How to Engage 4WD in a Jeep Wrangler Manual Transmission (Procedure 2H-4H-4L)

If you have recently purchased a Jeep Wrangler and would like to know how to engage 4-Wheel Drive then you should always consult your owner’s manual first. Each manufacturer has a specific procedure to follow to safely engage 4WD without causing damage to the transmission or drivetrain.

You engage 4WD in a manual transmission Jeep by depressing the clutch and shifting the 4WD gear shifter into 4H. Always ensure you are not accelerating while doing so and give the 4WD shifter a firm yank to ensure it engages fully. When engaging 4L (Low Range) you need to drive as slow as 2-3 MPH.

So there is nothing special or complicated about engaging the 4WD system on your Jeep Wrangler manual transmission. The only difference between the manual and the auto transmission shifting procedure is depressing the clutch, and making sure you are in N(Neutral) on the auto before engaging 4-Lo.

What other important factors do you need to keep in mind when shifting to 4H?

  • What is the maximum speed you can safely engage 4WD 2H to 4H?
  • Which terrains are safe for you to engage 4WD?
  • How do you know if your Jeep has 4WD?
  • How do you shift out of 4Lo to 4H or 2H?
  • What to do if your 4WD gets jammed up.

All these questions and more will be covered next.

Proper Procedure to Shift into 4WD in Your Manual Jeep Wrangler

Before you engage 4H in your Wrangler, always ensure the terrain you are traveling is safe to do so. This means any driving conditions that have minimum traction, like:

  • Sand
  • Snow
  • Mud
  • Ice
  • Dirt tracks
  • Rocks

Any of the above-mentioned surfaces are low traction surfaces and perfectly safe for you to engage 4H. When you engage 2H-4H, always ensure you are traveling no faster than 45MPH. Start by gently lifting your foot off the gas pedal and depressing the clutch while you simultaneously engage the 4WD system. Give the 4WD shifter a firm yank to engage the transfer case.

Once you are in 4H, power is split 50/50 between the front and rear axles and sent to all 4 wheels. The power usually follows the line of least resistance, so when you lose traction on any given wheel, all the power on that axle will be sent to that slipping wheel. If your 4WD has traction aids, it will detect traction has been lost and brake the slipping wheel, thereby sending the power to the wheel with traction, pulling you out of a tricky, slippery situation.

If your 4WD has traction aids, it will detect traction has been lost and brake the slipping wheel, thereby sending the power to the wheel with traction, pulling you out of a tricky situation

When you have successfully engaged 4H on your wrangler, you’ll notice an orange emblem appear on your dash. This is to indicate that all 4 wheels are powering the vehicle forward. You should never drive on a high traction surface with 4H engaged. This will result in drivetrain “binding”. Binding occurs when there is not enough slippage on the wheels, especially when turning, and all the energy is then transferred back into the drivetrain system. If driven in this state long enough, you will experience significant tire wear and eventually failure of drivetrain components.

Watch the below video for a quick demonstration of how to engage 4H on your Jeep Wrangler:

How Do You Shift A Jeep Wrangler Into 4 Wheel Drive? (Automatic)

The Jeep brand is an icon in the off-road industry and owning a Jeep is a truly unique experience. These machines are built to endure harsh, off-road conditions and have the ability to take to remote places with relative ease.

If you drive an auto Jeep Wrangler then follow the below procedure.

  1. Bring your Jeep to a complete stop
  2. Select “N” (Neutral) on the gear selector
  3. Keep your foot applied to the brake pedal.
  4. Move the 4WD shift selector straight down to 4H (from 2H).
  5. Move the gear selector back to “D” (Drive)
  6. Apply the gas and continue driving.

Remember to always consult your owner’s manual first before attempting to drive off-road if you are not familiar with the 4WD functionality of your Jeep.

How Do I Know If My Jeep Has 4-Wheel Drive?

4WD is optional on a Jeep since almost all models of Jeeps are produced in 2Wd as well.
Jeeps are also not all permanent 4WDs.

What does this mean?

Permanent 4WD is when power is constantly sent to all wheels irrespective of the driving conditions. You do not have the option to drive it in 2H by removing it from 4H. A permanent 4WD makes use of a special component called a viscous coupling that allows power to be sent to both the front and rear. This component allows for varying rotational speeds which eliminates drivetrain binding.

So how do you know if your Jeep has 4WD?

One way to tell is by looking at the gear shifters. If you are missing a second usually smaller low-range or 4H gear shifter, you have a 2WD jeep. You can also tell by looking underneath the vehicle. If you are missing a transfer case, which is connected to the transmission, you have a 2WD. Also, if you only have a rear driveshaft, it’s a 2WD. Those are the most obvious ways to differentiate if your Jeep is a 2WD or a 4wd.

Your Jeep is a 2WD is it is missing the following:

  1. Second 4WD gear shifter
  2. Front drive-shaft
  3. Transfer case

Since the 40’s after the war when Jeep entered the commercial market, is when they released almost all their vehicles in 4WD with a 2WD variant as well. Many people just want to enjoy the experience of owning a Jeep but don’t necessarily have the desire to go off-road. Jeep recognized this demand in the market and catered to these clients’ needs by producing all models in 2WD as well as 4WD.

How to Shift Out Of 4 Wheel Low Jeep Wrangler

The procedure to shift from 4H back to 2H is a straight forward simple one.

You need to once again ensure you are driving straight with no heavy load on the vehicle drivetrain. Gently lift your foot off the gas pedal and depress the clutch if it’s manual. Next, move the low-range gear shifter from 4H to 2H. This will disengage the 4WD system and send power only to the rear wheels. This can safely be done at a speed of up to 45mph.

When shifting from 2H or 4H into 4L is a different procedure.

You need to bring the vehicle to a complete stop or at least roll at 2-3mph. Your main gear shift must be in N (Neutral) and then you can firmly yank the short ratio gear shifter into 4L.

When shifting from 4L back to 4H, you should follow the exact same procedure, to be safe.

If the 4WD does not want to disengage and the 4H light keeps flashing or engaged, you can try the following.

  1. Bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
  2. Hold your foot on the brake
  3. Move the main gear shifter into N (Neutral)
  4. Move the low-range gear selector into the 2H position.
  5. Select the drive and allow the vehicle to crawl forward slowly.
  6. Stop completely.
  7. Select reverse and allow the vehicle to roll slowly.
  8. Select Drive again and depress the gas.

It is not uncommon for the 4H to get sticky and jammed in 4H.  Try bumping it in and out of gear a few times while rolling slowly. There is an enormous amount of tension built up inside the drive-train which sometimes makes it difficult for the gears to release. You might need the selector and the gear linkages and cables inspected and serviced.

Jeep Wrangler Hard To Shift into 4WD

If you are finding it hard to shift into 4WD with your jeep after trying various speeds and techniques and it feels as if you are about to break something, then this section is for you.

Always make sure you read and familiarize yourself with your owner’s manual, to ensure you are using the proper technique and following the correct procedure. Failure to do so can cause catastrophic damage to your drivetrain and transmission. The owner’s manual “strongly recommends” the vehicle be moving no more than 4 mph to engage 4L. Sometimes you need to use a bit of force and make sure you hear a metal clunk sound once it’s engaged.


Jeep Wrangler Repair Manual

Jeep JK 07-Present Performance and Tuning Upgrades

Advance Adapters Low Range Switch – 300378A

Omix-ADA Low Range Gear – 18672.09

Advance Adapters Jeep Dana 300 Transfer Case Low Gear Sets – 430000

Advance Adapters 42RLE Rubicrawler Crawler Box – RUBI-JKAD

Advance Adapters Low Range Switch – 300378A


Many owners advise keeping at it since the process gets smoother and easier after a few attempts. You need to allow the transmission and transfer case mating teeth to align properly in order for 4L to engage. Sometimes you need to attempt this procedure a few times before it engages and it’s advised to roll slowly to allow the alignment and shifting to occur safely. Do not exceed 2-3mph (3-5 km/h) and you’ll be good.

Jade C.

4-Wheel drives and off-road driving techniques has been my passion for over 20 years. Here we strive to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, information about the functionality, common faults and latest technology built into most 4 Wheel Drives.

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