Shifting your transfer case into low range probably isn’t something that you spend much time thinking about, but there are actually several different ways to accomplish this. The simplest is a mechanical lever that passes through the floor and connects directly to the transfer case. This isn’t always possible though due to packaging constraints, and the hole in the transmission tunnel creates added road noise. As a result, electric actuators are controlled by buttons or knobs in many modern vehicles to operate the transfer case. No matter how they are controlled, as long as vehicles come with low range we will be grateful when we are on the trail!
Here’s a look at the transfer case actuation methods used on the vehicles in the 2019 SUV of the Year and Pickup Truck of the Year competitions.
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Both the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport have fulltime 4WD and use a button to engage the low range reduction in the transfer case. It is located with all of the controls for the air suspension and hill descent, around the Terrain Response dial.
The 4Runner uses a traditional lever that operates smoothly and easily. The only downside we noted is a lot of drivetrain movement off-road that transfers back through the lever.
The Cherokee Trailhawk has a button for “Low Range” that engages a lower gear in the transaxle and transfers power to the rear end via a PTU (Power Transfer Unit). It is nicely nestled in the center of the vehicle with the other 4WD controls like the Terrain Select and rear locking differential.
This is about as good as it gets. The Wrangler and the 4Runner were the only vehicles with lever-operated transfer case shifters. On the Wrangler the transfer case shifter is between the driver and the transmission shifter, while the transmission shifter is closer to the driver in the 4Runner. The latter makes more sense to us since you use it more often.
Both the GMC Sierra AT4 and the Chevy Silverado Trail Boss use this pushbutton system on the left side of the steering wheel. This isn’t where we naturally look for the transfer case controls, but it does eliminate any possibility of shifting into low when you are trying to turn up the air conditioning.
Like the GM trucks, the Ram Rebel uses buttons to select the transfer case mode, but they are on the right side of the steering wheel. Don’t get us started on the rotary dial for the transmission shifter.
The shift knob for the Toyota Tundra is located on the dash within easy reach of the driver. It is clearly marked, but we find it non-intuitive; it rotates the opposite of the direction we expect.