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4 wheel drive/stick vs. push button??



  • dch0300dch0300 Posts: 472
    Thanks for the info.
    I get the pleasure of driving from Seattle WA to Helena MT this next Christmas with my wife, a 6 year old son, a 3 year old daughter, and 4 mountain passes to go over too. In Idaho and Montana there are lots of shadows on the road from the mountains next to the road which creates intermittent clears spots and slick spots about every mile or so, and the speed limit posted as 75 (which I will do only if the conditions are good). So I was just wondering if leaving Autotrac "on" during those conditions, which will last 300 miles and speeds that can vary from 40 mph to 75 mph, will this cause any harm to my truck?
  • My honest opinion, is you should leave it off when travelling down the highway. Being in 4Hi, whether intermittently engaged by the autotrac system, or manually engaged by you, just doesn't make you safer, or give you better control than you would have without it, especially once you have forward momentum working on your side, which is usually the case travelling at 40 mph or 70 mph. The exception would be going uphill on mountain passes with the intermittent icy patches you describe. Or anytime its REALLY icy/snowy. Otherwise, autotrac is more useful for city stop and go, where punching the throttle on slippery streets could cause fishtail.

    My resume includes about 30 years of winter driving. I will avoid using autotrac when and wherever possible, except the worst conditions, unless the alternative means possibly getting stuck or not making the hill. Under those conditions, autotrac relieves you of the need to alternately engage and disengage the (otherwise) part time 4Hi system as conditions change.

    I believe you need to experience what the road conditions truly are in 2WD, to avoid being duped into possible over-confidence or reliance on a 4x4 system. Remember, you don't STOP any faster in a 4x4. Climbing slippery hills, turn it on. On the flats, especially above 40 mph, leave it off. In the stop and go, ice, drifts, and slower going, leave it on.

    As for harm to your truck...well there's of course no harm to using autotrac or 4Hi in the short term. The issue becomes the cumulative effect of wear and tear over the long term. If you are in doubt, feel secure to engage autotrac. But when you do, the front propeller shaft is turning, and the transfer case is operational. So SOME wear is taking place, but not nearly what would occur in 4Hi, where the front axles are also locked. When autotrac is engaged, you can feel a slight vibration underfoot, towards the front of the transmission tunnel. This is the motion of the propeller shaft and transfer case, rotating, when autotrac is engaged, even when autotrac has NOT locked the front axles, putting you into 4Hi. Didn't mean to write so much. Hope this helps.
  • lariat1lariat1 Posts: 461
    Thanks for the clarification Quad I looked all last night for an explanation on how the Autotrac t-case worked and all I could find was "it engages the front end when the back end slips". Not very helpful at all.
  • ak4x4ak4x4 Posts: 126
    Bobsquatch: You're right i did not know that, I went to double check that at Ford. I get confused because the Ford's are the only truck to offer the Maunal hubs. I did not know that you could engage then automatically from the cab. But does this still mean locking the hubs on the outside before you can engage the system automatically??

    Hillhound:I hear you. But the most people I know leave the autotrac on auto all the time. Not saying that at is good around town, but GM or any other truck company will not tell you that's you should not drive above(I want to say 55) while the 4x4 is engaged. And yes if for a second yo lose traction on say an ice road, those rear wheels will begin to slip and put you in a slide/spin faster then you can say What!. As I found out 3 weeks ago!!

    And the Blazer I own is an '84 4x4 and the 4x4 is stuck in high all the time due to a bad insert of the tranny from my other '84 which blew a rear main seal and the engine seized. At least they were under a grand!!!
  • dch0300dch0300 Posts: 472
    Thanks again for the info.
    Sounds like if conditions get slippery going up the passes I'll turn on Autotrac, otherwise I'll probably leave it off and in 2wd.
    Having lived 22 years in Montana, I know how to drive in winter conditions. But my vehicles were simpler back then. I had a 2wd 1967 Impala, and a 4wd 1978 GMC. I used the Impala 95% of the time (summer or winter) and the GMC 5% of the time (mostly in 4wd for plowing snow on my 1 mile long driveway down to the highway).

    Have a great weekend.
  • xyz71xyz71 Posts: 179
    Autotrac was designed for use when the road is part snow/ice/wet and part dry. It will not hurt anything to use it for what it was designed for.

    It would be like not turning on your windshield wippers when it is rainnibg to save wear and tear on your wipper motor.

    The reason you pay extra for something is so you can use it.
  • eagle63eagle63 Posts: 599
    Is GM's autotrac similar to what I have in my Explorer? -it's called "control trac" 4wd. Has 3 settings: 4hi, 4lo, and "auto." It sounds like the same thing to me. Still part-time 4wd, but with a little extra technology added.
  • Maybe Hound knows. Sounds similar.
  • hillhoundhillhound Posts: 537
    Sorry I don't know much about Ford's system. I' curious about it now-maybe some other Ford person can chime in and enlighten us...
  • No, the Electronic shift on the fly (ESOF) system available on Fords are 100% automatic. When you turn the selector to 4Hi or 4LO the transfer case engages automatically as do the auto hubs. The manual operation of the hubs is strictly in the event of a failure. Some of the shortcommings of this system are you can't have 2WD low range, you can't flat tow your vehicle because there is no neutral for your tcase and if you have a front locker, you can't disable it by unlocking one hub.
  • I use AutoTrac most of the winter because the roads are covered with snow or slippery and it's all city driving. When I hit the highway, I go to 2 HI to save wear on the tcase. I've had no problems driving this way. AutoTrac is just great for city driving, period. I had some trepidation about push buttons, but I'm a believer now.
  • I was just wondering why a truck needs them locking hubs?? I notice that ford has it on some of their trucks (my dad has an F250)... The reason I am asking is because my uncle has an 84 Chev with a standard transmission.. Every time he wants to put the truck in four wheel drive he has to get out and lock both front wheels.. I had always though that this was because the truck was a standard transmission but when dad got his(automatic trans) it had them on it, the only difference is on dad's it has a manual and automatic settings so he hasn't got to get out.. Why hasn't my 1994 Chev Z71 got the hubs?? It's all pretty confusing if you ask me..

    Swoosh Man
  • Read post #34. Your chevy has a center disconnect IFS front axel so no hubs. For vehicles with solid front axels, the hubs connect/disconnect the front tires to the front axel in the same way that the transfer case connects/disconnects the front axel to the transmission. Your dad probably has older solid front axel chevys.
  • lariat1lariat1 Posts: 461
    When you lock your hubs you are engaging the gears that are inside the hub that will allow power to be transferred to the front wheels. Nowadays most hubs are automatic and are acuated by a solenoid. Before solenoids auto hubs were mechanical and when you pulled the lever for 4-wd the hubs automatically turned and engaged then when you wanted to disengage them you had to back up in a staight line for about 15' they were convenient 10 years ago but not anymore. Before that all hubs were manual and you had to get out to lock them.
  • Thanks for the information, sounds like technology has come a long way... Just one more question, what about the hubs on my dad's 01 Ford F250.. They have automatic and manual, when would u use the manual?? Would it be like a four low setting and only use it to give you more power for the tight spots?? Or is it something to back up the automatic settings in case it happens to fail?? Thanks Swoosh Man
  • As I stated in post #61, The manual function of these hubs is strictly a redundant feature in case the hubs fail to activate automatically.
  • abc246abc246 Posts: 305
    I haven't seen the correct description yet, so here it goes! In Autotrac mode the front axel disconnect is engaged all the time. This means the all the 4-wheel drive stuff is rotating. There is a clutch pack in the transfer case that is computer controlled. The computer is monitoring the speed of the two transfer case drive shafts (front and rear). When one starts to turn faster than other by a programmed amount the clutch packs lock. This engages the front axel. You can feel this when starting on some surfaces.

    So driving with Autotrac on is basically like driving with the hubs locked on an old 4-wheel drive with the transfer case in 2wd under good conditions, but the transfer case will engage 4 Hi when needed. This prevents binding. Since the hubs are locked all the time fuel economy will be reduced slightly because the front half shafts and drive shaft will be rotating. Wear increase is negligible. The front axel disconnect only disengages one front wheel even in 2 Hi and incidentally does not stop either front half shaft from rotating. This system is just plain cheap for them to build. Ford was on the right track with their automatic hubs; these disengaged both axels and wheels. Hope this helps.

    As someone pointed out, it is better to drive with autotrac on, then do a 180. The system works great when the unexpected is encountered, such as an icy overpass.
  • lariat1lariat1 Posts: 461
    Thanks for the description that is how I figured it operated but I could not find anywhere it said for sure. Having a clutch pack in the t-case is the only way I have heard of to have automatic 4wd and not end up with ratcheting when the front wheels engage.
  • I agree with that explanation also. Sorry for the confusion.
  • This is a cool discussion, but I just had to add a few items that maybe you folks did not know.

    What is commonly known as automatic hubs, at least on Chevies, but probably on other brands as well, is simly a one-piece solid hub assembly that is always turning the axles, and therefore interacting in some way with the front differential. If any of you would like to get manual hubs on a newer rig, try WARN Industries, because if they have hubs for a less popular vehicle that I have, a 1999 Chev Tracker, then they have them for all of the high selling trucks.
    The benefits with manual hubs are that you can unlock your axles, thus creating less drag, and achieving greater efficiency. Also the hubs are very strong and can be left locked without getting damaged.

    Another thing, it does not damage a 4X4 if you run at freeway speeds in bad weather conditions. Maybe it will cause you to have to replace parts sooner than normal, but not by much and that can be attributed simply to the fact that the system is being used, as oppossed to not being used. Also, lever action is still mechnical, not a sensor. I got underneath my rig and checked it out. There is a small shaft that actually switcheds settings on the transfer case, not a sensor activated like all pushbutton. In fact it seems like response time is much quicker on lever activated systems, and you don't have to worry about the sensor going out, because there is no sensor even.

  • gmacegmace Posts: 31
    I find my truck on really rocky two track occasionally. I like low range with the hubs unlocked. There is excellent traction on the rocks and at the crawling speeds I want low range to keep the transmission heat down. I don't want the hubs locked because of transfer case binding. At least on Ford Superduty with ESOF you couldn't have low range and unlocked hubs. I also wanted to be able to have the truck pulled with 4 wheels down, necessitating a Neutral position.
  • Hey.. I was just wondering how long it should take for my 4X4 to kick in.. I put her from 2WD into 4HI and it takes like 20 seconds to initate.. Is this too long or the norm? I don't like this much, but I guess I have to put up with it.. hehehe Oh my truck is a 94 Chevrolet Z71 if you hadn't already read one of my past postings..

    Swoosh Man
  • lariat1lariat1 Posts: 461
    SOunds like the heater that engages the front end is dying. GM has a fix for it but I do not know how much it will cost. Up here in Alaska a lot of 88-98 gm trucks have had problems with it, some of them even have a manual lever installed to bypass the heater.
  • 964x4964x4 Posts: 3
    My 96 ford Ranger 4WD (51,000 miles)makes a loud whining noise and a clunk when I go from 4wd to 2wd. I have to stop and re-engage the 4wd and then back to 2wd to get it to stop. Sometimes I have to do this multiple times to get back to quiet running 2wd. Going from 2wd to 4wd is ok.
    My mechanic says the auto locking hubs are shot and suggests a manual hub replacement, mostly due to the cost of the replacement auto hubs. Is this a common problem and are manual hubs a good choice. I would appreciate any input on this.
  • I don't know if it's a common problem, but manual hubs are are generally more rugged and dependable than auto locking hubs.

    I'm curious; What are the repair prices for your options (manual vs auto)?
  • 964x4964x4 Posts: 3
    He didn't quote me price on auto locking hubs but over $500 to replace with manual hubs. Sound reasonable?

    I had another guy tell me you have to change something in the transfer case also when you go to manual hubs with a 5 speed trany. Can anyone confirm that? Hate for this to become a bigger deal than it is already.
  • I'm looking @ post #10.

    What's this talk of using low range to tow? Without locking the hubs. So essentially you're using 2-wheel low! Isn't that really hard on the tranny and the rest of the drive line?? Fill me in.

    I only use my low range for off road purposes or pulling out shrubbery:)
  • The main difference (or benefit) of manual locking hubs vs automatic locking hubs (other than manual hubs being more durable) is that when manual locking hubs are engaged, power is transferred instantaneously to the front wheels. With automatic locking hubs, the wheels must turn slightly in order to "engage" and thus provide power to the front wheels. This is really only a benefit after you are stuck in 2-wheel drive. My '01 Chevy 2500HD has independent front suspension. Ford 3/4 tons have solid front axles. With independent front suspension you do not have hubs but rather a disconnect in the front differential (which still requires wheel movement before engaging). I know this to be a fact as I like to see where I can go before shifting into 4-wheel drive. During a recent snowstorm, I got stuck in 2-wheel drive. I shifted into 4-wheel drive, but since I could not move forward, only the rear wheels would still spin (even though the 4-wheel drive light was lit on the dash). All I had to do was back up slightly and the 4-wheel drive became engaged. In contrast, Ford has the best of both worlds with their solid front axle and the choice of automatic or manual locking hubs. You can leave them in auto and the hubs will engage when you shift to 4-wheel drive and the wheels turn slightly. Or, if you are stuck where you cannot move forward, as I was in the snow, you could get out and turn the hubs to manual lock. When you try to drive forward, the front wheels will be locked and will pull (there is no need for the wheels to turn slightly in order to lock).
  • If you want manual hubs, they will surely be a lot cheaper than $500. Any 4X4 shop should sell them. I got a pair of WARN premium manual hubs for only about $150 US dollars. And they are easy to change as well.

  • mledtjemledtje Posts: 1,123
    Why would 2wd low range be hard on the transmission? The transmission sees the same engine torque as in high range.

    The final drive would see more torque, that is true. And that is the reason for using low range. That, and more choice of gears at low speed.

    I pull my 4wd fuse and use 2wd low range when I want more low speed control or power, but not the binding of 4wd on dry pavement. I use it when backing under my pickup camper - nice and slow without riding the clutch or brake. And the extra power when pulling shrubs or trailers is very handy.

    It doesn't take a lot of throttle to move a heavy load, because of the low range. Low range and a light throttle means no more load on the drivetrain than high range and full throttle, and a lot more control.

    Mike L
  • 964x4964x4 Posts: 3
    I did some checking and picked up a set of manual hubs and locknut conversion kit for about $150 and changed them my self in about 2 hours. Very easy to do and no more problems locking in or getting stuck while in 2wd and can't move enough to engage the auto hubs. I would highly recommend this to all with problems with the auto hubs on Fords. Thanks for the info to all who responded.

  • hillhoundhillhound Posts: 537
    Glad to hear it's fixed. Keep us posted.
  • eagle63eagle63 Posts: 599
    good post on the difference between manual and auto hubs. one question though: does this mean that if you have IFS, auto hubs are the only choice, or is it still possible to have manual hubs?
  • sebring95sebring95 Posts: 3,241
    Tacomas have had IFS and manual hubs since the beginning. So yes it's possible. Just not offered by very many others.
  • bmaigebmaige Posts: 140
    We live in the southeast so we don't have any problem with snow, ice, or extremely low temperatures (20 degrees is cold to us). Our problem is mud, and we have a farm so we have to drive over plowed fields sometimes. I prefer the manual hubs, but try to think ahead and lock them before going into a boggy area. That can be a little aggravating at times if you are in and out of areas that need four wheel drive, such as cow lots, but it is much better than having to get out in shin deep cow manure or mud to lock them. And they have never left us stranded.

    I notice in Edmunds the new 4WD F-150's list automatic hubs standard, while the F-250's and F-350's list manual hubs standard. Can the F-150 still be bought with manual hubs?
  • whatsachevywhatsachevy Posts: 136
    Like sebring95 said, their are IFS trucks with manual lockouts, I just haven't seen any aftermarket kits for IFS trucks. My last truck was a '91 Ford F-150 4X4 with manual everything (tranny, transfer case and hubs). I loved that truck for off-road use (although the 302 could have used a little more power with the 3.73 gear and oversized tires). I had BFG 32X11.50X15 mudders and as long as I could keep them spinning, I could go just about anywhere. I always liked 3rd or 4th gear in 4x4 Lo (good speed and lots of torque). My '01 Chevy 2500HD 4X4 EC 6.0/4.10 has plenty of power to keep the Cooper SST 285/75/16 mud tires spinning, but I wish I had my manual tranny back. I did opt for the manual transfer case which I am now glad I did. I haven't been stuck yet, so I haven't got pissed off at the auto lockouts, YET! I haven't looked real hard to see if anyone offers manual lockouts for the Chevy HD's. I would definitely consider it though if I ever see a kit. One of the real pains with the auto lockouts is they disengage and reingage every time you change directions (you don't have that problem with manual lockouts) and if you've ever been stuck, you know the first thing you try to do is rock it out by going forward and backward.

    The F-250 and F-350 still have a solid front axle (i.e. manual hubs). The F-150 now has independent front suspension (I think started with the '97 remodel) and thus auto lockouts are the only option (unless you can find someone that offers an aftermarket manual lockout kit for IFS trucks).
  • swooshmanswooshman Posts: 56
    Hey everyone... I have a 94 Chev Z71 and the 4wd shifter is very stiff and usually take a couple of quick pulls back and forth to get it info four wheel drive.. I have put some grease underneath and it has helped but it only gets sticky again later... Anyone know a fix.. I am also finding that sometimes it will pop out of 4x4 with a little thump and then go back in... Any help is appreciated...
  • jdtopperjdtopper Posts: 58
    Mike, you said you pull the 4wd fuse in order to get to 2wd lo-range. What are you driving? Are there two fuses - one for the t-case and another to engage the front hubs?
  • mledtjemledtje Posts: 1,123
    My Silverado has a fuse labeled 4wd, and I believe it is for the front axle disconnects. The t-case is fully manual - I just put it in low range. Might not work for electric t-cases.

    Mike L
This discussion has been closed.