Four-wheel drive vehicles are a lot of fun out on the trail, whether climbing hills, rock crawling, or driving through streams and mud beds. The sport is becoming more popular every year, bringing more people out with their 4WD trucks and Jeeps to try enjoy the thrill of off-roading.
While it would be nice for everyone to experience the thrill of off-roading, it’s important for owners of 4WD trucks to understand the truck's capabilities and what to actually expect from them. A lot of that can depend on the type of four-wheel drive they have, since there are different kinds.
Full Time 4WD Systems
Full-time 4WD is the type most often found on dedicated off-road vehicles not used on the road at all. This type of full-time 4WD offers the highest amount of traction over a variety of surfaces, which is what lets these vehicles climb rocks, scale hills, drive through thick mud, and negotiate water obstacles.
Full-time 4WD utilizes a differential that, when locked, keeps all wheels spinning at the same rate, receiving equal amounts of torque from the motor. This provides the best traction in the roughest conditions. They also feature a high and low gear to handle different traction requirements.
Part Time 4WD Systems
Part time 4WD systems offer basically the same functionality as full-time systems; however, they can be turned on and off as desired. For the off-roader who uses their prized truck for fun on the weekends, this setup offers the most versatility. The vehicle can be driven in 2WD while on the road, then conveniently switched to 4WD for the trail.
The main disadvantage with these trucks has to do with reduced fuel efficiency and increased vehicle wear even on add-on aftermarket parts such as steel bumpers. Four-wheel vehicles are heavier than the two-wheel versions and the differential requires more fuel to power the vehicle even in 2WD mode.
Shift-On-The-Fly and Automatic 4WD Systems
Both shift-on-the-fly and automatic 4WD are more advanced versions of the part-time system. Each one offers a different option for switching from two-wheel to four-wheel. Shift-on-the-fly systems are activated by the driver while the vehicle is being driven, eliminating the need to first stop the truck.
Automatic systems use computerized monitoring to determine when 4WD should be activated, turning it on and off automatically. Both of these systems are of greatest use with SUVs and passenger vehicles driven primarily on the road, since off-roading enthusiasts typically want to keep their 4WD turned on all the time when on the trails.
All Wheel Drive Systems
Different from all other types of 4WD, all-wheel drive systems offer a complex combination of the most desirable qualities of all other types of four-wheel drive. These systems are computer-controlled and the four wheels are always engaged from the differential. The computer applies varying amounts of power to the four different wheels according to road conditions. In this sense, the system is constantly interpreting the road and correcting to offer the most suitable traction for each individual wheel on your off-road truck.
These systems were designed and are most suitable for passenger vehicles and smaller SUVs that are only driven on the road as there is no way to lock the differential, which is necessary to get great traction on the off-road trails.
Making the assumption that all four-wheel drive is the same, off-road enthusiasts need to think again. A full-time system is definitely necessary for extreme off roading, although many also ride the trails in their prized Jeeps or trucks with part-time systems. When it comes to manual part-time, shift-on-the-fly, or automatic 4WD, drivers need to know how their systems work and activate to keep themselves safe and avoid trying more than their particular system can handle and risk damage to their aftermarket steel truck bumpers!