Having 4-wheel drive on your vehicle can make it a much simpler task to drive in snowy weather. It also allows you to easily convert your road trip into a fun off-road adventure. However, it’s essential to know how fast you can go while driving in 4×4 High without causing damage to your vehicle.
When driving with your vehicle in 4×4 high, you must keep your vehicle’s speed below 55 MPH. This is because driving at speeds above 55 MPH in 4 High can damage your drivetrain, suspension, and more. In addition, it is unsafe because of the decreased braking, turning, and handling precision you will experience in 4×4 High.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about acceptable speeds while driving in 4×4 High. You will also learn important safety tips, along with the difference between 4-High and 4-Low and when each one should and shouldn’t be used.
Table of Contents
How Fast Can You Drive In 4×4 High? (Without Damaging It)
If you are driving in 4×4 High, you should keep your vehicles speed under 55 MPH to avoid damaging it. Driving above this speed can damage your vehicle. It will also increase your risk of crashing due to issues caused by driving in 4×4 High.
Where Should You Drive in 4-H?
For the most part, you should only drive in 4-H when driving off-road. However, there may be times when you can use 4-H on the highway. This is mostly when the roads are slippier due to winter conditions.
4-H is when you’re driving in places where you need the additional traction but will be going faster than 10-15 MPH. For example, you could use 4-H when driving on slippery/icy roads, excessively rocky roads, pastures, and other similar areas.
You should not drive in 4-H when going down the highway in normal conditions. Doing so can be unsafe and potentially cause severe damage to your vehicle.
How Fast Can You Drive in 4×4 High?
How fast you can drive your vehicle when it’s in 4×4 high will vary based on several factors. The most significant factor is where you will be driving in 4×4 high. The model of your vehicle can also make a difference.
Different vehicles give different recommended top speeds for driving in 4×4 high. On average, it’s not recommended to go faster than 55 MPH when you have your vehicle in 4×4 high. You can find your vehicle’s maximum speed by checking your owner’s manual.
Driving at faster speeds than are recommended for your vehicle in 4×4 high poses several safety risks. There is also a high chance of damaging your car if you exceed the recommended speeds.
Roads & Highways
You should only drive on roads and highways in 4×4 high when they are slippery enough to be unsafe without the additional traction. In normal driving conditions, you should disable your 4WD entirely.
You should disable your 4×4 on the highway because when you drive on surfaces that are not slippery while your vehicle is in 4×4 high, you’re likely to damage many essential- and expensive to repair- things on your vehicle.
Additionally, using 4H on the highway isn’t safe, especially turning. When turning, you need your wheels to spin at different speeds for your vehicle to handle well. Additionally, the wheels can sometimes lock up when turning in 4WD.
If you cannot turn your 4WD off when driving on the highway, you must keep your speed under 55 MPH. This will help prevent damage to your drivetrain and other essential components of your vehicle while also keeping you safe.
The ideal time to use 4×4 high is when driving through mild off-road conditions. For example, 4H will help you clear slick areas. It’s also good for getting out of the mud unless the conditions are extreme. In more extreme conditions, you should switch to 4L.
The same speed limits apply when driving off-road. However, because of the conditions you encounter when driving off-road, driving at 55 MPH may not be as safe as driving on the highway.
Off-road, you’re more likely to encounter loose gravel and other unforeseen obstacles that could be unsafe if you hit them at higher speeds. In addition, when all 4 wheels are engaged, stopping the vehicle is more difficult if you run into something unexpected.
How Does it Affect Your Truck?
If you want to use your 4-H feature safely, it helps to be aware of how it can affect your truck. When driving in 4H, your truck will perform differently in several areas.
The most affected things are the braking, cornering, and handling.
One very important thing to note is that running in 4H will noticeably affect your braking. More specifically, it will increase the time it takes your brakes to stop your truck. This effect will multiply when you’re driving on surfaces with little traction, such as dirt, wet, or muddy settings.
So, when you’re using 4H- especially in areas with less traction- you should stay alert so that you adjust your reaction time to compensate the longer stop time. Depending on the speed you’re moving and other factors, you may need to begin braking 2x sooner than you usually would so that you can stop on time or avoid stopping in a corner or curve.
It’s also extremely important to use caution when taking a curve or corner in 4H. When the truck is in 4H, the differentials are locked. This means that the wheels will not be able to spin at different speeds, which is what stabilizes the truck in turns.
If you do lose traction while taking a curve, you must remember not to jerk the wheel in an attempt to correct it.
Trucks and SUVs are top-heaving, making them easier to roll than smaller cars. Additionally, this risk is increased when taking a corner because of the way the weight shifts during the turn.
Lastly, you’ll also notice a change in the way your truck handles that could be dangerous if you aren’t prepared.
The steering will be looser and less defined than it typically is. In other words, the handling will not be as responsive.
If you notice that handling suddenly becomes even less responsible, it generally means that the vehicle has lost traction. In some cases, the 4WD can lock up in a turn and cause jerking, which can be very dangerous.
Again, you should react calmly and avoid jerking the wheel if you notice that your truck has lost traction to prevent turning your vehicle over.
The Function of 4WD Low-Range
The 4WD-Low Range is helpful in situations where you need as much traction as possible. This works best in deep sand or thick mud. It’s also what you would need if you were crossing through water.
When using the 4WD Low-Range, your tires spin slower, but they get more torque. This means that even though they are spinning slower, they’re still more effective.
As you probably know, when you attempt to pass through more extreme conditions like the ones mentioned above, it is not effective for the tires to spin at their average speed. This usually just digs the rut deeper, making it harder to push through.
Will Driving in High Hurt My Truck?
Driving in 4 High will not hurt your truck as long as you use it the way it should be used. However, if you drive above the recommended speed for your truck or use the high range in conditions that it’s not meant for, it can severely hurt your truck.
While you do need an adequate amount of traction to operate your vehicle safely, too much can have the opposite effect. This is why having an open differential is important when driving on the highway.
Because the pavement provides traction, you need the open differential to allow some traction to be lost. Otherwise, the build-up that isn’t released can cause many severe issues with the drivetrain and suspension on your truck.
Can You Drive in 4 High All the Time?
The risk of potential damage and the possible safety hazards means that you should not drive in 4 High all the time. When the differentials are locked, it can cause many safety issues and damage your vehicle.
You should only drive in 4 High when the road conditions are slippery or you are in slippery off-road conditions. You should turn the 4WD off and drive in 2WD when riding on the highway.
If, for whatever reason, you cannot switch back to 2WD, you can still drive on the highway. You just need to make sure you don’t drive too fast.
Can You Drive Too Fast in a 4-wheel Drive?
You can drive too fast in a 4-wheel drive. However, the limit varies by the vehicle size and the range you’re in. The common top speed recommended for most vehicles in 4-H is 55 MPH.
As mentioned before, if you exceed this speed, there are many important things- such as the drivetrain- that can be damaged. It can also increase the risk of an accident.
However, when driving in 4L, you shouldn’t go over 15-20 MPH.
Knowing the difference between 4×4 High and 4×4 Low and when to use them could also save your vehicle from severe damage.
4×4 High vs 4×4 Low?
If your 4-wheel drive is not automatic, it’s essential to know when you should use 4×4 High and when you should use 4×4 Low. Both of these options provide better traction and can be very helpful when used in the correct situations. However, if you use them in the wrong situations, they can be counter-productive.
4 High is best when traveling on slippery terrain where you will be moving at more than 15 MPH. The best example of this is driving on the highway during the winter when the roads are icy and slippery.
However, it can also be used in off-road conditions where you will be moving and higher speeds and will not run into many extreme obstacles. For example, you may use 4 High when traveling through open fields, dirt roads, pastures, and more.
On the other hand, if you find yourself in off-road conditions where you will need maximum traction and will be traveling at slow and steady speeds (below 15 MPH), this is where 4 Low comes in.
4 Low is best when climbing or descending steep hills, crossing extremely rocky terrain, or driving through water. In addition, it comes in handy when you find yourself trying to make it through deep, sticky mud.
The biggest difference between the two is that your tires spin faster in 4 High. When in 4 Low, your tires spin slower while receiving more torque, which gives them the maximum amount of power.
How Can Full-Time 4x4s Drive at Any Speed?
While you have to keep speed in mind when driving a part-time 4×4 in mind, full-time 4x4s do not fall into this rule. These vehicles are made to be driven as usual while using the 4-wheel drive.
They can do this because they have a third differential that allows the tires to rotate at different speeds.
So, while all four tires are given power at all times, they can still turn at different rates. This allows the vehicle to perform appropriately for highway and off-road driving conditions.
They can do this because the limited-slip differential corrects the open differential by a Limited-Slip differential. This helps shift the power to the appropriate wheels when traction is lost to help propel the vehicle forward.
Without this, the tire that lost traction would spin the same way as when a 2-wheel drive vehicle loses traction.
Vehicles with full-time 4-wheel drive adapt quickly to whatever conditions you’re driving in. For example, they can quickly adapt from normal highway conditions to slippery, icy roads. They can also adjust when you take them off-road.
Recommended Off-Roading Gear
If you take frequent off-road adventures, having the appropriate gear can be very helpful. Recovery gear is anything that helps you get out of a sticky situation. Consider everything that would make it easier to get out if you find yourself stuck.
It’s also a good idea to have an off-road tire repair kit and portable air compressor in your vehicle at all times. You’re more likely to run into a punctured tire when driving off the highway. If this happens, having a way to fix the problem on the scene can save you from an even more frustrating experience.
The 4-wheel drive can come in handy in many different situations. The key is knowing which situations you should use, which type of 4-wheel drive, and how to stay safe while you’re at it.
Without the proper knowledge of how your 4-wheel drive system works, you could run into expensive damage to your vehicle. In some cases, you may even put your safety at risk. Knowledge and experience are the best ways to stay safe while using 4-wheel driving, both on and off.
I’m William Guzenski, ASE certified master automobile technician & automotive expert. I love to attend race events and car shows throughout the country. I also loves to travel 40-foot motorhome, exploring abandoned mines and ghost towns. I’m currently building another car for Bonneville Salt Flats and will be campaigning a drag car at several events.