AUTORIDE | All about cars
AUTORIDE | All about cars

4 Wheel Drive Indicators: What is the difference between 4x4 High, Low, or Auto?

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Vehicles with four-wheel drive are equipped with various additional indicators on the dashboard, which are absent in two-wheel drive vehicles. Most modern four-wheel drive vehicles operate with the default "AUTO" mode but allow switching to different modes.

But what does this default mode mean, and what do the other dashboard lights for four-wheel drive vehicles even represent?

Table of Contents

4 Wheel Drive Auto indicator

4 Wheel Drive Auto indicator4 Wheel Drive Auto indicator4 Wheel Drive Auto indicator


This light warns the driver that the vehicle is in "AUTO" mode with four-wheel drive. This means that the vehicle automatically engages four-wheel drive when it detects a loss of traction. Most modern four-wheel drive vehicles use this mode as the default. The problem occurs if the light is on even when the mode should be off.


4 Wheel Drive High indicator

4 Wheel Drive High indicator4 Wheel Drive High indicator4 Wheel Drive High indicator4 Wheel Drive High indicator


This indicator warns the driver that the vehicle is in "HIGH" mode with four-wheel drive. In the case of older vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive, this was the default setting under normal driving conditions - in such a case, manufacturers rarely added the warning light to other indicators. Most modern four-wheel drive vehicles operate with the default "AUTO" mode and allow switching to 4x4 High or 4x4 Low.

The 4x4 High mode is useful when higher traction is needed at normal and higher speeds, for example, on a snowy road, during rain, etc. When the mode is active, the front and rear drive shafts are mechanically locked together, causing the front and rear wheels to rotate at the same speed.

This warning light can be displayed as 4x4 High, 4WD High, or in abbreviated versions such as 4HI or 4H. If it flashes permanently (not when switching the mode), it's a problem, and you should go to the service center asap.


4 Wheel Drive Low indicator

4 Wheel Drive Low indicator4 Wheel Drive Low indicator4 Wheel Drive Low indicator4 Wheel Drive Low indicator


This light warns the driver that the vehicle is in "LOW" mode with four-wheel drive. When the mode is active, the front and rear drive shafts are mechanically locked together, causing the front and rear wheels to rotate at the same speed. A low gear ratio provides higher wheel torque and, thus, much higher traction.

However, the 4x4 Low mode is not intended for normal and higher speed but especially for very slow off-road and difficult terrains such as steep climbs, muddy terrain, or deep sand, where higher torque and higher traction come in handy. Before driving on such terrain with the 4x4 Low mode, turning off the traction control is important.

Depending on the manufacturer, the warning light can be displayed in different variants, i.e., as 4x4 Low, 4WD Low, or in abbreviated form as 4LO or 4L. If it flashes permanently (not when switching the mode), it's a problem, and you should go to the service center asap.


4x2, 2HI, 2H indicators

4x2, 2HI, 2H indicators4x2, 2HI, 2H indicators4x2, 2HI, 2H indicators


These indicators warn the driver that a four-wheel drive vehicle only supplies energy to two wheels. The 4x2 mode is suitable for dry surfaces or during good driving conditions, providing better fuel economy.