Is A 4×4 Expensive To Maintain?


It is important to know what you are in for when it comes to your vehicle’s maintenance. Whether you are looking into buying a new four-wheel drive vehicle or already own one. This article will hopefully help to prepare or better understand what your vehicle’s maintenance needs are likely to be, as well as provide you with some helpful ways in which you might be able to cut down on your maintenance costs.

Four-wheel drive vehicles are more expensive to maintain on average than front-wheel or rear-wheel drive vehicles because of the additional prop shaft, diff and transfer case as well as the mechanism to engage the 4 wheels.

Let us take a look as to just why that is and investigate some of the factors that will most likely be influencing these differences in maintenance costs.

Before you continue, If your new to 4wd and offroading or are not sure what equipment to take out with you on your adventures, make sure to check out the Off Road Aussies Essential 4×4 Equipment List where I have taken the time to review and recommend the equipment I use.

If you kit yourself out correctly you will be able to tackle everything that your new adventures will throw at you.

More wheels mean more complexity.

When you are trying to allow the engine to output power to all four wheels of a vehicle you are met by a few problems that stand in your way, for example, the wheels are not all the same distance away from the engine meaning that it is more difficult to get the power of the engine to the wheels furthest away. This has led certain systems being put into place for different types of vehicles in order to best address these kinds of problems. A few of these systems are

Front-wheel drive.

Front-wheel drive vehicles with an engine mounted in the front and rear-wheel drive vehicles with an engine mounted at the back are commonly thought of as the least complex of the options available. In these kinds of vehicles, the differential and the transaxle are integrated into one location resulting in the transmission being a lot simpler. In this case, we see that only the drive shaft leaves the transmission and connect to the wheels.

Rear-wheel drive.

Rear-wheel drive vehicles with an engine mounted in the front or the middle are next in terms of complexity. Here there is an external differential, a prop shaft and often a central bearing in addition to the transmission.


Four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive vehicles would be the most complex of the options. They also have additional systems such as an additional set of prop shaft and differential, a mechanism for engaging and disengaging four-wheel drive as well as a transfer case.

In some four-wheel drive vehicles there are also additional systems that allow the vehicle to intelligently swap between two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive when needed, these vehicles also generally have a system known as “torque on demand” or All Wheel Drive (you can learn more about the maintenance requirements of an AWD specifically Here)which allow a different amount of torque to be delivered to each individual wheel as needed resulting in even more sensors. These additional systems make for even more complexities with this type of vehicle.


What this means for Maintenance.

Looking at this from a slightly more technical standpoint we are able to see that with more complex systems comes more need for proper maintenance. For every additional piece of equipment added to a vehicle that is essential for it to run comes in addition to the maintenance responsibilities. This is especially true on most four-wheel drive vehicles as they are often on rough terrain meaning that the systems that may be sensitive to damage are more likely to be exposed to an environment that might damage them.


Service life.

As we previously discussed when it comes to 4WD vehicles there are more things that can lead to something going wrong and needing to be repaired. With these additional systems taken into consideration, the routine maintenance schedules that are normally listed in the owner’s manual don’t tend to be that different.

The difference in costs come in mostly the form that you will be required to pay for the maintenance of more systems within the vehicle and the coolants or fluids used to help them perform properly on the road. For example, on some four-wheel drive vehicles, you will need to change the transfer case fluid ever 150 000 kilometres and 70 000 kilometres when the vehicle has been used under heavy usage conditions frequently. Some manufacturers such as Subaru and even Jeep have said that it is only necessary to top off the fluids when it is required or make no mention of it at all in the routine maintenance schedules.

It is often observed that the dealer service department where you purchased the vehicle and other external repair or maintenance garages have been known to recommend performing fluid changes a little bit more frequently. This may be from experience in order to improve performance but as far as you worry about is to stay within the recommended intervals assigned by the manufacturers or your service plan to ensure that the warranty remains in effect.

A frustrating but important drawback to highlight with regards to the maintenance of four-wheel drive vehicles that use “on demand four-wheel drive” systems that we discussed earlier. These systems often only send power to the rear wheels when a sensor is able to pick up that one of the regular drive wheels is slipping and or about to lose traction. If you use the vehicle in a demanding way often and this is needed frequently it is possible that one of the tires may get damaged beyond repair or reasonable use.

Often, in this case, a tire dealer may recommend that you replace all four of the tires at the same time. In this case it is not important that they are still in a perfectly fine working condition with sufficient tread left. This is to ensure that the depth of the tread remains even all around because mixing even slightly worn tires with a single new one may result in the sensor sending the wrong signals to the “on demand four-wheel drive” causing it to become active and provide extra traction when it is not needed.

Along with the reasons mentioned previously that will cause your average maintenance spending more expensive and the heightened chance of it needing to be more frequent, we also tend to see the costs for hardware being more expensive as it is often given a luxury tax and seen as an enthusiasts vehicle rather than one that is bare bones to get the job done.


Pay The Price Of Being Able To Go Off Road.

Of course, one of the greatest reasons to be looking into a four-wheel drive vehicle is that it has the potential to get you to much harder to reach places with a two-wheel drive vehicle. Whether you are an enthusiast or have a real need for it on a regular basis, a four-wheel drive car is incomparable when it comes to performance off-road. We know already that you will be paying a premium for a vehicle that is able to put down power through every wheel, but is that cost only present when you look at the price tag in the dealership?

The answer is no, going through rough terrain does pose the question what all those bumps and thumps might be doing to the vehicle to speed up the need for the next service. From most people’s experience, there are a few things that need just a bit more attention when the vehicles are being used in the wild regularly rather than under perfect road conditions.

Looking at the harsh environments these vehicles are driving over, the main areas of focus are going to be heightened amount of attention given to inspecting and maintaining the tires and brakes. It is also not unlikely that a four-wheel drive vehicle will find itself crossing water from time to time, sometimes even quite deep water, here it is important to keep in mind that it is possible that the electrical system in the vehicle can short out due to contact with the water.

The life of a vehicle off road is a rough one and we need to make sure that it is taken care of properly when it does take a bump or a knock. This is the primary reason for most people to see a large-scale difference in vehicle maintenance on a four-wheel drive vehicle.


How You Can Reduce Your Maintenance Costs.

With all this talk about increased costs for maintenance on four-wheel drive vehicles, I thought I would give you a few little ways you might be able to reduce the costs for yourself in the real world.

  • Buy the best quality spares. If they are available, the increased quality should see you getting better performance and longer life spans out of your spares.
  • Go on the hunt. Do not take the first price tag to be par for the course. Often you can find better priced parts with just a little bit of effort.
  • Smooth sailing. Driving more carefully and resisting the urge to be on a race course will not only save you money on fuel but help to make your tyres, clutch and brakes last just that much longer.
  • Get to know what your car. Becoming familiar with the owner’s manual is more than just for petrol heads. Sadly, it can happen that a mechanic tries to get a few more pennies out of you than the job requires. Knowing what the job requires or having someone you trust on hand that does can help prevent this.
  • Get your hands dirty. Learning to do smaller jobs such as oil, fuses, air filters and bulb changes will help save on the labour costs that can otherwise be avoided.
  • Pop & Son mechanics. Try to use a smaller owner-managed mechanic that is obviously still well regarded to get the job done effectively. Places like these generally have lower overheads and therefore lower mark-ups than your average high street mechanic chain. This also generally should lead to better service as service is key with smaller businesses.


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