Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

Service 4 Wheel Drive Warning Light Activated? (Top 7 Reasons)

how much does it cost to service 4 wheel drive

Not sure what the “SERVICE 4WD” warning on your dash means? The Service 4 Wheel Drive light can come on for various reasons, including transfer case or actuator issues.

Let’s review everything you need to know about the Service 4 Wheel Drive warning light.

What Does the “SERVICE 4WD” Message Mean?

The “SERVICE 4WD” (Service 4 Wheel Drive) warning light on your vehicle’s dashboard indicates a 4WD system issue. The issue typically impacts your 4WD system’s performance, which is a matter of your safety on the road.

7 Worrying Reasons Behind the SERVICE 4WD Message

Several triggers can activate the service four-wheel drive light, including:

1. Gear Engagement Issues

Incomplete gear shifts, especially when switching from 2WD to 4WD mode while the car or truck is in motion, can trigger the 4 wheel drive system warning light. When this happens, the gears might not fully engage.

2. Electrical Circuit Problems

When the wiring harness or circuits in the transfer case control module (TCCM) are damaged, the signals get disrupted, resulting in trouble codes like:

  • P1867: Transmission Transfer Case Contact Plate General Circuit Failure
  • P1875: Transmission Automatic Hall Effect Sensor Power Circuit Short To Battery
  • P1887: 4 Wheel Drive Control Solenoid Circuit Failure

These codes indicate electrical circuit problems within the 4WD system and can trigger the warning SERVICE 4WD light.

3. Bad Transfer Case Switch and Position Sensors

If the transfer case switch (4WD selector switch) or position sensors malfunction, your vehicle might get stuck in one mode, triggering the SERVICE 4WD warning light.

However, it could also be a faulty actuator switch, which can cause problems engaging or disengaging the 4WD.

4. Worn Out Parts

Older vehicles have locking hubs that lock the front wheels to the front axle. When drivers engage in 4WD mode, the front drive shaft delivers power (via the transfer case) to the front axle, providing their vehicle extra traction.

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Any damage or clogs in these systems can trigger the SERVICE 4WD message. Damage to differential axles that allow your wheels to rotate at different speeds can also trigger the warning light.

5. Improper Wheel Alignment

Improper wheel alignment can strain your car’s drivetrain components and lead to uneven tire wear, which may trigger the SERVICE 4WD warning. This can happen from hitting potholes on the road or driving on dry pavement.

6. Insufficient or Contaminated Fuel Supply

Keep a watch on your fuel supply since an off-roading vehicle operating in 4WD mode consumes more fuel than during regular driving conditions. Contaminated fuel or a low fuel level can affect the engine’s performance and cause drivetrain system issues, triggering the SERVICE 4WD message.

7. Overheated Transfer Case

The transfer case takes power from the engine and distributes it to the front and rear wheel sets.

However, if the transfer case overheats due to low fluid levels, it may struggle to transfer power effectively between the front axle and rear axle. This can result in 4WD engagement or disengagement issues.

Remember: Diagnosing the SERVICE 4WD warning can be complicated. It’s best to leave it to a qualified mechanic.

But should you drive with the 4WD warning light on? Let’s find out.

Is It Safe to Drive With the Service 4 Wheel Drive Light On?

Driving with the Service 4 Wheel Drive light on isn’t recommended since it entails decreased traction, tire wear, and slow response time during emergencies. Plus, driving with 4-wheel drive issues could result in costly repairs if they aren’t addressed promptly.

Next, let’s see how to clear the warning message in your 4×4.

How to Reset the “SERVICE 4WD” Message

One method to clear the “SERVICE 4WD” message is disconnecting the battery or the Transfer Case Control Module (TCCM). This resets the vehicle’s computer system and clears the light. However, it’s a temporary fix and isn’t advisable since the light will illuminate again and stay lit until the issue is resolved.

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Now, since the four-wheel drive system is complex, it’s best to have a mechanic diagnose the problem and reset the light.

Here are steps a mechanic may take to resolve “SERVICE 4WD” issues:

  1. They’ll thoroughly inspect the 4WD system and test it to see if it responds to the driver’s commands. If not, it could indicate a potential problem with the wiring, the transfer case position selector switch, etc.
  2. They’ll remove the knee bolster and dash bezel to access electrical components or switches that require service or replacement.
  3. They’ll examine the wiring harness and switch assembly (using your vehicle’s wiring diagram) for issues like faulty connections and corrosion.
  4. They’ll inspect the transfer case and TCCM for signs of wear or damage like fluid leaks, blown fuse, or damaged wires. Since the TCCM controls power distribution between the front and rear axle in 4×4 vehicles, any damage to it can trigger the message.
  5. They’ll check the condition of the 4WD Control Module for any damage. They may also use an OBD2 scanner to check for 4WD-related trouble codes.
  6. Finally, they’ll perform a system reset following the car manufacturer’s guidelines to check if the SERVICE 4WD light is turned off. If it’s still there, they might reset the 4WD system and other controls, as well as the onboard computer in the car.

Now, let’s review a few related queries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to questions you may have about “SERVICE 4WD”:

1. What Other Signs Indicate My 4WD System Needs Attention?

Besides the dashboard warning light, other warning signs related to your vehicle’s 4-wheel drive system include:

  • Difficulty Engaging or Disengaging 4WD: If switching your vehicle in or out of 4WD mode is hard, there might be a problem with the transfer case motor or axle actuator. This can impact your car’s ability to gain extra traction.
  • Unusual Rattling Noises When 4WD is Engaged: Weird sounds like clunks, grinds, or whines when you engage 4WD could mean issues with the differential axle, transfer case shift motor, or other parts.
  • Reduced 4WD Performance: If your 4WD-equipped vehicle struggles for grip or stability in off-road driving conditions, it might indicate a malfunction in the 4WD system.
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2. Is 4WD and AWD the Same?

Although both 4WD (four-wheel drive) and AWD (all-wheel drive) involve sending power from the engine to all four wheels of your vehicle, they aren’t exactly the same.

AWD is always on and can vary the power sent to the front or rear wheels as needed to prevent a car from slipping. However, 4WD typically requires the driver to toggle it on and uses a transfer case that connects the front and rear wheels to the engine, splitting the power evenly so both axles turn. 4WD is usually reserved for low-speed, slippery conditions.

In case of any issues with your AWD system, a ‘Service AWD System’ message may appear on your dashboard, depending on the make and model of your car. It’ll light up on your dashboard when you start the vehicle, indicating a potential problem with your all-wheel drive system.

3. How Much Do 4WD Repair Services Typically Cost?

The cost of 4-wheel drive repair services can vary depending on the parts required, the type of vehicle (truck, SUV, etc.), and the labor costs.

Here are some common 4-wheel drive regular maintenance service estimates:

  • 4WD Check Light Diagnostic Test: $40 to $120
  • Transfer Case Motor Replacement: $50 to $800
  • Transfer Case Fluid Replacement: $75 to $200
  • 4WD System Repair: $80 to $300
  • Transfer Case Repair: $2,000 to $8,000


Ignoring the 4WD system warning and avoiding regular maintenance can reduce traction and stability — making your car unsafe for yourself and others on the road. Plus, it can lead to costly repairs.

Need 4WD repair services? AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile car repair and maintenance solution offering up-front pricing and excellent customer service.

Fill out this form to have our mechanics resolve any 4WD system issues right in your driveway!