-roading
  • Have the vehicle fully serviced with transfer case inspection and fluid top-ups yearly or as specified
  • Replace worn components like axle shafts at the first sign of slop to prevent costly damage
    Staying atop upkeep maintains peak performance while maximizing 4WD system and component longevity through tough conditions.

How Fast Can You Drive in 4L?

All-wheel or four-wheel drive | what's the difference? - Car Advice |  CarsGuide

Four-wheel drive vehicles share a common low-range transfer case gearing, often labeled “4L”, to provide extreme gear reduction and maximum low-end pulling power for severe off-road obstacles or crawling. This gratuitously magnified torque comes at the expense of top speed, with most manufacturers specifying a 4L speed limit of no greater than 10-15 mph. Beyond minimal inching, prolonged high rpm operation or higher speeds in the low range can quickly damage transfer cases and connected components ill-equipped for such demands. Save low range for its intended slow-speed off-road use, and don’t exceed modest pacing or you may face costly repairs faster than anticipated.

How Fast Can You Drive in 4H?

Most 4WD vehicles also include a “4H” or high-range 4WD setting in their transfer cases providing less torque multiplication but expanded speed capability. While every model differs, standardized guidelines advise limiting 4H maximum velocities to around 55 mph or lower depending on conditions, with some companies rating it up to 65 mph on paved roads. Taller gearing compared to low-range means component longevity shouldn’t be quite as impacted, yet 4H still transmits constant front/rear driving forces that accelerate wear versus two-wheel drive. Matching the advised 4H speed cap helps motorists realize their 4WD system’s full-rated capabilities before potential damage.


In summary, while 4WD enhances traction control in slippery conditions, it’s important for motorists to thoughtfully match the demands placed on their drivetrain with the intent behind various 4WD systems and their rated capacities. Cruising for prolonged periods at motorway speeds, especially while void of any need for four-wheel assistance, invites potential downsides. Some key takeaways include remembering – to only engage 4WD when truly advantageous; driving prudently in inclement weather regardless; following speed guidelines for any 4WD selections like 4H or low-range; and consistently maintaining components for maximum reliability and longevity through challenging terrains. With balanced, safety-conscious use, 4WD continues rewarding enthusiast owners with unmatched confidence beyond pavement wherever adventure leads.