Ford F-150/F-250: What are the Differences Between 2WD and 4WD Systems?

Do you really need 4WD? Sure, it's nice to have the option to drop your F-150 or F-250 into 4Lo, but 4WD comes at a premium. Learn more about how it works and how it compares to 2WD below.

By Cynthia Griffith - October 20, 2014
Contributors: ebexp94, 7magshooter, toy puller, mountie, ImTHATGuy

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2014) and the F-250, F-350 Super Duty (2005-2014).

Ford build both the F-150 and their F-250 and F-350 Super Duty trucks with the option of four wheel drive. The main difference between four wheel drive (also referred to as 4WD) and two wheel drives (2WD) is the fact that four wheel drive vehicles are better equipped to handle extreme road and weather conditions. Unlike 2WDs, which send power to just two wheels, 4WDs are manufactured with drivetrains that distribute torque to all four wheels of your vehicle for maximum torque and traction. 4WDs come equipped with a transfer case that sends power to the front and rear axles simultaneously. Here’s a run through of what to expect.

2WD vs 4WD

The drivetrain that is the best fit for you depends on your price range, location and reason for hitting the road. The 2014 STX, for example, starts at a base price of approximately $26,101 if you choose to purchase it in 2WD. The 4WD version is about $3,100 more. The 2WD also boasts better gas mileage, putting it ahead of its 4WD counterpart at first glance, but a vast majority of F-150 drivers would disagree. The majority opinion sways in favor of 4WD. The minimization of slipping and sliding seems to be worth the additional dollar amount, especially since the value of the truck is higher in a 4WD model. Your location plays a major part in whether or not the extra three grand is worth forking over. If you frequently drive on slick or uneven terrain or if you live in a particularly snowy area, 4WD is probably the safer option. If, on the other hand, you reside on level ground and rarely engage in mud riding, sand riding, or driving over ice and snow, you could save a great deal of money on gas and payments by opting for 2WD.

Let’s take a look at function for a moment as it pertains to both drivetrains. 4WDs have a reputation for holding their own during the towing process. If one of the main functions of your truck is heavy lifting, a 2WD might not be equipped for the job. If you are looking to utilize Electronic Locking Differential (for increased traction) either now or in the future, bear in mind the fact that ELD isn’t an option on a 2WD model.

4WD Modes

If you’re leaning more in the direction of 4WD, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the wide variety of 4WD modes. Each mode serves a different purpose. Driving in the wrong mode at any given time could adversely affect your experience. If you have further questions, you should be able to find a detailed description of each mode right between the pages of your F-150 or Super Duty owner’s manual.

  • 4A (4x4 Auto Mode) --- The 4A mode is ideal for just about any condition from clear skies to heavy snow, from slick surfaces to smooth terrain. In this mode, power is distributed to all four wheels as required.
  • 4L (4 Lo Mode) --- 4 Lo is ideal for towing objects. When you shift into 4L the transfer case reduces the gearing to the wheels for extra power. Some people call 4 Lo the "crawler mode" because it's more like crawling than driving. Because the gearing is so low, accelerating at speeds above 3 MPH in 4 LO will do damage to your drivetrain. Not only is this not recommended, it's not even possible on most F-150’s.
  • 4 H (4 Hi Mode) --- 4 Hi is the mode that adds a great deal of traction to your drive, making it ideal for slippery surfaces such as ice and snow. Using 4 Hi in situations where the roads are clear can do a number on your tires, wearing them out rather quickly.
  • F-150 4WD Knob
    Figure 1. 4WD switcher in 2H
  • F-150 4WD Knob
    Figure 2. 4WD with 4H engaged and electronic locking differential on

One option that is only available on 4WD version is the electronic locking differential (ELD). ELD is an electronic locker that distributes an equal amount of weight to the rear wheels in the event of ice, inclines, declines, etc. Without ELD, pickups have the tendency to sway in the above mentioned situations and the rear end of the vehicle slips from side to side.

If you’re still undecided or unsure about the F-150 wheel drive options, check out what other drivers had to say before making that final decision.

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