Northwest Metro Denver

3686 W. 72nd Ave
Westminster, CO 80030
8AM – 5:30PM Mon-Fri

(303) 421-4140

(303) 421-4140

Southwest Metro Denver

SE Corner Mississippi & Pierce
1194 S. Pierce
Lakewood CO 80232
8AM – 5:30PM Mon-Fri

(303) 922-4102

(303) 922-4102

Lakewood 303-922-4102

Westminster 303-422-4140

Common 4-Wheel Drive (4×4) Problems

Colorado drivers know that the weather changes frequently, and sunny fall and winter days can rapidly turn into snowstorms that snarl traffic and leave people stuck on the side of the road. As a result, 4-wheel drive vehicles are extremely popular in Colorado, with some estimates showing that nearly two-thirds of all vehicles sold in Colorado are so equipped. Having a 4×4 can reduce the headaches of driving in inclement weather, but it requires additional maintenance and can create some unique issues that drivers need to pay attention to. We will look at some of those items and discuss some of the common problems that require 4-wheel drive system repair.

four wheel drive

What Is a 4-Wheel Drive?

Whether you call it a four-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive, 4WD, or 4×4, it’s all the same thing. The difference between a four-wheel drive and an all-wheel drive is that the former is a type of drivetrain system that delivers power to all four wheels of a vehicle simultaneously for improved traction off-road. Both systems deliver power to all four wheels, yet 4WD systems have to be engaged by the driver. When 4×4 is not in use, most vehicles operate with a 2WD system, though there are exceptions — some modern Jeeps have an always-on 4WD system. Vehicles with a 4WD system have great traction on off-road surfaces, which has made 4×4 offroading a popular sport and hobby.

How Your 4WD System Works

In a 4-wheel drive vehicle, the transmission (which can be automatic or manual) mounts to a transfer case that divides power between a front and rear differential. The front differential provides power to one or both of the front axles, while the rear differential provides power to one or both of the rear axles. As with any other part of the vehicle that contains fluid, the transfer case and differentials require regular servicing and fluid changes in order to make sure that they stay working properly.

4 wheel drive problems

Common 4-Wheel Drive Problems

Essentially, all 4WD problems can be boiled down to two things: 1) The four-wheel drive system doesn’t work when you engage it, and 2) the four-wheel drive system won’t turn off when you disengage it. When you experience problems with your four-wheel drive vehicle for the first time, these are the usual suspects:

  • The four-wheel drive switch itself is bad, which means that power cannot get to the actuator.
  • There is damage to the wiring harness, so that power isn’t getting to the actuator.
  • The actuator itself has failed inside of the transfer case.
  • The fork in the transfer case is either worn out or broken.
  • The gears within the differential are damaged, which prevents them from engaging properly.

When the 4WD system won’t disengage, and you are stuck in 4WD, the common problems are:

  • The actuator inside of the transfer case is faulty.
  • Damage inside the transfer case keeps it from disengaging.
  • Transfer case fluid is low, creating friction that binds things inside the transfer case.
  • Differential fluid is low, causing binding inside of the differential.
  • Intermittent electrical problems in the switch or wiring are keeping the system from disengaging.

It is important to note that you should NOT operate your 4-wheel drive car on dry pavement for any length of time. When the system is engaged, a certain amount of slip in the tires is required to lessen the binding in the differentials, as both front and rear tires are under power. Without that slip (provided by snow, ice, etc.), it will not take long for your driveline to sustain serious damage that can cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Another obvious sign of 4-wheel drive system problems is when you hear a loud whining or grinding coming from near the axles. The transfer case and the front and rear differentials are essentially boxes full of gears, and those gears wear down over time and can break or come apart. When those small pieces start running through the system, you will hear whining or grinding coming from that component. This is an absolute sign that you need to stop driving the vehicle and get it in for repair immediately! Continued operation of the vehicle is going to increase the damage and lead to a catastrophic failure that will cost a significant amount to repair.

Also keep in mind that tires are an important part of the proper function of the 4-wheel drive system. In order to avoid damage to the driveline, you need to ensure that the front and rear tires are the same brand, model, size, and even have the same tread depth. If you are replacing tires, replace all four! Also make sure that you are routinely rotating the tires in order to make sure that your tires are wearing evenly. Most manufacturers recommend tire rotation every 3,000-5,000 miles, or about the same interval between engine oil changes. Regular tire rotation can go a long way towards reducing the need for 4-wheel drive system repair.

4 wheel drive specialists

Come to the 4×4 Repair Specialists

Owning a 4-wheel drive vehicle can give you peace of mind for dealing with the hassles of driving in snow and ice that Colorado is famous for in the winter. However, owning a 4-wheel drive vehicle means you have a few more things to pay attention to. Make sure that you are getting routine service on all of your driveline components and that you have appropriate (and matching) tires that are rotated on a regular basis. And while it might be convenient to take your vehicle to a local quick-lube specialist for an oil change, your 4-wheel drive vehicle’s driveline is something that most general automotive service shops simply do not have the tools or the experience to be dealing with.

If you want to make sure your 4-wheel drive vehicle is working the way that it should, contact Advanced Transmission Center at either of our locations, and we’d be happy to help! Unlike dealerships or many independent repair shops, we are driveline specialists trained to fix issues related to a vehicle’s 2-wheel drive, 4-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive systems. You can reach out to either location that is most convenient for you.

Advanced Transmission Center – Lakewood
1194 S. Pierce St
Lakewood, CO 80232
PHONE: (303) 922-4102

Advanced Transmission Center – Westminster
3686 W. 72nd Ave
Westminster, CO 80030
PHONE: (303) 421-4140

Please give us a call or send us a message ASAP. We look forward to serving your vehicle’s drivetrain and transmission needs. Over 35 years, our goal remains to be “Geared for Customer Satisfaction!”

Owner at Advanced Transmission Center | Website | + posts

Advanced Transmission Center is a Colorado-owned and operated auto repair shop with locations in Denver / Lakewood and Westminster. ATC specializes in driveline issues such as automatic transmission repair, four wheel drive repair, clutch replacement, differentials, manual transmissions and CVT. As Colorado's first AAA approved shop our goal is to provide accurate, timely service with exceptional customer satisfaction. All of our technicians are certified in the latest makes and models and we are one of the few transmission repair shops with a nationwide warranty.

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