When Buying a 4×4, Make Sure Your 4×4 Is Actually a 4×4

Jeep Grand Cherokee

4×4 or 4×2: Can you tell?

Oh, the stories I’ve heard…

There’s the one guy who bought a used Jeep Grand Cherokee and asked me to come over to help him learn how to put it into 4-wheel drive. Upon quick inspection, I determined this task was impossible, as the vehicle in question lacked an important feature: 4-wheel drive.

Yes, this fellow had purchased a rear-wheel-drive Grand Cherokee without knowing it. Upon discovering this fact, he experienced every negative emotion imaginable while spewing every bad word I’d ever heard and some I hadn’t.

Something similar happened to a friend of a friend, who proudly showed off his new-to-him Toyota Tacoma 4×4. I kept my mouth shut, contrary to my instincts to blurt it out to everyone, that his new “4×4” was really a PreRunner. In case you don’t know, that’s Toyota code for “looks like a 4×4, but isn’t.”

So, my CarGurus friends, when it comes time to shop for a 4×4, please make sure you take the time to get exactly what you expect.

Just because a certain model is known for having off-road chops doesn’t mean all versions of that model through all of history have 4-wheel drive. Yes, the are 2-wheel-drive versions of the Grand Cherokee and Tacoma, so make sure you know exactly what you’re buying.

True 4WD vehicles are typically RWD with the ability to lock in various stages of 4-wheel drive. These are the vehicles that can go almost anywhere. Most Grand Cherokees are 4WD, but beware of the occasional 2WD dressed up like its Trail-Rated brother.

Then there are the “crossovers” of the 4WD world, which aren’t 4WD at all. Typically, these vehicles are small SUVs built on a car frame with some kind of AWD system. That means all wheels can have power directed to them, but the driver has no input on when that happens. Be careful here too, though, because sometimes these vehicles might look like they’d have AWD, but are only front-wheel drive.

How can you tell for sure if the car you want has the AWD or 4WD system you want? The easiest way is to ask, and not just assume. You can also look for badging on the vehicle, interior controls and a rear differential. You wouldn’t think these things would need to be mentioned when discussing the purchase of used cars, but it’s obvious some people buy without looking and end up bringing home a vehicle that isn’t what they wanted.

Please, don’t be that guy!

Have you ever bought a car that didn’t have a feature you expected?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Jeep Grand Cherokee
Used Toyota Tacoma

1 Comment

  1. “real” 4wd vehicles have a transfer case, full drive train to the front wheels (differential, drive shaft and half shafts) and full drive train to the back. If it’s any good, it will have a 2WD, 4H (highway speed 4X4), 4L (creeper gear 4×4) and some also have automatic mode, which engages the front hubs and drive train, but keeps the 4wd engagement system off unless wheel slip is encountered. Best way to check out the equipment is to read the sticker, and most evaluation services like Carfax can also produce a sticker or list of equipment from the VIN number.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.