How Jeep 4WD Systems Have Evolved


Let’s go back to the 1970s. You’re driving your Jeep CJ-5 and you’re about to go off-roading. First thing you have to do is engage the Jeep’s four-wheel drive. The procedure is such: you climb outside and twist those hard-to-turn locking hubs on the wheels. Then, get back inside the CJ-5 and pull the big floor-mounted 4WD lever back to get yourself four-wheeling.

The procedure to put a Jeep into 4WD is easier now – only the press of a button. The whole drivetrain is much more intelligent than the old days too. For example, when the tires lose their footing, electronic traction control slows the spinning wheel and distributes torque to the wheels with the better grip. The technology in 4WD vehicles has changed a lot. Let us take a look at some of today’s technology.

Today’s 4WD

Thanks to electronics, nobody needs to go outside and lock hubs anymore. And now, shifting is all completed by the simple press of a button and you do this while the vehicle is in motion. However, the real leap came when modern electronics started controlling wheel traction.

Intelligent traction

Today, Jeeps tie the traction control and ABS brake systems together. These systems alter the transmission shift points, throttle action, suspension systems and the differential locking operation. For example, in “rock” mode, the SUV might relax throttle responsiveness for slow crawling. Similarly, the Jeep Rubicon smoothly descends a hill and operates your brakes for you.

Differential Locking

Standard differentials are made to allow for the right and left wheels on an axle to turn at various speeds during cornering. The issue is that on a slippery road, a standard differential sends much of its power to the wheel that turns with the least resistance.  Anyone who has driven in snow knows what this is like; when one is on a muddy trail or icy road, one wheel spins and the SUV doesn’t move. The solution is a locking differential. As long as the wheels are moving straight, a “locker” will split power equally between right and left. Jeeps now have convenient push button locking differentials.

Suspension Adjustability

Suspension systems for 4WD vehicles used to be a compromise between off-road and street characteristics. The problem was that the long-travel springs, shocks, and swaybars made for off-roading would provide for awful handling on the street. Today, the Jeep Wrangler has not only made use of selectable locking differentials but also an electronically disconnecting front swaybar. With an electronically disconnecting swaybar, one press of the dash-mounted button will unleash a huge amount of front wheel articulation. Similarly, adjustable air suspension allows for better performance both off-road and on the street. It allows the SUV to ride at a lowered height on the road and then, at the push of a button, raise up the whole body to provide off-road trail clearance.

Thank you very much to the sales team at East Hills Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM of Greenvale, NY, for sitting down with us to discuss the evolution of four-wheel drive!


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