How to Improve Your 4WD Driving Skills


Whatever the reason that a person wakes up in the morning and finds that they have a new four wheel drive (4WD) truck or sports utility vehicle (SUV), it is important to learn how to properly operate it before heading out into the snow and mud to try it out. Learning the correct timing and method will allow them to improve their 4WD driving skills. Fortunately, it does not take too long to learn when the right time to use the 4WD system and how to do it. Following these steps will allow any 4WD owner feel confident about engaging their system the next time a slippery situation comes up.


When driving off-road or in either mud or snow, shift into 4WD just as the vehicle is ready to leave the solid ground. If the front hubs can be locked, now is the time to do so. If it is available, low range is best for severe conditions. Prior to shifting into low range, it is advised to either slow down to 3 mph or stop to prevent the gears from grinding.

Upon returning to normal conditions, either unlock the centre differential or shift out of 4WD. Do not panic if the differential lock does not disengage or if the shifter does not want to set back into normal mode; this is a normal process caused by pressure on the gears. When this happens, simply back up about ten feet in a straight line and try it again. If it does not work, back up in an “S” pattern and move the shifter again. Remember to unlock the front hubs upon returning to dry pavement.

Additional Tips

1. Ensure the tires match: If any tires differ from one another in terms of circumference, this can create a handling problem and possibly deal damage to the driveline – not just in the snow, but all the time. This is true for all-wheel drive vehicles, as well as part- and full-time 4WD vehicles.

2. Take time around curves: The front wheels of a 4WD are liable to corkscrew if its driver takes the turn of a curve too quickly on a snowy curve, which leads to the vehicle going in a straight line instead of turning as necessary. Correcting the problem is as simple as easing up on the gas.

3. Consider 2WD when going downhill: Letting the engine slow down the truck while moving slowly downhill in a low gear can cause the front wheels to slide from the momentum, leading to the loss of control. In this instance, shifting into 2WD can allow the front wheels to remain rolling but it will allow the rear wheels to do a better job slowing down the truck.

4. Monitor traction control systems: Traction control systems bring trucks to a stop should the tires spin while going up snowy hills, which is a normal side effect. In this case, turn off the system if possible. If it is not, go a little faster to regain momentum, but not so quickly that the truck loses control.

5. Understand the limitations: While 4WD helps truck through the snow, it is not designed to help a driver stop. Slowing down on a slick surface means stopping earlier.

Hugh McInnes’ hobby is to drive, especially when off-road. He reckons that the best type of car to have an awesome driving experience is a 4WD.

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