How to Disable All-Wheel Drive for Two-Wheel Drive

by Hunkar Ozyasar

Many off-road vehicles feature in-dash switches that allow the driver to select two- or four-wheel-drive modes. In such vehicles, disabling "all-wheel" drive is a simple and straightforward process. Essentially the switch (or lever or button) causes a mechanical gear change in the four-wheel-drive vehicle's transfer case. If the vehicle does not feature such a switch, though, you can try to minimize the activation of all-wheel-drive mode by adjusting your driving style. To fully disable all-wheel drive in such vehicles, you must make hardware changes, which can potentially be harmful to the vehicle or at least void the vehicle's warranty.

Look for a switch. Find out if your all-wheel-drive vehicle has been designed to give the driver control over which wheels are to be driven. Many off-road vehicles feature a knob in the center console that puts the vehicle into either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive mode. In two-wheel-drive mode, power is sent only to either the front or rear wheels (usually to the rear) regardless of road conditions. If your vehicle is equipped with such a switch, generally run in two-wheel drive unless the roads ar wet or there is snow or ice, or when you're planning to go off-road. Other vehicles that have all-wheel-drive capability feature knobs, dials and switches that will indirectly influence which wheels are to be driven. In cars, trucks and SUVs that have "rain" or "snow" modes, such modes favor all-wheel drive. Generally, the worse your vehicle thinks the weather conditions are, the more likely it will engage all-wheel drive instead of two-wheel drive. If the vehicle switches to all-wheel-drive mode after a heavy dose of wheel spin in normal or sport mode, it will either switch to all-wheel drive at the first hint of wheel spin or permanently send power to all four wheels when snow is selected on the central dial. So, if you can, pick the selection that corresponds best to the weather and driving conditions.

Drive gently. If your vehicle does not feature a driver-adjustable power delivery system, you can minimize or sometimes fully eliminate the activation of all-wheel-drive mode by driving as gently as possible. In vehicles that are not equipped with permanent all-wheel drive, power is sent to only two wheels in normal driving and to all four when wheel spin is detected on the two driven wheels. Wheel spin is more likely in snow, rain and mud, and when the driver presses the gas pedal. The more gently you accelerate, especially when coming out of corners, the less likely your vehicle will automatically switch to all-wheel-drive mode.

Deactivate one axle mechanically. Most modern all-wheel-drive vehicles do not allow the driver to disable all-wheel drive and will permanently send some power to every wheel regardless of driving conditions. If you have such a vehicle (the only way to be certain is to consult your user manual), your only option is to cut off power to one of the axles via mechanical intervention. You can do this in various ways. In Subarus, for example, you must insert the fuse in the FWD (front wheel drive) slot. This slot is normally empty and only to be filled if you are driving with the space saver tire for short distances. In the Ford Explorer, you can cut the electrical wire leading to the system that sends power to the front wheels. Such interventions should be carefully considered and can lead to mechanical failure if performed carelessly.

About the Author

Hunkar Ozyasar is the former high-yield bond strategist for Deutsche Bank. He has been quoted in publications including "Financial Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." His book, "When Time Management Fails," is published in 12 countries while Ozyasar’s finance articles are featured on Nikkei, Japan’s premier financial news service. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Kellogg Graduate School.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera extreme off-road image by krysek from Fotolia.com