What Is the 4X4 Auto on a Ford Explorer?

by Thomas West

Although considered a sport utility vehicle, the mid-sized Ford Explorer is available both as a two or four-wheel-drive vehicle. The four-wheel-drive system is rather sophisticated when compared to the systems that were available in older Fords equipped with four-wheel-drive. The 4WD system outfitted in newer Explorers is suited for all kinds of terrain, road and weather conditions. Knowing which dashboard-mounted button to push -- whether it be 4X4 Auto, 4X4 high or 4X4 low -- will ensure that you are matching the correct option for that conditions present.

4X4 Auto

Pressing this button on the dashboard of your Explorer can be accomplished when moving forward at any speed and enables the four-wheel-drive system. Unlike conventional four-wheel-drive mode, this option can be turned on if bad weather is anticipated while the roads are dry without causing harm to the system. 4X4 auto is best used when the roads are wet, snowy or if you are traversing over loose gravel. Each wheel is controlled electronically and power is applied only to the wheels that have traction. This is handy if you are traveling roads that are alternately slippery, wet or dry. 4X4 auto is not designed for use when you are traveling off-road or in severe winter conditions. No dash light is illuminated when in 4X4 auto mode.

4X4 High

If you are in 4X4 auto mode while traveling on wet or snowy roads, you can easily shift to 4X4 high if the road conditions worsen. As long as the rear wheels are not spinning, you can switch between 4X4 auto and 4X4 high and back again at any forward speed. 4X4 high works differently than 4X4 auto in that power is supplied to the front and rear wheels simultaneously. For this reason, this option should never be used on dry roads, as damage to the four-wheel-drive system or the drive-train can occur. 4X4 high is designed to be used in severe winter conditions, such as deep snow and ice. This option is also useful when traversing shallow sand. The “4X4” light on the dashboard is illuminated when traveling in 4X4 high mode.

4X4 Low

If you use your Explorer mainly on paved roads, this option may be the least-used of your four-wheel-drive system. 4X4 low is best used if you need extra low-speed power going up steep inclines, traversing snowy roads, deep sand or pulling a boat from the water. Like 4X4 high, it is recommended while using 4X4 low that you do not traverse dry roads or you could cause damage to the vehicle. You cannot shift to 4X4 low on the fly. If you are traveling in two-wheel-drive, 4X4 auto or 4X4 high, you must come to a complete stop first. You must then shift the transmission to neutral, then push the 4X4 low button. When the “4X4 LOW” light illuminates on the dashboard, your are ready to continue in 4X4 low.

Excessive Noise

Using 4x4 auto should not create any drivetrain or tire noises that are not normally heard while in two-wheel-drive mode. This changes when you are using 4X4 high or 4X4 low, even if you are not traversing paved surfaces. You may notice excessive drivetrain and tire noise when using either of these options. According to Ford, this is normal, and even the occasional clunk from the drivetrain is normal while in these modes.

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