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How To Engage 4 Wheel Drive In Jeep Wrangler

Normally most of the off-road vehicles have a 4WD system. Even though all the 4WD systems are doing the same purpose, the mechanisms are different from system to system. 

Even in jeeps compass, Grand Cherokee, Renegade have a full time four wheel drive system while Jeep wrangler and Gladiator have a part time 4WD system.   You can read more about how 4WD systems works by clicking here. With those differences, how you have to activate those 4WD systems also differs.     

In this guide we’ll look at how to work with a jeep wrangler four wheel drive system. (This is pretty much the same as how the jeep gladiator four wheel drive system also works.)


Basics of wrangler four wheel drive system.

Wrangler, 4WD, shifter
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New Wrangler 4WD shifting lever


Four wheel drive system has 3 Gear positions and a Neutral position. 

(New wranglers have extra 4HI auto mode also. We’ll look at that later in this guide)

Three gear positions are named as 2HI (2H) , 4HI (4H) and 4LOW (4L).


2HI is the gear position where we place four wheel shifters in day to day drives.

That means in that position front wheels of the jeep don’t get any power from the engine. Jeep is driven only from the rear wheels.


While we are driving in the 2HI position, think of an instance where a snow fall happened.

Now the road gets slippery and we need some extra traction to move forward with the same highway speed.     

In such situations we can use 4HI mode of the 4WD system. That means we use 4HI for hi speed, 4WD needs on slippery or low traction instances.

Not only for snowy/icy roads we can use 4HI for hard packed sand off roadings, on dirt roads like little extra traction needed instances.

Now when we need 4L mode of the four wheel drive system? 


4L is used every time when we need high extra traction during off roadings.   

Instances like rock crawling, drive through thick mud holes, drive through deep snow, water crossings and instances we have to give maximum power and traction to all the four wheels at slow speeds, we use 4L mode.

That means in the 4L mode, engine gives maximum torque and traction to all the four wheels at slower speeds.

We can use 4L to safely downhill the jeep in a steep. Because in 4L mode we can use high engine braking power also.

The neutral position of the 4WD shifter can use instances where our jeep is towed by another vehicle.

Now you have quite a good understanding about when to use different modes of a four wheel drive system.

Now let’s see how to correctly engage 4WD in those different modes without damaging your transfer case.

How to engage 4 wheel drive in Jeep Wrangler

Shifting from 2HI to 4HI or 4HI to 2HI

This is quite an easy one. While you are driving on the road you can put from 2HI to 4HI without stopping the jeep.   

It’s advised to keep your speed for about 35 miles per hour (35mph) when shifting from 2HI to 4HI and while driving in 4HI it’s best to keep the speed between 15 – 55 mph.

If you are driving an automatic jeep you just have to shift the lever from 2HI to 4HI using a constant force throughout the motion without accelerating the engine.

You can remove the foot from the gas pedal while doing this. That’s it!!

You can shift from 2HI to 4HI while moving or stopping the vehicle. With moving the jeep, transfer case engage and disengage faster. 

To move the 4WD lever from 2HI to 4HI, you don’t need to put the vehicle gear shifter into neutral. 

If you are driving a manual jeep

All the instructions are applicable for the manual jeep also to shift from 2Hto 4HI.   

But the main difference is you have to press the clutch pedal when shifting the lever from 2HI to 4HI regardless of whether you are in motion or stopped.

After shifting you can release the clutch pedal. This is the safest and easiest way to do this shifting. 

Shifting from 4HI to 4LOW or 4LOW to 4HI

To do this you must slow down your vehicle to crawl, if you’re driving at a higher speed. 2 – 3mph (3 – 5 kmph) is the recommended speed to do this shifting.

Put the automatic transmission lever into neutral (N) position or press the clutch pedal if you are driving a manual jeep.

Then shift the transfer case lever firmly from 4HI to 2HI without stopping the lever in neutral position in between the 4HI and 2HI.

Then put the automatic gear selector into D position or release the clutch of your manual jeep.

When shifting from 2HI to 4HI also you have to go through the same above steps.

Don’t drive more than 25mph in 4L. Shift back to 4HI or 2HI if you want to drive fast.

Don’t try to move directly from 2HI to 4L. First shift from 2HI to 4HI. Then neutral the transmission of the vehicle and shift the transfer-case to 4L.

This is the same for shifting from 4L to 2HI.

4H auto / SELEC TRAC Option

The new jeep wranglers come with this 4H auto mode as an addition to 2H, 4H and 4L. 

4H auto mode is placed between 2H and 4H positions in the 4WD selector. 

When you select 4H auto mode, transfer case connects the engine with the front drive shaft but, front wheels don’t get the power unless a traction loss is detected from rear wheels.

That means front wheels only get power if any traction loss or slipping happens in rear wheels. 

Computer systems of the wrangler detect those slipping or traction loss of the rear wheels and activate front wheels to stabilize the vehicle and keep the necessary traction.

Shifting from 2H to 4H auto mode is the same as shifting from 2H to normal 4H mode.

Just switch it over to 4H auto from 2H without revving the engine.   

Then you can drive normally. Jeep automatically engage and disengage 4WD according to the road conditions.

Shifting from 4H auto mode to 4H is also the same as shifting from 2H to 4H auto.


How do I get my jeep out of 4wd?

In normal situations to take out a jeep from 4WD to 2WD you just have to press the clutch (if it’s a manual) and firmly move the shifting lever from 4HI to 2HI while moving the jeep on the road.

Then release the clutch pedal and you are good to go.

If it’s an automatic jeep you just have to release the gas pedal and firmly push the gear lever from 4HI to 2HI.

That’s all. Now you are in 2WD mode.

Jeep wrangler 4 wheel drive shifter stuck

Most of the time in newer jeeps these transfer case levers request some braking period!!

That means in the first attempts you try to shift among 2HI , 4HI and 4L modes you feel it’s somewhat difficult due to tightness.

But with shifting the lever a few times that tightness usually goes away.

But sometimes due to improper use of the 4WD system binding of the transfer case can happen.

Due to that high tension created inside the transfer case can also cause 4WD lever strucking.

If you find it hard to move the shifting lever from 2HI to 4HI try to do it while driving some speed.

After stopping sometimes it may be hard to put to the 4WD mode.

Wrapping up

Upto now I had described the different configuration of four wheel drive systems of jeep wranglers and gladiators, when to use those gear ranges and how to engage with those gears without causing any damage to your transfer case.

I hope this may be helpful for you.

If you think this guide may be useful for some other jeeper also, you can share this guide to them. You just have to hit a share button below.

Have fun and safe off roading!!    

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