4-Hi vs 4-Low in Mud

4WDs can be quite challenging to use, especially when you are navigating different terrains requiring different transfer case gearing and transmission gearing. It does not have to be too difficult, let me explain the best use of your rig in the mud.

One thing that drivers frequently debate about is when to use 4 high vs 4 low.

Besides that, a lot of people want to know what makes these two settings different. It’s important to know the fundamental workings of a 4WD since these two settings are found in such vehicles.


The 4WD Vehicle System

A 4WD system usually involves engine power being sent equally to all the wheels. (depending on the differential) This process is normally facilitated by the transfer case that connects to the transmission and then to the rear and front driveshafts to the rear to the front differentials. As a result, this causes power to equally split to all the wheels, thereby managing the efficient transfer of power.

It is important to note that most 4wd vehicles have open differentials. This basically means during street use of the vehicle, when making a turn, the wheels are allowed to spin at different speeds. This is not exactly the perfect time to go over differentials, just know that even in 4wd you may only spin one tire per axle in the mud. This is still better than a 2wd vehicle considering they would only spin one tire total. You can look into different lockers or limited-slip differentials if you’re into offroad hardcore. Otherwise, rock what you got!

If you are engaging 4WD, then the transfer case will join the front axle and the rear axle and the torque will be split 50/50 between the two axles. Overall, each wheel will end up getting 25% of the total power available. So, all 4 wheels will end up pushing and pulling simultaneously.

If you are going to use a 4WD vehicle, then there are three settings that you should utilize, 2H, 4L, and 4H. In this case, we are going to differentiate 4 hi vs 4 low.

How to Drive a 4WD in the Mud: 4 Hi vs 4 Low in Mud

Before you take your 4WD mudding, the first thing that you should do is to reduce the tire pressure. The best tire pressure for this type of terrain is generally estimated to be around 10-20 PSI depending on the tire size. If you have true bead locks it is possible to run as low as 5 PSI offroad. This will create a larger footprint over the ground, making your vehicle more effective.

You need to check the vehicle’s Traction Control and ensure that it’s switched off.

Note that the Traction Control will be responsible for applying brakes to the moving wheels and you will end up losing forward momentum quickly.

So, what’s the nature of the muddy terrain you’re going in?

Are you going to deal with obstacles, deep or slippery mud?

Of course, a 4WD will take you through the muddy terrain, but you also need to ensure that you can navigate it. If there are mud holes, then try to find out how deep and wide they are.

Ensure that there are no rocks or logs of woods below the muddy surface because someone might have previously thrown them to get extra traction.

For your vehicle, this could result in unwanted under-body damage in addition to other low-lying components.


4 High vs 4 Low: When to Use These Settings

4 high vs 4 low settings are ideal for use in different instances. the challenge is knowing when?

  • 4-hi: the 4WD high-range is ideal for use when you are driving at normal speeds and over roads that are quite slippery. For instance, it could be when you are commuting in a rainy or stormy environment. Alternatively, this setting fits the state of the road during winter but you can also engage it when you are stuck in the sand.

  • 4-low: it’s an ideal setting in extremely challenging terrains that involve rocks, deep sand, deep mud, and fording creeks among others. You are required to use low speeds, preferably 20mph or even less. This setting is rarely used, except when you are going through rough terrain.

When to Engage 4WD’s 4Lo

When your 4WD is in the “4 Lo” setting, then it means that your driving mode is low-range.

4- Low will utilize the tallest gearing possible the vehicle has to offer. Imagine you’re riding a bike with gears on it. 4 Low would be the gear you use to go the fastest. It creates an immense mechanical advantage so you can make it through the roughest terrains; like mud.

4-low is great for the following terrains.

  • Thick mud
  • Deep river crossings
  • Loose and deep sand
  • Demanding technical declines
  • Rock crawling

Its high-power range makes it possible for a driver to go through all these terrains without easily getting stuck. To reiterate, 4-Lo’s shorter gear ratios will always keep the 4WD within its power range.

There is a common misconception that the 4-Lo setting can increase the vehicle’s torque.

Well, this isn’t true. What it usually does is to effectively and quickly utilize the available torque to keep the rev-range higher and maintain it at the highest possible torque band. This creates a system with readily available power when required.

When to Engage 4WD’s 4-Hi

4-hi is ideal for use when you need slightly more traction, of course, more than normal. This 4WD setting will give you more traction and still allow you to drive at a reasonably higher speed. Note that if you are outdoors and going over 15 mph, you should consider using this type of setting.

Generally, 4-Hi is ideal for slippery or snowy conditions. Besides that, drivers commonly use it on rock roads or in situations that involve going through rough pastures. But you should take caution when using 4-Hi since it isn’t ideal for over 55mph to 6o mph because this speed will damage the transfer case.

4 Hi vs 4 Low in Mud: Which is the Most Ideal Setting?

One caveat that every 4WD driver needs to first understand is that you shouldn’t engage this type of vehicle on dry and smooth roads.

If you do so, then you will end up damaging the 4WD’s drivetrain. Your basic understanding should be that a 4WD usually engages all its wheels and stopping would, therefore, become problematic.

So, which type of setting is best for muddy conditions?

A 4-Lo setting would be the most appropriate and here is why.

4-lo offers a low-range but extremely powerful traction that allows the 4WD to move easily across challenging terrains such as deep mud. Its efficiency is extremely high and a 2WD would never match its power.

Besides that, this setting is quite versatile, it allows you to go through multiple terrains. Apart from deep mud, 4-lo can also go through snowy road conditions, soft sands, up in steep hills, and tall dunes. Its flexible nature makes it suitable for off-road as it allows you to crush boulders and move in deep ruts without losing control of the vehicle.

For adventurous drivers, this setting will allow you to visit lots of places and ensure that you get back home safely with minimal technical issues. 4-lo’s profile is quite interesting in that it also plays a role in improving the capabilities of a 4-wheel drive. This is facilitated by its ability to use engine braking. This design feature is important as it usually helps most drivers speed and effectively progress while they are going downhill.

Besides that, it also promoted more controlled handling of the vehicle, without the need of applying all the control stress on brakes only.

Muddy terrain isn’t easy to navigate, especially if your vehicle doesn’t have traction and lacks power. However, 4-lo offers maximum power in addition to optimal tracking. Overall, it ensures that you can smoothly engage even the most difficult terrains. But you should remember to use it at a lower speed, and preferably when the gear selection is between 1 and 2.

A 4-hi is generally great and it is one of the most used settings in 4WDs. However, it’s not ideal for use in mud. Its ideal environment involves the slippery of rain and snow as well as some rocks.

The Bottom Line

Knowing when to use 4-hi or 4-lo is critical when it comes to driving a 4WD. When you are outdoors, driving when it’s snowy or during mild summer storms, then the 4-hi setting should be the most appropriate. It works great in sandy conditions as well. However, you should always limit your speed to 55 mph or less.

On the other hand, 4-lo offers great power and traction. This makes it ideal for use in a wide range of difficult conditions including deep sand, steep and challenging off-road trails, deep mud, over rocks, and even creeks. However, you should ensure that you use this setting when your vehicle’s driving speed is less than 40 mph.

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