When to Use 4H and 4L Tacoma?

Published by Dustin Babich on

Using the 4H (4-High) and 4L (4-Low) modes on a Toyota Tacoma, or any 4WD vehicle, is essential for navigating through various off-road or challenging driving conditions. These modes are designed to optimize traction and vehicle performance when the going gets tough. Here’s a detailed look at when to employ each of these settings to maximize your Tacoma’s capabilities.


The Toyota Tacoma, renowned for its off-road prowess and durability, offers 4H (4-High) and 4L (4-Low) drive settings to tackle a range of challenging terrains and conditions. Understanding when and how to use these modes is key to harnessing the full potential of your Tacoma, ensuring both safety and performance. This guide delves into the specifics of 4H and 4L modes, providing Tacoma owners with the knowledge to confidently tackle off-road adventures and tricky driving scenarios.

The choice between 4H and 4L largely depends on the driving conditions, the terrain, and the specific challenges you’re facing. Knowing when to switch between these modes can enhance your driving experience, improve vehicle control, and prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your Tacoma.

Key Takeaways

  • 4H (4-High) Usage: Ideal for higher speed off-road conditions, slippery roads, and light snow.
  • 4L (4-Low) Usage: Best suited for extreme off-road conditions, steep inclines, rock crawling, or when pulling heavy loads at low speeds.
  • Speed Considerations: 4H allows for higher speeds than 4L, which is restricted to low-speed, high-torque applications.
  • Traction Enhancement: Both modes improve traction but are intended for different severity levels of terrain and conditions.
  • Fuel Efficiency: 4WD modes, particularly 4L, can reduce fuel efficiency and should be used as needed.
  • Transitioning Between Modes: Understanding how to switch between 4H and 4L safely is crucial to prevent damage to the drivetrain.

When to Use 4H on a Tacoma

Slippery Conditions

  • Rainy or Slick Roads: Engage 4H to enhance traction on wet or slippery surfaces, reducing the risk of skidding.
  • Light Snow and Ice: 4H can provide additional grip in snowy conditions, improving stability and control.
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Mild Off-Road Terrain

  • Dirt Roads and Trails: For higher-speed dirt roads where additional traction is needed, 4H offers the right balance.
  • Gravel or Loose Surfaces: On loose gravel or sand where wheel slip is more likely, 4H can help maintain momentum and control.

Everyday Driving in Challenging Conditions

  • Highway Driving in Bad Weather: In conditions where traction could suddenly become compromised, such as during a storm, 4H provides a safety net.

When to Use 4L on a Tacoma

Extreme Off-Road Conditions

  • Rock Crawling: 4L offers the low-end torque needed for navigating over large rocks and obstacles.
  • Steep Inclines and Declines: The enhanced power and control in 4L are ideal for safely ascending or descending steep hills.

Heavy Towing and Hauling

  • Pulling Heavy Loads: When towing or hauling heavy loads, especially from a standstill or up steep grades, 4L provides the necessary power.

Deep Snow, Mud, or Sand

  • Navigating Deep Obstacles: In deep snow, mud, or sand where significant traction and torque are needed to prevent becoming stuck, 4L is the go-to mode.

Benefits of Using 4H and 4L Modes

Enhanced Traction

Both modes significantly improve traction, but each is tailored to different levels of terrain difficulty and speed.

Vehicle Control

Improved vehicle control in both 4H and 4L modes ensures safer driving in adverse conditions and challenging terrains.

Preventing Wear

Using the appropriate 4WD mode for the conditions can help prevent unnecessary wear on your Tacoma’s drivetrain and tires.


The Toyota Tacoma’s 4H and 4L modes are designed to tackle a wide range of driving conditions and terrains, enhancing the vehicle’s off-road capabilities and safety. By understanding when and how to use these modes, you can take full advantage of your Tacoma’s features, ensuring optimal performance and durability. Whether you’re facing slippery roads, steep trails, or heavy towing tasks, knowing the right mode to engage will make all the difference in your driving experience.

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Q: Can I switch to 4H while driving?

A: Yes, most modern Tacomas allow you to switch to 4H at lower speeds without stopping, but always refer to your vehicle’s manual for specific instructions.

Q: Is it harmful to drive in 4H on dry pavement?

A: Extended use of 4H on dry, hard surfaces can cause unnecessary wear to the drivetrain due to driveline binding. It’s best used when conditions warrant additional traction.

Q: How fast can I drive in 4H mode?

A: While 4H is suitable for higher speeds than 4L, it’s wise to keep your speed moderate to ensure safety, especially in the conditions that necessitate 4WD.

Q: Can I use 4L on the highway?

A: 4L is not intended for high-speed driving and should be reserved for low-speed, high-torque situations such as off-roading or towing in difficult conditions.

Q: How do I switch between 4H and 4L?

A: Typically, you need to stop the vehicle or reduce it to a very low speed, place the transmission in neutral, and then shift between 4H and 4L. Always follow your Tacoma’s specific guidelines.

Q: Will using 4WD modes decrease my fuel efficiency?

A: Yes, using 4H and 4L increases fuel consumption due to the added load on the engine. Use these modes only when necessary to optimize fuel efficiency.

Dustin Babich

Dustin Babich

Dustin Babich

As the passionate author behind Automotivesimple.com, Dustin Babich is a knowledgeable expert in all things automotive. With a deep understanding of car tools, equipment, engines, and troubleshooting techniques, Dustin Babich shares invaluable insights, practical tips, and effective solutions to empower readers in overcoming car-related challenges.

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