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“Use it or Lose it”

If you’re a 4th generation Toyota 4Runner owner, you may have heard of the phrase, “use it or lose it” being used. This term basically means that you should use your four-wheel drive system on a regular basis, otherwise it may stop working later down the road. The electronically-controlled 4WD actuator that is located inside of the transfer case can potentially seize up if not used for prolonged periods of time. Since the actuator is located inside of the transfer case, the transfer case itself needs to be opened before gaining access to the actuator. As you can conclude, if the 4WD actuator fails, you will end up with a costly repair. So “use it or lose it” to save yourself from future headaches.

How to Operate your 4WD to Prevent it from Getting Stuck

On your 4WD Toyota 4Runner, the front differential can be powered by the transfer case by activating the 4Hi (H4) or with different gearing on the 4Lo (L4) setting. When 4WD is engaged, but the center differential lock is not engaged, then the front and rear differentials are supplying different amounts of power to the wheels depending on which has the least resistance. However, if 4WD is engaged but the center diff lock is engaged, then the front axle and the rear axle are separately locked so that the power is supplied 50/50 to help with getting out of more difficult terrain/conditions.

Every month or so, you should try cycling through your 4WD control switch knob through the various settings. If you have a V8 4Runner, you’ll have only a two settings: H4 and L4. If you own a V6 4Runner like me, you’ll have three settings: H2, H4, and L4. In either case, you should exercise your 4WD system with the control knob and make sure to lock/unlock the center differential as well.

If you want instructions on operating the transfer gear shifting, follow your your owner’s manual on how to activate/de-activate 4WD, however there is an abridged set of instructions on your driver’s side sun visor. If you don’t have those instructions on your driver’s side sun visor, here is a photo of mine (4WD V6):

4runner 4th gen instructions for transfer gear and vsc

Sometimes, you might have a problem getting your 4Hi (H4) or 4Lo (L4) to engage. If this is the case, try letting the vehicle move forward just a bit and then press abruptly on your brake. This sometimes kicks the actuator into locking/unlocking. If you’re having issues, it also doesn’t hurt to change out your transfer case fluid if it is due for replacement.

Once you get the hang of putting your 4Runner through all of its drive modes and working the center diff lock, you should be able to go through this process pretty quickly and effortlessly. You can then just set a reminder to run through this exercise every month, or as I do, simply just do it every few weeks when I remember to. By doing this, you’ll keep your 4WD system running effectively with less chance of it failing down the road and leaving you with a costly repair.


Hi there! I'm Scott and I run The Track Ahead. My goal is to provide helpful articles and tutorials based on my experience and research related to car maintenance and automotive detailing. When I'm not writing and not working my day job, you can find me spending time with my family and working on home and car projects.

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