Ford 4WD Problems

by Rob Wagner

For more than three decades, Ford trucks and sport utility vehicles with four-wheel-drive (4WD) have had a solid reputation for dependability. Due to the rugged nature of 4WD activity, occasional failure to engage all four wheels for better traction can occur. Most problems can be traced to the shift motor on the transfer case, which is not difficult to replace.

itstillruns article image


Four-wheel-drive engages all four wheels simultaneously for superior tracking and towing power. It operates on a part-time basis with the front wheels locked to the rear wheels and is operated by a button or shift lever. According to, Ford does not recommend engaging the 4WD component on flat paved surfaces,.

Think First

In lieu of taking their vehicles to the mechanic, many Ford 4WD owners prefer to perform the work themselves. Although most problems are simple in nature, it is not advised to attempt to remedy a problem with a Ford vehicle under warranty, which could be voided if work is performed by an unauthorized mechanic. Owners should note the symptoms and contact a Ford dealer.


Occasionally, after engaging the four-wheel-drive, the rear wheels will engage but the front wheels won't pull the vehicle. Raising the vehicle off the ground and engaging the 4WD will reveal the drive shaft spinning the rear wheels but not the front. A rattling or grinding noise may be heard from the front wheels. This indicates the automatic hubs, considered a high-maintenance component on Fords, need to be replaced, according to


Four-wheel-drives may have difficulty engaging. Although the computer regulating the 4WD may emit a ticking noise, resetting the computer is unlikely to help. Rather, the shift motor on the transfer case needs to be replaced.

Shift Fork

Older Ford trucks may experience the transfer case slipping from "2-hi" to neutral although "4-lo" and 4-hi" are working fine. The problem is likely the transfer case shifter fork. which needs to be replaced.

Stuck in 4-Lo

Older Ford 4WD pickups may engage in four-wheel-drive minutes after the vehicle is started, but then 4WD and "4-lo" indicator lights may flash at two-minute intervals and remain stuck in four-wheel-drive. The vehicle will disengage from four-wheel-drive by turning off the engine, but it will likely re-engage after a few minutes. According to, this problem is the actuator motor, which needs to be replaced.

Inaccurate Indicator Lights

The shift motor is likely the culprit if the four-wheel-drive fails to engage even if the lights indicate otherwise. Illuminated indicator lights don't necessarily mean the 4WD is engaged. The problem is most common on Ranger pickups and Explorer SUVs. The shift motor can be removed from the transfer case and the four-wheel drive can be engaged with a pair of vicegripes to determine whether the starter motor has failed.

More Articles

article divider