When and How to Use 4 Wheel Drive

Four wheel driving was a mystery to me until I started driving on the dunes. There’s no better place to learn about the mechanical ins and outs of four wheel drive than Silver Lake Sand Dunes – preferably NOT on Memorial Day weekend.

But since it’s not summer, using four wheel drive for snowy and icy conditions is a far more pressing topic. Let’s review a few facts about four wheel drive, including when and how to use it.

When to use 4 wheel drive (all wheel drive). Four wheel drive works best when trying to maneuver through a deep or sludgy substance – like sand dunes, or heavy snow. Please keep in mind that all wheel drive is not a cure-all for bad conditions; it simply gives you more power during situations when you need it the most – like when we’re having an all Michigan 15 inch snowstorm. Just remember: 4 wheel drive is the much-loved vehicle setting for off-roaders. Are you driving in off-road-like settings? If not, don’t use it. Deep snow, slush and sand are the best times to turn on your all wheel drive.

Four wheel drive limitations. It’s important to note that all wheel drive helps you gain more traction and power, but inversely does NOT help you stop. When going downhill on icy or slick surfaces, all wheel drive can actually make a situation worse if you’re not careful with your speed. Take it from the girl who nearly banked an old F150 full of maple sap on icy backroads. Momentum causes your vehicle to go faster, and having rear (or front) wheels disengaged from the engine can actually help you slow. So if you’re cresting a particularly icy hill in 4 wheel, shift back into 2 wheel if you can. If you can’t, follow the cardinal rule of inclement weather and take it slow.

Return to 2 wheel drive on dry pavement. If you have to lock your hubs, pull over in a safe place and unlock them once you’re back on dry pavement. Same goes for driving on dry roads before you get to deep snow or sand (as any dune driver would know, we only let the air out and lock hubs immediately prior to entering the dunes. Wooo!). Driving on hard, dry roads in four wheel drive can cause damage to your vehicle’s driveshafts, transfer case or differentials. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I’m sure it would send Rob, Dennis and Bobby into fits.

Those are the major points we’ll cover for today. Now, a “bit of fun” by Red Green. Please, please don’t try this at home.

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