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Going down in 4 WD low

We have to drive a very steep gravel road with 4 hairpin turns. We have a 2001 Toyota Tacoma truck (automatic). When the road is snow covered, my husband drives in 4 WD low when going down the hairpin turns. He is using the 4 WD low to keep a really slow speed. When it is really icy he chains up the truck. I don’t think there is any advantage using 4 WD low going down a hill. It seems like it is really hard on the truck. What’s the best way to get down the steep, snowy hill in the Toyota truck?

I have always found neutral and minimal use of brakes as my best solution, but we are all individuals, and if that works for him, let it go. In gear or downshifting gives up control of the wheels imho.

I,like @Barkydog advice too. He speakith the truth !

We live on a mountain road with ice under snow it seems for months. We have had three Toyota 4wd trucks. Low range is for off road use not ice.or even snow going down hill. Too much engine braking can lead to loss of control just like any braking. I don’t think you have abs, but of you do, you defeat the whole intent of it’s use by potentially over braking with the motor on slick surfaces. My automatic 4runner will never see low range going down hill in slippery conditions. BTW, low range just sounds strange…it does not hurt the truck as long as the rpm is reasonable.


Btw, I have found studded snow tires to be much better on glare ice. If you have AT tires, you would be much better off rotating over to winter studded tires in the winter. Chains going down hill can skate, even with ice bars. Studs in decent shape always punch into the ice. My neighbor had a 4 wheel drive truck with a limited slip in the back, locking front diff and loaded with sand plus chains with ice bars n all 4 wheels. He couldn’t touch my wife’s Subaru with 4 studded tires on glare ice, going up or down. Chains are over rated for ice. They improve non snow tires, but studded winters are always better on ice IMHO and if you don’t have them, they will make a huge difference. Or course, throwing down a little sand would help more…I always do while I wear ice grippers on my boots…also, if he isn’t carrying 2-300 plus lbs of weight in the back, he is losing traction there too.

Sometimes there is a golden vehicle or combo for bad conditions be it mud,snow or ice.Sometimes you need to sink or cut in sometimes you need to float.Remember on ice there is a little traction (but very little) I’ve noticed the Surburban and SUV phenomenom around here,when it gets slick this type of vehicle is usually the first ones you see over the bank.
The best advice on glare ice is stay home,oversteer and understeer are greatly exaggerated during these conditions and the ABS will scare the pants off of you when you try to slow down and you just keep going.Chains are a great help in mud or snow,but if they wont bite on the ice,they will throw you.We have a long steep hill here and a sharp curve at the bottom of it,during my 2wd pickup days I could usually make it over in the fresh snow,during the ice days I would usually hang up about 75yds from the top,the curve at the bottom would prevent you from gaining enough momentum to make it could let off and feather the throttle all you wanted and you would still break traction at least the old open differential would keep you straight-Kevin
PS,backing down was more thrilling then going up

I have an '01 Toyota Sequoia which has a similar transmission and transfer case I believe. I use 4WD low range to haul a boat up a steep boat ramp. I have been in low range briefly on gravel roads and find the transmission shifts are a bit abrupt but otherwise it works fine for low speeds. What your husband is doing should not harm the truck at all. If you put the transmission into L while in 4WD low range that will “lock” the transfer case and that puts power to front and back wheels evenly (50/50) this is used if you get stuck in a rough spot off roading or perhaps in a snow bank.

If you aren’t experiencing major slipping and sliding and get down the hill OK, mission accomplished. My Sequoia has ABS and Trac control and sometimes I go to neutral on a steep downgrade and let the brakes handle it. Either way the secret is to keep the speed way down so you don’t get too much momentum and energy building up to a point you go past your traction capability. Chains, winter tires, studs, anything to improve traction is what is really important.

What he’s doing is not hard on the truck, it’s built to handle that. If it works for him, then it’s just fine.

The only thing I would add, is that if OP’s husband feels he needs chains, he may not be set up correctly to begin with. Low range on ice is a no no and may require chains to offset this practice. Winter tires with studs and balanced weight in the back are more effective. I agree with Barkydog and kmccune about the need for chains. At some point without a little adjustment, it won’t work.

Thanks for the information! I’ll let the hubby know he is doing great and encourage him to put a little weight in the back and put the studded tires on.

I always had the best luck driving downhill on snow using engine compression to slow the vehicle. Considerably less skidding than relying entirely on the brakes in my experience. What gear I’d use depended on how steep the hill was and how slow I wanted to go. The steeper the hill, and the slower I wanted to go, the lower the gear. Sometimes I used first geat on really steep hills. Usually I’d use 2nd or 3rd, on more mild descents. It may be that the hill in question is so steep, and the desired speed is so slow, that the “High” selection of the transfer case gearing doesn’t provide enough engine compression slowing, and when “Low” is selected, the lower effective gearing better slows the vehicle.

I don’t see this being an issue on powertrain wear. The powertrain of a 4wd is designed to do this. And it should actually lessen brake wear.

Why live in a place like that?? “Because we can”…Well okay then, deal with it…

Should you turn off ABS in the snow & ice?

Should you turn off ABS in the snow & ice? – NO.

ABS was made for improved control when braking in the snow and ice. I would leave it on. However if you have bald crappy tires that get no traction the ABS system will work against you. As soon as the baldest tire looses traction the braking power is reduced to make sure you can steer the car. ABS brakes don’t increase stopping power. ABS allows you to steer the car even when there is little to no traction.

On a steep section of road near my house there is a stop at a cross street. With a car with ABS brakes and well worn all season tires I had no traction, so I slid right past the stop sign, through the cross street and into the drainage ditch on the other side. That is when I put winter tires on the same car after getting pulled out of the ditch. From then on I’ve never had any problems stopping at the cross street.

Bad tires and bad traction mean ABS will be useless. Good tires providing good traction make ABS invaluable.

"should you turn off abs in snow and ice"
There are two separate situations if the snow is deep. On hard packed snow and ice, keep the traction control ON if it includes the abs system.
In deep, snow going up hill or just trying to get going and slow slogging conditions, I turn off the tration/ stability control. Generally, if the abs is part of that system, it will go off too. As a general rule, abs always helps in slippery conditions, snow or ice.

When it’s really slippery on ice going down hill, you want no or as little engine braking as possible. Engine braking cannot help maintain steering control like abs. It maybe ok in snow that’s deep enough. Generally the less traction you have, the MORE you use your abs.

My 4runner has downhill assist that works with 4wd-low.

You put it in 4w-low and then press the downhill assist. Pressing the brake will disconnect the downhill assist. It works with the traction control system and keeps your speeds below 15mph. I’ve used it ONCE of the past 7 years and it does work very nice.

As you know, I have it too. It is not very effective to use low range, even with down hill assist in really slippery conditions. It is an off road feature.
Btw, if you are on glare ice, going down hill, NOTHING helps but starting slow, coasting, having abs and praying.

Should you turn off ABS in the snow & ice? Of course not. They put ABS on cars because it is better than not having it. If not having it was better then they would not put it on cars. It would be like having an umbrella and not using it in the rain.

As you know, I have it too. It is not very effective to use low range, even with down hill assist in really slippery conditions.

The ONE time I used it was down a very slippery snow/ice covered hill that was about 1/4 mile long. It saved my butt. I had no choice but to go down the hill. If the hill was pure ice I wouldn’t have used it.

That is the only time too…glare ice after freezing rain over a frozen dirt road. The other thing I would add was that unless you had winter tires, it was not a miracle worker. The dummies at the Toyota dealership sold my neighbor’s wife into believing that it would work with thier 4 Runner on regular tires. Lucky for her, hubby has an M90 Kubota and pulled her out after significant sanding. Their driveway to the lake is a winding luge run. Think really treacherous then double it. They frequently leave their truck on top or stay at their place of business when the forecast is bad. He has options ; he has lots of money.

He’s a great neighbor but a funny guy. His wife wanted the Toyota initially but he used it as an excuse to trade it within the year and buy a GMC Acadia/Terrain SUV. It stinks in snow but he he has an “American” car next to his business. Right next to his Kubota ? Go figure…But, the Terrain is better on ice with studded snows then a 4Runner is without. He never gave it a chance.

I have good AT tires (Cooper A/T3). These are among the best AT tires I ever had. Good dry pavement driving…EXCELLENT in wet roads. Among the very best I ever had in snow. Don’t do much off-roading…but the little I’ve done…they are very very good.

One of my best trucks in the snow was my 84 GMC pickup. I had the Michelin XCH4 (which are no longer made). Too bad that truck was so unreliable. It was very very good driving vehicle…especially for a pickup.

100% agree with good AT tires being good year round tires. Had a set on a Truck years ago and you are absolutely right. There were as good in snow as ANY official snow tire I have ever owned. They were not as good on ice, but, they were much better then all seasons. The ONLY reason I don’t use them is that where I live, I need studs and the best ice traction I can get. If I move back into " sane" areas, I would stay with AT tires which I run in the summer too…Bridgestone Dueler. When visiting my daughter’s family in Manchester earlier this year before my change over, they had about 8 inches of very wet snow. The Duelers were just as good as my snows in those conditions. If I lived in NH, I would not be rotating my tires. They take much better care of the roads then in Maine.