Have you ever had a 4x4 system fail?

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Mar 3, 2004
My current truck is a 4x2, which is fine since I drive 99% on road. I like it because I dont have to worry about the 4x4 system failing at 60,001 miles or something goofy like that after my warranty is up. And if I had 4x4, Id proably want a utilitarian manual shift lever rather than some push button stuff. So I wonder how often 4x4 systems fail, from the buttons all the way down to the differentials?
Thats why I ordered my 2000 Chev with a Manual transmission and Manual Parttime Transfer case with the lever on the floor.

It's almost impossible to find this combo in a half ton extra cab in 2000. Now you will not as even with ordering, it's not avail...

I bought it to be a truck that I would keep for a long time. Simple (as a 2000 model year could get) and easy to maintain.

So far, Never had to get anything fixed and it gets around 20-21 mpg driving it around.

I don't drive it alot since we want it to last a long time. 5 1/2 years old and just turned 37,000 miles..

My 2005 Toyota just turned 6 months old and has 16,000!

My 1990 and 1996 Ford trucks were a different story. The 1990 was a 2x4 and had many problems and the 1996 4x4 Ford bought back in 1998 due to many more problems.
And my 1999 Ford Taurus story was written up here in the forums too well..

To answer your orginal question, Yes, I had the hubs in my 1996 fail, the low range switch fail and finally the transfer case needed to be rebuilt. Also alot of alingment(sp)problems on the front axle due to the "swinging" axle. In 1997 Ford went with the IRS front axle like Chev had for years and finally Dodge did with their new trucks. This is 1/2 ton only I'm talking about. Not the 3/4 ton and above which use a solid axle on the fords and Dodges.

I've found what works for me.. Some people like the push buttons (Like my dad) and they work for them. I like manual stuff...

Take care, Bill

[ April 25, 2005, 02:17 AM: Message edited by: Bill in Utah ]
I had a transfer case crap out on me in an '80 CJ-5, but iy was 15 yrs old, around 80,000 miles on it withs quite a bit of moderate to severe useage. I think part of the problem was I had problems with the rear driveshaft flying off (finaly fixed with new shaft and diff yoke) so I drove around in 4wd with no rear shaft. It is supposed to be OK to do this, but I still wonder.
I guess it depends on your definition of failing... on my '88 Chevy K2500, I've had 2 failures of the thermolinear actuator (I've since replaced it with the revised electromechanical one, no probs in 3 years now.)but I've not had what I would call an expensive failure.. i.e. broken xfer case, broken axles, etc. I bought the 98up actuator for about 80 bucks online and it only took an hour to install it and the GM adapter harness.
so with the exception of the actuator, my manual shift 4x4 system has never failed, not bad for a 17 year old truck.

Our '94 Explorer broke the plastic(!) lock rings in the hubs. Replaced under warranty, but they broke the first time it snowed the first winter we had it.

Never had any troubles related to 4WD in out Dodge farm pickups. We did have to replace one front axle on one, but that was a diff yoke-caused problem.
In 1989 I purchased a F-150 with part time 4 wheel drive. It had the 4X4 shifter on the floor(manual) and manually locking wheel hubs. Never had a problem in over 130,000 miles. Now have a 2002 F-150 with part time 4 wheel drive and the 4X4 shifter on the floor(manual), I had to order the truck. But it doesn't have any locking wheel hubs. It's now a central disconnect system. It's more convenient but probably more prone to problems because it's more complex. But no problems as of yet. I just don't like the idea of relying on an electric switch to engage the 4X4. 99.9% of the trucks on the dealers lots are electric switch 4X4. All new Suv's, Ford's and Chevy's are electric 4X4 shift.

I think the key in most new systems is to use it from time to time... With the popularity of SUVs etc these days, lots of people buy them for looks and end up never using their 4wd capability.

I know many ZR2 owners whose vacuum hubs go bad. I think its becauyse when theyre not used, they tend to get stuck, and its not recoverable.

I use my 4wd system, and if I know Im not using it for a while, Ill get it into 4hi at least when rolling straight on pavement.

I think its important to change fluids in that stuff, as condensation will build up, since there isnt always as much heat generated, etc., as in other drivetrain components (depending on how the 4wd system is setup). I was very suprised to see the difference in darkness, murkiness, and condensate from my front diff vs. the rear one. the rear is ALWAYS transferring power, so it always at least gets somewhat warm... the front has a lot less duty.

Use it or loose it, and keep the fluids changed. So long as you dont push it beyond its capabilities, youll get lots of good use, and the rubber parts and seals will fail long before anything else.

My family has had a bunch ('73,'76,'76,'79,'85,'86,'90,'90,'91,'92,'94,'98,'98,'99,'99,'00,'01,'04) of 4x4s.

The only one that wasn't a GM was my '98 Ford Ranger. I was the only one that had an issue with the 4x4. I had to have the transfer-case replaced under warranty.
I am sure that if there are moving parts there is a chance of failure, I have a 4wd and a 2wd trucks . I wouldn't get the extra parts unless there is a real need .
I've had 4X4's for years (where I live I wouldn't go anywhere in the winter without it). I've never had a problem with any of them.

59 Dodge W200 Power Wagon
78 Ford F250
78 Jeep CJ
85 Dodge W200
94 Dakota
96 Cherokee
00 Wrangler
The electric shift motor in my '99 Ranger bit the dust and was replaced under warranty.
I think the poster who stated "Use it or lose it" was right on target. THe transfer case and differentials need exercised and lubricated as well as any actualters. For example I have an electric actuater for my rear locking differential. It has been submerged in brackish water as well as sandblasted for thousands of miles worth of sand driving. No issues at all.

If I push the truck to hard over an obstacle I do expect an axle or CV to break. You always want the sheaper parts to fail before the differntials or transfer case. A sacrificial weak link is required to protect the expensive hardware.

Nope I never had a 4x4 system fail, but I have seen quite a few parts bust from pushing them.
Anybody else remember those GM trucks from the early 80's that had automatic hubs that only worked going forward?

So you drive in someplace, decide that it's not a good idea and try to back out but cant.
The only problem I ever had with my S-15 Jimmy's 4x4 system was the vacuum switch that locked the front hubs when you switched into 4wd -- I had to replace it twice in 13 years of owning the truck. I used the system several times a year, but I guess it wasn't enough to keep the switch active and eventually it would get stuck in the locked position, so when I shifted out of 4wd, the transfer case would disengage, but the front axle would still be "on".

If I remember correctly, it was a $15 part and took 5 minutes to replace, and that's counting the time it took to get the ramps set up.
from what i have seen the basic mechanisms of a 4wd system are as durable as any other system in your truck under normal operation. the more automation in the system the more those parts seem to fail. even then it's not often. actuators on explorers seem to go out. GM had a brilliant thermal expansion actuator on their 90's trucks that wouldn't actuate if it was cold enough outside. axles, transfer cases, driveshafts, cv joints are all tough.
I never had a failure unless you count being stuck in some nasty mud.


GM had a brilliant thermal expansion actuator on their 90's trucks that wouldn't actuate if it was cold enough outside. axles, transfer cases, driveshafts, cv joints are all tough. [/QB]

I called a 4wd shop and asked them how much to change out the acuator your talking about. He asked if mine went out. I told him just heard the "newer" electric one is better.
He told me he had the old style in his truck and and the new type (electric) is just a waste unless I had $150 to blow on it unless i was sitting in snow for a few hours.He said he gets calls about these acuators from many Newbie owners like I was at the time who want to upgrade.

Ive kept the old one on my truck , sure it takes about 15 seconds to engage but Im not to worried about it.
well... the part and adapter harness are really simple to install. the only thing you need to know is the long unterminated wire on the adapter harness goes to the brown wire that runs into the switch on top of the xfer case. I'm glad I put the 98up actuator in as I got tired of the original design crapping out on me. oh and the 98up one engages in less than 1 second.

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