Toyota Tacoma: 4WD General Information

There is more to the 4WD system on your Toyota Tacoma than just taking it off-road. Gather some important 4WD information below.

By Bassem Girgis - February 11, 2016

This article applies to the Toyota Tacoma (1996-2015).

The 4WD system in the Toyota Tacoma is designed to activate all four wheels at the same time, which allows you to gain more traction so you can drive on rougher terrains. Once you understand the 4WD system more, you will learn how to safely operate your truck off-road, you will learn what not to do, and finally, you will be able to go on the adventures that the 4WD system brings. Before you put your lever in 4WD, read below to understand it a little more.

Toyota Tacoma off-roading
Figure 1. Toyota Tacoma off-roading.

What is 4WD?

The 4WD system allows you to turn on all four wheels at the same time, which gives you more traction, perhaps double the traction that the average car would give.

The 4WD system is not designed to work on dry pavement, so be sure to never turn it on then. It is only designed to be used when you're off-road. You should also not turn it on when you're already facing rougher terrains; instead, turn it on when the vehicle is flat.

The 4WD lever will have a few different gears. You have the 2WD option, which mean it's off. Then you have the 4WD Hi, which is designed for the mild terrains, when you don't want to get stuck. Then you have the 4WD Lo, designed for the roughest terrains. When you're going up a mountain or in the sand dunes, the 4WD Lo will make sure you come out the other way without issues.

4WD components
Figure 2. 4WD components.

How to Use the 4WD System

Believe it or not, there is a little bit of technique when it comes to using your 4WD, and that technique could be the difference in safe operation or interior damage to the gears. As we mentioned above, you shouldn't switch into 4WD while already on a hill, instead, think ahead and activate it when your truck is on flat ground. When switching between 4WD gears, you will experience a different feel than your average transmission lever. The 4WD lever needs to be pulled hard and firm to get into different gears.

The 4WD Hi can be activated at any speed. It is always recommended you don't do it at high speeds, but again, you shouldn't be driving fast when going into 4WD, as you are off-road. Switching into 4WD Lo requires you to slow down, at a coasting speed. Right before the vehicle stops, pull the lever into 4WD Lo and don't worry about the cringing sound – it is normal.

When you're getting out of gear, put your transmission into neutral before switching 4WD gears, if you have a manual transmission truck, you can just step on the clutch. Again, always switch it at a coasting speed, maybe 5 mph, and always be firm when switching gears with the lever; it's not designed to be smooth.

4WD lever
Figure 3. 4WD lever.


Before you go driving in the roughest of terrains, you must understand that the harder you drive your truck, the more maintenance you have to do. So, if you enjoy a weekly off-road trip, you should cut down your normal 5,000-mile maintenance interval to 3,000 miles. The front and rear differential fluid has to be replaced every 30,000 miles, but again, the more you off-road, the more maintenance you need.

It is a good investment to replace the front and rear differential oil at 15,000 miles. Be consistent with your fluid checks, because the harder you push your Tacoma, the more oil it burns. Always check your tires before your off-roading trips, and when you get home, give it another check. Remember that maintenance is what will keep your Tacoma living long, so you can continue to off-road and enjoy it.

Front differential
Figure 4. Front differential.

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