Dirt driveway in 4by?

OK, I have a long reasonably hill laden dirt driveway. One hill is between 5-20% depending on the area, takes roughly half the driveway (1/2 mile drive, rough 1/4 1/5 mebe on the one hill.), the other is 30-45% very short only a couple hundred feet or so. I have a 98 ford explorer and I am wondering what would be overall lesss costly and less damaging on the vehicle. I ALWAYS shift into 1st, and now I am tied between riding the brakes down the hill (generally a big nono as far as I know) or putting it into 4x4 low in 1st and just idling down the hill at roughly 2 or 3 miles an hour.

Basically my question is this, which is better on the car, allowing the engine in 4x4 low to control the speed downhill or just using the brakes? (Again, in 1st either way.) Thank you for your responses.

What is the 4x4 for if you cant use it to save on brake wear? Is it shift on the fly? If so, I’d say the question answers itself.

yes and no, shift on the fly 4x4 hi, but low requires a shift into neutral first. Not that thats a big deal.

For such a short distance, at low speed, brake wear would be negligible. It’s not as if you were coming down a long stretch of interstate with those warning signs for trucks. Then you risk brake fade. In this situation you may use your brakes with a clear conscience.

At those speeds for that distance neither will do any damage whatsoever to the vehicle. Use your gears, use your brakes, or use both together. Whatever you prefer.

4X4 will allow maximum vehicle control with the slightest brake application being nicely applied to all four wheels with the least possibilty of locking up or skidding the brakes.

Low range ? up to you reletive to conditions,

but just 1st gear and 4x4 was sufficient for me a few winters ago when the snowy daytime left the roads wet, night fell still snowing, roads froze and more snow came down on top of that.

  • A major boulevard about a qurter mile of downgrade was an absolute skating rink and my wife was at work in the hospital on TOP of the hill. She had her 91 Explorer with her ( Michelin cross-terrain tires ) but called me to come to take her home. “you know how to drive in this crap, come and get us. I40’s closed and a coworker is spending the night.”
  • My 92 Explorer had BFGoodrich AllTerrain tires on it and was much better suited for conditions. But when she said that I know how to drive in such adversity, that very knowledge also means I know when NOT to, and THIS was one of those nights…now what ?
  • Going up was not much problem as I knew it wouldn’t ( I also knew in advance that coming down was the biggest challenge ). I chose the neighborhood back streets that were not already polished to a sheen by 37 vehicles spun in every direction. ( It was so bad I watched people get out of their curbed cars and immediately slip on their backsides. )

Now here’s the part where experience, Great tires, and 4x4 in low gear got us down the hills in one piece despite others in the ditch or stopped.
They like to say that 4x4 doesn’t help in braking, but THIS night was the proof that 4x4 IS the braking control if one knows when and where to apply it.

  • Again I took the back streets not already zambonied by traffic, stuck by the curb where the debris is now my traction, and in low gear, the brakes were barely needed. ( granted there were a couple of hills where I needed to wait at the top to time the descent perfectly, planning to never step on the brakes the whole way down, or else . )

Are You In A Witness Protection Program Or Running From The Law ?

Before I got all conflicted about it, Id park out beyond the hills and walk in and out or I’d move if it didn’t blow my cover. Surely, this must just be a temporary arrangement.


You can’t harm the brakes slowing on a driveway because the speed is only a couple of miles per hour. You aren’t hurting the 4WD system either. It just seems like a bit of extra steps to put it in 4WD low range. I’d stay in 4WD high and put the transmission into L or 1st (depending on the markings on the gear selector) and then use the brakes to maintain speed.

What should dictate your technique is what is the safest way to go up and down the driveway.