5th Gen 4Runner Off-Road Features Explained

5th Gen 4Runner Off-Road Features Explained

The Complete Guide on how to use your 4Runner’s Off-Road, Crawl Control, Multi-terrain Select, Active Trac (A-TRAC) and E-Locker System

There are many different four-wheel-drive systems on the market today. Each has its own characteristics, but for the most part, all four-wheel drive systems are similar in design – they all want to give traction to four wheels. Not all systems are created the same, but in the case of the Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road, this is for good reason.

The Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road is what I would consider as the most bang for your buck 4Runner you can get, and probably one of the most bang for your buck all-terrain vehicles on the market today. The TRD Off Road has a lot of features, but for this article, only the four-wheel drive system will be discussed.

For comparative purposes, the 4Runner TRD Off Road (also the same as the previously named Trail) and TRD Pro share the same four-wheel drive system. The SR5 4Runner will not have Crawl Control, Multi-terrain Select, or an electronically locking rear differential. Here are some of the main features of the system you will find on the Toyota 4Runner TRD Off Road, TRD Pro, and previously named Trail 4Runner.

TRD Off Road, TRD Pro, and Trail 4Runner Features

  • High and low range transfer case
  • Crawl Control
  • Multi-terrain Select
  • Active Trac (A-TRAC)
  • Electronically locking rear differential

4Runner High vs Low Range

High vs Low Range 2WD & 4WD

Two-Wheel Drive (H2)

The first and most important feature to discuss is the transfer case. Knowing whether you should be in 4HI vs 4LO is crucial off roading knowledge. The first option is not four-wheel drive at all, it is 2HI. 2HI simply gives you power to the rear tires only.

This will give you the best fuel economy and should be used in daily driving. The problem with two-wheel drive is that in some situations the power will be going to only one of the two wheels. This is because the rear differential in two-wheel drive is not locked.

If you ran into a scenario where one of the rear wheels is in the air with zero traction, in slippery mud, ice, or anything with little to no traction you will be stuck…even though you are in two-wheel drive, it is possible to only have power going to one of the two wheels.

Most of the power will go to the tire with least resistance. Although this sounds counterproductive, it is necessary for when you turn. The vehicle needs the inside and outside wheels to spin at different speeds when turning, and therefore this causes the tire with least resistance to receiving the most power in two-wheel drive. This is where 4HI can be highly beneficial.

Four-Wheel Drive (4H = 4 High)

4HI is the first four-wheel drive mode that you can utilize. To switch into 4HI you need to be driving at a speed of 55 mph or less. All you have to do on the 4Runner TRD Off Road is pull back on the transfer case lever to engage 4HI. Once again, this can be done while you are driving, but should be done under 55 mph. You should not engage 4HI in areas of high traction that two-wheel drive could be utilized.

Why is this? When you are driving in a straight line in any mode, all the tires will be spinning at the same speed. However, when you are turning, outside wheels turn faster than inside wheels and the front wheels spin faster than the rear wheels. When in 4HI, the center differential is automatically locked. This means when you are turning the car will “’bind’, as different tires will want to be spinning at different speeds.

4HI Explained (High Gear 4-Wheel Drive Explained)?

4HI guarantees at least two tires will have power to them. The reason is that when you go into 4HI the center differential locks and splits power front and rear to 50/50. This is essentially what defines a four-wheel drive vehicle. Although power is split 50/50 front and rear, this doesn’t mean each wheel will receive 25% of the power equally.

In the same way power can vary left to right in two-wheel drive, power can also shift left to right in four-wheel drive – just not front and back as power is split 50/50. This means that if one tire in the rear doesn’t have any traction and one tire in the front doesn’t have any traction you theoretically could get stuck. This most often happens when you have a tire in the front barely off the ground and one in the back barely off the ground. This said, 4HI gives you much more traction over 2HI.

When to use 4HI?

4HI is great when you need more traction and control that does not require ‘crawling’ speeds. Snowy roads, slick roads, and muddy roads are all good options to utilize 4HI. Any time you need to go at speeds of less than 5-10 mph you should probably shift into 4LO.

4LO Explained (Low Gear 4-Wheel Drive Explained)?

5th Gen 4Runner Features and Technology

To shift into 4LO the vehicle needs to be at a complete stop and put into neutral with your foot on the brake. Grab the transfer case lever on your 4Runner TRD Off Road and complete a ‘j’ stroke by pulling back and over to the right and then up.

After you complete the ‘j’ stroke, simply shift into drive. You will immediately notice a large amount of torque gain from shifting into 4LO. 4LO is great for crawling because in 4LO you do not have to apply much throttle at all to get over obstacles. In 4HI you can experience problems of having to surge over obstacles because you don’t have enough torque to crawl.

This is dangerous and an easy way to damage your vehicle because you are at a stop and then you quickly surge forward. This can cause your suspension to compress more than needed, make you run into a rock, slide on an obstacle and other potentially dangerous situations that could damage your vehicle.

When to use 4LO?

4LO should be used anytime you need to drive slowly or in the more difficult off-road features. Deeper and or heavier mud, steep inclines, rocky terrain, and uneven terrain are all some examples of good times to use 4LO.

One thing to mention about 4LO is that the system is no different from 4HI, in the sense that you are splitting power front and rear 50/50 and you are only guaranteeing that at least two tires will have power, but the difference is in the gearing and also that 4LO automatically turns off traction control and stability control.

4LO adds an unbelievable advantage of torque and really allows you to take control of your 4Runner in off-road situations.

5th Gen 4Runner Crawl Control

5th Gen 4Runner Crawl Control

Crawl Control essential allows a driver to focus on nothing but turning the steering wheel, as Crawl Control will take care of the gas and braking. Crawl Control has to be operated when in 4LO, which makes sense as you are wanting to drive slowly, and you should be in severe off-road terrain.

There are five different speed modes on the Crawl Control knob.

The slowest is with the knob turned all the way to the left, or counterclockwise. The fastest is turned all the way to the right, or clockwise.

  • The slower speeds are recommended for rock, moguls going downhill, and gravel going downhill.
  • Medium speeds are best suited for moguls going uphill.
  • The high speeds are for snow, mud, and gravel going uphill as well as sand, dirt, and slippery grass when going uphill.

One thing to note about Crawl Control is that the slower you have the setting, the more severe the condition needs to be. If you try out crawl control on a flat surface, you will hear all sorts of odd noises and you might think your vehicle is braking. This is not unusual though.

Crawl Control should only be used in lower speeds in severe uphill or downhill situations. One area that I really have appreciated Crawl Control is going down a steep incline. Crawl Control going downhill can kind of act like a reversed A-TRAC system, as it can brake certain wheels with best traction to maintain your desired speed. For drivers that want complete control of the system, Crawl Control will not be a great feature for you. However, if you just want to focus on driving while going downhill or uphill, Crawl Control is great.

5th Gen 4Runner Multi-Terrain Select

5th Gen 4Runner Multi-Terrain Select

This sounds just like the name portrays, a system designated for helping you in different terrains.

There are four different modes

  • Mud & Sand
  • Loose Rock
  • Mogul
  • Rock

So what mode do you put it in? The names help you out a lot and give a user a lot of information on how the system works. Basically, the mud & sand mode is the least invasive and allows the most slippage of the system. On the complete other end of the spectrum, rock is the most extreme mode and tries to limit slippage as much as possible.

Mud & sand mode can be operated in either 4LO or 4HI, but loose rock, mogul, and rock must all be operated when in 4LO.

Selecting a mode in crawl control?

To select a mode, all you have to do is be in the appropriate 4LO or 4HI and press the on/off switch for Multi-terrain Select. The image cluster near your gauges will show the mode you are in. Turn the dial to select what mode you would like to be in.

Depending on what mode you try to select, you might get a message saying shift to 4LO, which means you cannot operate that mode in 4HI. This system can basically be seen as off-road traction control and you get to pick what type of traction you think you are in. It can be very beneficial, especially to an unexperienced driver.

5th Gen 4Runner A-TRAC

5th Gen 4Runner A-TRAC

One of the best features on the 4Runner that set it apart from a lot of vehicles is A-TRAC. There are vehicles with very similar systems to A-TRAC, but we can have a little bias here and say we like the Toyota system best.

Basically, A-TRAC is a brake lock differential. What does this mean?

When you have four-wheel drive engaged with A-TRAC on, A-TRAC will brake a wheel that is spinning in order to shift power from one side of the axle to another. As discussed previously, it is possible to have four-wheel drive engaged but have one tire on the rear axle and one in the front spinning. This is because of how differentials work.

With A-TRAC, the 4Runner ABS system can independently brake wheels that are detected as slipping in order to shift power to the other wheel (the wheel that actually has traction).

My first car I bought was a 2005 two-wheel drive Toyota 4Runner. This car had Auto LSD, which is essentially A-TRAC for the rear axle only. Although it was only two-wheel drive, this system added a lot more capability. This said, the amount of capability you gain from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive is tremendous.

Then you add A-TRAC to all four wheels and you have quite a good system. This is not to be confused with a locking differential but is a very capable tool and can even be more beneficial in some situations.  A-TRAC is an unbelievable feature to have and is something that all four-wheel drive 4Runners share.

4Runner Electronic Rear Locking Differential

4Runner Electronic Rear Locking Differential

You will only find the locking rear differential on Trail, TRD Off Road and TRD Pro model 4Runners.

The rear locking differential adds a lot of capability to an already capable vehicle. It is amazing to think you can get a stock vehicle with a HI/LO transfer case, Crawl Control, Multi-terrain Select, A-TRAC and a locking rear differential. This is a great package that is hard to beat for an all-terrain vehicle like the 4Runner.

So, what does a locking rear differential do for the Toyota 4Runner?

The rear locker guarantees both rear wheels will have the same amount of power split evenly and at least one wheel in the front will have power. This means you are guaranteed to have at least three wheels with power – 25% of the total power applied to each rear tire, and 50% of power applied to the front two tires. You can imagine how hard this would be to get stuck, at least in general off-road conditions.

You do not want to use a locker on surfaces with good traction as it is harmful to your vehicle. When you turn, outside and inside wheels turn at different speeds. When you lock the rear axle, you eliminate the vehicle’s capability to have an outside wheel spinning at a faster speed than the inside wheel.

The rear locker should only be used in loose and low traction surfaces. When utilizing your 4LO with A-TRAC and your rear locker, you are ready for some tough off-road features.

When to Use Each Off-Road Setting on your 4Runner?

5th Gen 4Runner Crawl Control

There are a lot of different features to consider. How do you know what to be in for best traction? I will give a simple guide to what is my opinion on the matter – excluding Crawl Control and Multi-terrain Select, as these are really a user’s preference and adding these two features to the equation practically gives endless options for what “mode” to be in.

Normal Driving Conditions

Your best system for normal driving is two-wheel drive. You are getting optimal gas mileage, do not need extra traction, and driving in anything else can harm your vehicle. Don’t think the 4Runner in 4HI is all wheel drive, it is not, it is a true four-wheel drive vehicle with the center differential locked splitting power front and rear 50/50. Even if it is raining, snowing a little, or some similar situation, two-wheel drive is probably optimal. You really need “slick stuff” for whatever you are driving on in order to go to 4HI.

Snow, Mud, or Ice on Paved Road

4HI is optimal for situations in which you are driving on a paved road that is slick due to snow, mud, or ice being on the pavement. Dirt and gravel roads that are slick are also a good option. 4HI will give you the opportunity to achieve higher speeds (use good judgment and if in doubt go slower) and drive in the safest manner possible.

You will have much better steering input and can reach relatively high speeds. You will have the added advantage of being able to have throttle applied to your steering, meaning you can be pulled in the direction you are steering. Theoretically, you can shift on the fly into 4HI if you are under 55 mph, so I would use this as a judgment as what your top speed should be in 4HI. Generally, if you are in a situation where you need 4HI, you should be under 55 mph anyways or else you probably should be in 2HI.

Should you leave traction control on or off?

This is really dependent on the driver and situation. In 4HI, I think it is beneficial to leave traction control on, especially for an inexperienced driver. For an experienced driver, traction control off can be advantageous if the right condition is met. For the most part, 4HI with all traction aids on is the best route to go. If you do find yourself in a situation where traction control is constantly interfering while in 4HI this means two things: you should be in 4LO, or you should turn off traction control only if you are an experienced driver capable of controlling the vehicle yourself without any traction aids.

Thick Snow or Mud

For thick snow or mud you will want more torque and traction control off. Having traction control on in snow will cause the computer system to constantly try to cut power and therefore you will lose your momentum, which is bad in mud and snow.

Thankfully, 4LO automatically cuts off traction control. 4LO automatically turns off traction aids and you have no need to be driving any faster than single digits on your speedometer if you are in thick snow or mud. 4LO will give you much better torque and there will not be any traction control to interfere from the slippage occurring in thick snow or mud.

Loose Gravel Roads

This is a toss up dependent on your speed and what your motive is. If you are simply driving on a gravel road and cruising, 2HI is the best route to go. You don’t need extra traction. If you are trying to have maximum traction and get from one point to the other with lots of control, 4HI is the best route. This is really dependent on what you are confident and comfortable with.

Large Rocks and Ruts

Without a doubt you need to be in at least 4LO for large rocks and ruts. Being in 4HI will get you through it, but because of a lack of control from the stock gear ratios, you will likely be surging a lot and could damage your vehicle.

4LO will give you silky smooth control of your vehicle and allow you to safely navigate through some terrain. If you are experiencing slippage and not going through the terrain very easily, consider turning on A-TRAC. If you still are not going through very easily, give it all you got with 4LO, A-TRAC on, and your rear diff locked.

Steep Inclines

Steep inclines are a sure calling for 4LO. You will have more than enough torque to climb and will be in the best possible control of your vehicle. As with the large rocks and ruts, A-TRAC can add a lot of capability. The rear diff locked is a great option too, but I would try A-TRAC out first and if then you don’t make it, go ahead and lock the rear differential.

Muddy Gravel Road

Depending on the level of the mud for the gravel road, 4HI will be best option. However, if the mud is pretty deep and thick and not much of a gravel road anymore, 4LO is best. In 4HI, on a slick muddy gravel road, you will still be able to travel at a reasonable speed with control but have the benefit of more steering input from four-wheel drive. However, always be cautious with turning and braking though. It is easy to get a little too confident and slide out of a corner into a ditch or a fence.

5th Gen 4Runner Off-Road Settings Overview

The Toyota 4Runner is an extremely capable off-road vehicle right from purchase. Whether you have a SR5 4Runner or a fully loaded TRD Pro 4Runner, you are getting a great vehicle with the reputability to back it up. I hope that next time you find yourself traversing across a trail you will have a better understanding and confidence of the individual features of the 4Runner’s four-wheel drive system. When used with knowledge, the 4Runner has the equipment you need to go on many different adventures.

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David Sharrow
David Sharrow
1 month ago

When going downhill on a rough loose road, when I brake the ABS thinks I am skidding and eases off on the brakes even if I really want to apply the brakes and slow down. I have had this problem with my 2018 4runner, and with other ABS equipped semi-off-road vehicles. Does anybody know how to shut off the ABS when driving on rough roads?

6 months ago

I’m astonished people still don’t know the difference between braking and breaking.

7 months ago

Great article. Best information I have read by far. Thanks

1 year ago

Excellent discussion! I will need to re-read it several times to understand it fully, but it will be a great resource for me.
One question: When you say “traction control”, is that the same as A-Trac?

Brent Chronister
2 years ago

I have a 2020 TRD off road premium. This article says that you can utilize A-Trac and the rear locker at the same time. That is not correct. My 4 runner will only allow use of one or the other. You cannot use them at the same time . The system will not allow it .If you have A Trac engaged it will not allow you to engage the rear locker and if you have the rear locker engaged it will not allow you to engage A Trac.

3 months ago

my mothers maiden name is chronister I haven’t seen many others that I’m not related to just had to comment always strange to see that name

4 months ago

Yes you can


[…] of the 4Runner are unleashed when you go off-roading. But despite your 4Runner having all these systems in place, going off-roading without certain Toyota car accessories can ruin the […]

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