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

Transfer Case and 4×4 Introduction

What is a transfer case?

The transfer case has been the little brother to the transmission for decades.  Although an integral part of the drivetrain, it is an optional component that few drivers consider.  Adding insult to injury, this component has changed names and has been characterized by inconsistent terminology.  Like every organ of the human body being critical to life, the transfer case in a 4×4 or AWD vehicle must be understood, serviced, maintained, and repaired for a car, truck, or SUV to realize its maximum life.

The Advanced Transmission Center team – wait, our name even has transmission in it.  Should we rename to “Advanced Transfer Case Center?”  That does not have the same ring… we digress.  Back to it…

The Advanced Transmission Center team will uncover the mysteries of the transfer case in a 7-part series.  After this introduction, we will address the following topics to make you an expert:

  • Part 1: Transfer Case & 4×4 Introduction

  • Part 2: What is a Transfer Case or PTU?
    Introduction, History and Terminology (AWD vs 4×4)

  • Part 3: Transfer Case Parts and Fluid
    Transfer case components and 4WD Actuator

  • Part 4: Bad Transfer Case Symptoms
    Common Failures and Preventative Maintenance

  • Part 5: What does “Service All Wheel Drive” mean?
    4×4 and AWD Check Engine Light Diagnostics

  • Part 6: Asian OE 4×4 AWD Transfer Case Summary
    Subaru, Honda, Toyota systems

  • Part 7: American OE 4×4 AWD Transfer Case Summary
    Ford, GM-Chevy, Jeep, Dodge systems

What Is the Role of a Transfer Case?

The simplest definition of a transfer case is that it transfers power generated from the engine and magnified through the transmission to both vehicle axles.  Powering all four vehicle wheels provides greater offroad capabilities and is especially necessary in states like Colorado, where snow and ice are common.  Can you imagine driving down Floyd Hill in icy conditions without an AWD vehicle?  In such circumstances, traction and control are higher priorities than fuel economy.

Transfer Case and Powertrain basics

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles have increased in popularity over the last decade.  Less than a third of new vehicles sold a decade ago were equipped with an AWD/4×4 system.  Today, over half of new vehicles have AWD or 4×4 capabilities.  The trend towards more Americans pursuing off-roading adventures is partially to blame for the development.  From a safety and handling perspective, manufacturers have sought to achieve an increased proportion of power generation to reach from the vehicle to the road through all four tires.

Transfer Case and Powertrain basics

Understanding Transfer Case Maintenance

Like all other parts of the vehicle, a transfer case should be serviced and maintained.  The fluid, for example, is normally a transmission fluid or gear oil. Both succumb to age and temperature fluctuations; in either case, the fluid degrades and is incapable of performing as designed.  If a transfer case fails to manage heat and provide lubrication, one can expect a near-term system breakdown.  Moreover, regular inspections of an AWD system should include checking the proper function of the actuator and electric motor, allowing engagement of the four-wheel drive system.

Role of a Transfer Case

Symptoms of a transfer case problem vary by manufacturer.  Each OE manufacturer has a unique approach to the transfer cases.  Some played it safe and did not envision a good reason to invest heavily in this system.  Others created closed systems that cannot be repaired unless one maintains specialized knowledge and access to parts unavailable in the aftermarket.

For example, Chevrolet and General Motors trucks and SUVs from the late 1990s and 2000s have transfer cases with common and predictable weak points.  Learn more on a previously published blog by our team of transfer case specialists: General Motors / Chevrolet Transfer Case Problems.  Any drivetrain, transfer case, or transmission expert should know how to address these units with case savers that prevent a catastrophic and expensive system failure.

Transfer Case Repair Cost

The cost of transfer case repair or PTU replacement can vary from a few hundred dollars to many thousands.  The repair costs depend on the diagnostics and specific issues.  Ultimately, the best way to mitigate a large repair bill is to regularly monitor, inspect, and service your four-wheel drive or AWD system.

Advanced Transmission Center: Making You a Transfer Case and 4×4 Expert

We are excited to continue this series on transfer cases and 4×4 systems to educate drivers across Colorado and other regions better, requiring extra traction and control.  Stay up-to-date on additional posts, and if you have any questions or corrections on this series, please message or call our Colorado-based team with feedback.

If you are having four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive issues, call us for a free TrueTestTM Inspection.  Trust your local driveline shop for an honest diagnosis.  Our FWD/AWD Services are the best in Denver, and we look forward to servicing your vehicle.

Additional Considerations

How do transfer case issues impact fuel efficiency in 4×4 and AWD vehicles?
Transfer case problems can significantly impact a vehicle’s fuel efficiency. When the transfer case is not functioning optimally, it may not distribute power effectively between the axles, causing the engine to work harder than necessary. This inefficiency can lead to higher fuel consumption. Regular maintenance and prompt repairs are essential to ensure the system operates efficiently, conserving fuel.

What advancements in transfer case technology are on the horizon to improve 4×4 and AWD systems?
Future advancements in transfer case technology are likely to focus on enhancing the precision of power distribution, integrating more advanced electronic controls for real-time adjustments based on driving conditions. These improvements aim to increase fuel efficiency, vehicle stability, and overall performance. The use of lightweight materials in construction can also contribute to better fuel economy by reducing the overall weight of the vehicle.

How do varying climates and driving conditions affect the maintenance needs of 4×4 and AWD systems?
Extreme climates and tough driving conditions can exacerbate the wear on 4×4 and AWD systems, including the transfer case. Cold temperatures may thicken the lubricating fluid, reducing its effectiveness, while hot climates can lead to overheating. Off-road or uneven driving surfaces can also introduce additional stress. To mitigate these effects, vehicles used in such conditions may require more frequent inspections and maintenance to ensure reliability and performance.

Since 1986 and across five decades, we have been “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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Free towing is just one of the ways we strive to save you money on a major in-house repair such as a transmission rebuild. With our thorough TrueTest™ Inspection process, you will fully understand what is wrong with your car and only pay for the repairs you need.
Every transmission repair should start with a thorough and accurate diagnosis of the problem. Our multi-step TrueTest inspection procedures have been designed over decades to identify whether a minor repair can fix your issue or if a major repair is required.
We can turn around a transmission repair in as little as 2 days with our fast services! Our in-house rebuild department, expert technicians and strong vendor relationships help us get vehicles fixed ASAP. It also helps to have two local repair shops with identical operating procedures and quality standards.
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