Should Your Jeep be in 2H? Read This Guide


Jeep Interior

Buying a 4-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle can feel a bit like you’ve just been bitten by a radioactive spider and granted superpowers! However, just because you now have the power doesn’t automatically mean you know how to use it, and misusing 4WD will get you stuck more often than not.

So, if you are looking down at your 4WD vehicles transfer case and wondering should my Jeep be in 2H (aka 2Hi), you are not alone!

For your daily road driving, your Jeep should be in 2H, also labeled as 2Hi on some models. This mode is meant for driving on dry pavement. Using another setting can result in damage to your Jeep’s transfer case, usually in the form overheating.

4H/4Hi is used when you need a bit more traction in wet or light snow conditions or on dirt/gravel roads. 4L/4Lo is used when you need maximum traction and torque. 4L is for your more serious off-roading applications.

Are you still confused about when and how to switch transfer case positions on your Jeep? Keep reading, and we will dig more into each setting, when to use them, how to switch between positions and some serious dos and don’ts that will get you the best performance while maintaining the integrity of your Jeep’s transfer case and transmission.

When to use 2H, 4H, and 4L

Now that you have the power of a 4WD Jeep, you want to make sure that you are using it to its maximum benefit without causing any damage to your vehicle.

A lot of 4WD first-timers are confused by when to use each setting of the 4WD system. This lack of knowledge can often result in drivers misusing the settings and getting their new Jeep stuck or worse yet, damaging the 4WD drive components, especially the transfer case. To help you avoid these common missteps, let’s take a look at the use case for each setting.

The transfer case is used to switch between providing power to the rear wheels only, or to all four wheels. The H/L or Hi/Lo settings tell you the gear ratio range being used. H/Hi uses higher gear ratios which do not provide as much torque (power for pulling your vehicle up and down trails) but allows you to drive at regular highway speeds.

2H/2Hi

2H is your daily drive setting, assuming your daily drive is regular dry pavement. In this position, the rear wheels are doing the driving and use the high range of gear ratios. This means reduced torque but increased speed. In this setting, you can drive your Jeep at regular highway speeds without concern of overheating.

4H/4Hi

Switch to this position on the transfer case when you need a bit more traction. In 4H, the engine is providing power to all four wheels, not just the rear wheels.

However, it is still using the higher range of gear ratios, which means you can travel at regular road speeds, although the conditions might dictate that you should reduce your speed to keep everyone safe.

This setting is suitable for dirt/gravel roads, hardpack snow or sand, and rain-/snow-/ice-slicked roads.

4L/Lo

Again, the “4” here means power is being supplied to all four wheels, but the L/Lo means that the range of gear ratios being used is lower. This setting is best used in those serious off-road conditions.

Use this when you are driving at slower speeds but need maximum traction and power. Use this for rocky conditions, when you encounter deep mud or snow, or want to climb/descend steep inclines. Lower gear ratios mean higher torque for more power but slower speeds.

How to Switch Positions on Your Jeep’s Transfer Case

Now that you know when to use each setting on your 4WD Jeep. Another vital bit of knowledge is how to switch between positions. Throwing your Jeep from 2H to 4L in gear at speed can do severe damage. Don’t do that! 

Not every 4WD setup is the same, so consult your manual for the exact procedure. Here we will cover the basics for switching a modern 4WD model. Older models often have more steps involved in switching, again, check the owner’s manual for the exact procedure.

Also, remember that 4H and 4Hi are the same, and the labeling depends on the model of Jeep you have. Similarly, 4L and 4Lo are the same, and the labeling will depend on your model.

The “2” and the “4” in the labels tell you where the drive train is sending power. “2” means the rear two wheels, while “4” means all four wheels are receiving power from the engine.

The H/Hi and L/Lo refer to which range of gear ratios are being used. In any mode marked with H or Hi, you can use the high range gear ratios, which give you more speed but less power.

Conversely, the L/Lo tell you that the lower range gear ratios are being used, which will provide you with more power (torque), but driving at higher speeds will cause heat to build up in your transfer case, which will do some damage.

There are also other risks if you push your speed to high. You could cause binding/crow-hopping, which happens when the four wheels move at different speeds. This can be felt as either a bang or a shudder in the drivetrain.

Switching to 4H/Hi

If the road has become slick or you’ve hit some loose gravel, you can switch to 4H mode by simply pulling the lever back firmly to the 4H position. This usually needs to be done at speeds less than 60mph.

Switching to 4L/Lo

Remember that you are now switching the gear ratios being used. When you change to lower gear ratios, you will need to be traveling at lower speeds. In general, you want to be going about 2-3mph.

Once you have reduced your speed, shift into neutral, then pull the lever back to 4H, and finally put your Jeep back into gear. Now you are good to go, just remember that you cannot travel at normal road speeds now.

You can switch to 4L while stopped, but it can be more difficult because the teeth of each gear may not line up. When rolling, it is much easier to slide the two gears together.

Tips & Tricks

Now that you have the basics down, let’s cover a few more tips and tricks that will help you utilize your Jeep:

  • Do read your user manual if you are still not sure how to switch between 2H, 4H, and 4L.
  • Do not go from 2H to 4L. First move from 2H to 4H then to 4L, repeat in reverse to go back to 2H. This will prevent damage to your transfer case and transmission.
  • Do adjust your tire pressure when switching between highway/roads and off-road. Lower PSI is used for off-road as it makes the tires a bit squishier for grip and allows more of the tire to contact the drive surface, giving you better traction.
  • Do use 4H on slippery or loose roads at speeds up to 50mph. You can go to 55mph, but doing so for extended periods could lead to heat buildup or binding, both of which will damage your drivetrain/transfer case.
  • Don’t use 4H/4L on dry paved roads. Again, this can lead to binding, heat buildup, or other breakages that will be costly to repair and leave you stuck on the street when you really want to be tearing up the trails!
  • Don’t go faster than 25mph when using 4L. Remember, you are only utilizing those lower gear ratios, and going too fast will cause heat buildup and other damage.

Get Out There!

If you are driving in normal dry pavement conditions, you should always be in 2H. Using 4H or 4L could cause critical damage and leave you without the use of your Jeep while it is in the shop receiving costly repairs!

Use 4H for slippery or gravel roads and use 4L for those serious off-road conditions with deep snow/mud and steeper inclines.

Always follow the proper procedure to switch between modes on the transfer case.

Get out there and enjoy the freedom that comes with a 4WD Jeep!

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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