Converting 2WD to 4WD: A Comprehensive Upgrade Guide

Have you ever found yourself stuck in mud or wishing you could be out navigating rocky terrain? Or maybe you’re just looking for a project to ramp up the capabilities of your trusty truck? We’re about to show you how converting 2WD to 4WD can completely change the way you think about your truck and maybe even the adventures you choose to go on.

Whether you’ve been an off-roader for years or you just ran across a 2WD truck on Facebook marketplace and you want to know what it will take to convert it to 4WD, this comprehensive guide will help you navigate the twists and turns of converting your 2WD into a four-wheel powerhouse. Let’s see what kits are out there if you want to DIY or what it’s going to look like if you end up taking it to a mechanic.

Converting 2WD to 4WD Upgrade Guide

Key Takeaways

  • Converting your 2WD vehicle to a 4WD is totally possible but requires extensive work, including making sure your vehicle is compatible, understanding the costs, and evaluating the complexity of the project.
  • Crucial parts of the conversion include choosing and integrating the right transfer case, selecting appropriate axles, and tackling custom fabrication, as well as ensuring all electronic components and wiring are properly handled.
  • Converting to 4WD will change your vehicle’s dynamics, potentially improving handling and off-road capabilities but also possibly leading to decreased fuel efficiency and added engine load; considering professional services is advised if the conversion process seems too complex.

The Feasibility of 2WD to 4WD Conversion

Before diving into the project, the feasibility of this conversion needs to be addressed. Can you really convert your 2WD into a 4WD? The answer is yes! However, it’s not as simple as just swapping out a few parts. You’ll need to assess your vehicle’s compatibility, understand the costs involved, and evaluate the complexity of the project.

Assessing Your Vehicle’s Compatibility

First things first, you need to make sure your vehicle is compatible with a 4WD system. The type of truck or SUV, its make, model, and year, can significantly affect the possibility of a successful 4WD conversion. Some brands that are usually compatible for a 4WD conversion include:

  • Vintage Ford
  • Chevy
  • GMC
  • Dodge
  • Toyota

Older trucks, for example, often have a more straightforward conversion process as they have easier access to conversion kits and parts. However, some vehicles might have design limitations or lack compatible components, making the conversion more complex or even impossible. It’s crucial to research and seek expert advice before plunging into the conversion process.

I’ve been eyeing a Toyota HiAce for sell near me and it’s part of the reason I started looking into converting 2WD to 4WD. That thing could be a camping machine! Could even make a fun daily driver!

Understanding the Costs Involved

Once you’ve assessed your vehicle’s compatibility, it’s time to delve into the financial side of things. The cost of a 2WD to 4WD conversion can vary significantly depending on what components you choose. A basic setup with coil springs can start as low as $1,399, but a complete, assembled kit could set you back by $10,999.

The cost of converting your vehicle to four-wheel drive isn’t just about the conversion kit itself. You’ll also need to factor in additional components such as:

  • Driveshafts
  • Front axles
  • A transfer case
  • Independent front suspension components

The costs for front and rear axles can range anywhere from $500 for used ones to over $4,000 for top-notch new ones.

Evaluating the Complexity of the Project

A 4WD conversion isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a complex project that requires a fair bit of mechanical knowledge and expertise. You’ll need to make significant changes to the drivetrain and possibly adjust the floor pan to accommodate the new components.

Modifications will also likely be needed for the suspensions. This could involve swapping out the stock suspension for options like forged ends or polyurethane bushings, and installing axles and front suspension from a 4WD vehicle to improve performance. And let’s not forget the wiring, it can be a real hassle and might involve custom wiring tasks or even swapping out the whole wiring harness.

1970's Ford F-250 2WD to 4WD Conversion

Easiest Way Is To Find A 4WD Conversion Kit

Sometimes the best way is finding something that’s done for you. You want something you know will work because it’s been tested and tested on vehicles just like yours. Let’s look at this 2WD to 4WD conversion kit for older Ford Trucks from Kincer Chassis.

Kincer Chassis is a reputable company that specializes in 2WD to 4WD conversion kits for vintage Ford F-Series trucks. They offer three distinct kits: Kit One (The Basics), Kit Two (The Advanced Setup), and Kit Three (The Complete Kit with Assembled Front Axle). Each kit contains a variety of components, including front coil buckets, shock mounts, frame box, track bar mount, engine crossmember, and much more. These kits for your Ford truck are designed to make the conversion process as straightforward as possible, but they still suggest getting professional installation if you’re not comfortable with the process.

I’ve seen their 7.3 Godzilla Swapped Vintage Ford F-250 in person and I was drooling. Next time I’m going to talk them into letting me drive that thing!

The Heart of the Transformation: The Transfer Case

The transfer case is at the core of this transformation. This mighty component is the key player in a 4WD conversion. It ensures power goes to both the front and rear axles, enabling your vehicle to triumph over different terrains by powering all the wheels.

But it’s not just about directing power to the wheels. The transfer case also plays a crucial role off-road, where it can lock the front and rear driveshafts together to give all wheels the maximum traction and power.

Having understood the function of the transfer case, we can now explore how to identify the appropriate one for your vehicle and incorporate it with your existing transmission.

Identifying the Right Transfer Case

Choosing the right transfer case for your vehicle depends on compatibility and desired performance. You have several options for transfer cases, including:

  • Limited-slip or open differential transfer cases, which are common in off-roading setups
  • Specific models like the NP201
  • Specific models like the BW4404 or BW4410

When choosing, consider factors such as whether it has manual-shift levers, its low-range ratios, and the kind of driving and performance you’re aiming for. You can identify the right transfer case by checking the manufacturer’s website using the VIN, looking for markings on the case, or finding a tag on the back with the transfer case’s low-range ratio.

Old Dodge Truck with American Flags

Integration with Your Current Transmission

After selecting the right transfer case, the next step is to harmonize it with your current transmission. This process can be quite complex and may require you to swap out your current 2WD transmission with one from a donor 4WD truck or from a kit. If you’ve just bought the truck and it hasn’t been started in a while follow these tips to get that baby purring!

By swapping the transmission, you avoid the need to modify your existing transmission and also benefit from improved off-road abilities, increased towing and hauling capacity, enhanced stability, and handling, as well as boosted resale value. However, if you decide to use your existing transmission, you’ll need to remove the transmission assembly, connect the transfer case, ensure there’s a direct power transfer connection, lubricate the transfer case, and then reinstall the transmission assembly.

Selecting Axles for Your 4WD Setup

Selecting the right axles is equally important in your 4WD conversion. The axles will determine how effectively your vehicle can transmit power from the engine to the wheels.

This part will breakdown the procedure of choosing the right front wheels and rear axles for your 4WD setup, focusing on both front and rear axles.

Front Axle Choices: Independent vs. Solid Front Axle

When it comes to front axles, you have two main choices: independent front suspension or solid front axle. Both types have their own strengths and weaknesses, so your choice should be dependent on the specific needs of your vehicle and the kind of terrain you’ll be driving on.

Independent axles are more complex and costly but offer independent wheel movement, resulting in better traction. Solid axles are preferred for their simplicity, durability, and performance in off-road environments, offering superior articulation over uneven terrain. However, independent axles require different steering components compared to solid axles.

Sourcing Rear Axles: Compatibility and Strength

Rear axles are just as important in a 4WD conversion. However, sourcing a compatible and strong enough rear axle can be a daunting task. You need to consider factors such as:

  • Axle width
  • Gear ratio
  • Spline count
  • Mounting compatibility

Additionally, the strength of the axle housing and shaft, the durability of the bearings and seals, the heat treatment, and the size of the axle tube are all essential elements that need to be considered. Reliable rear axles and drive axle components for 4WD conversion can be sourced from a variety of places, including online forums, local salvage yards, and specialty shops offering solid axle conversion services.

Selecting Axles for Your 4WD Setup

Custom Fabrication and Installation

Any 2WD to 4WD conversion entails:

  • Custom fabrication and installation
  • Creating custom mounts and brackets
  • Adapting the suspension and steering of your vehicle to accommodate the new 4WD components

This process requires skilled work and expertise.

Creating Custom Mounts and Brackets

Creating custom mounts and brackets, including shock mounts, for your 4WD conversion involves several steps:

  1. Measure and inspect your vehicle’s frame.
  2. Research and gather information.
  3. Decide where to mount the new components.
  4. Select the right materials.
  5. Design the mounts and brackets.
  6. Fabricate and weld the parts.
  7. Test and adjust to ensure everything fits perfectly.

Be sure to consult with your conversion kit manufacturer or a professional for accurate measurements and specs.

Safety is paramount when fabricating and installing these components. Here are some important steps to follow:

  1. Make sure the brackets are aligned correctly and fitted securely.
  2. Use high-quality materials and reinforce the components to handle the extra weight.
  3. It’s always a good idea to consult a professional to ensure everything is safe and functional.

Adapting the Suspension and Steering

Adapting the suspension and steering for a 4WD setup involves significant modifications to your vehicle. Here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  1. Install a new front axle
  2. Upgrade the suspension pickup points
  3. Add a transfer case
  4. Tweak the rear end
  5. Make changes to the steering system to accommodate the different steering system and front suspension of 4WD vehicles.

Upgrades to the suspension will involve reinforcing control arms and sway bars, strengthening the chassis, and upgrading the steering system. When making these modifications, make sure to follow the right installation steps, and if needed, consult with a professional to ensure everything works correctly.

Wiring and Electronics: Tackling the Technical Side

After addressing the mechanical side of the conversion, the technical aspects – wiring and electronics – come into play. These components are vital for the proper functioning of your newly converted 4WD vehicle.

Electronic Components and Sensors

The electronic components and sensors required for a successful conversion include:

  • Electronic Control Unit (ECU)
  • Transfer Case Control Module
  • Wheel Speed Sensors
  • Actuators
  • Wiring Harness

These components ensure that your vehicle can manage the additional power and functionality of the 4WD setup.

Critical sensors such as the speed sensor on the transfer case, ABS or transmission speed sensors, and oxygen sensors provide input to the ECU, which controls and coordinates the whole 4WD system. These sensors are crucial for the electronic control system to handle functions like traction control and ABS.

Harnessing the Power: Electrical Wiring Challenges

The wiring stage of the conversion can be quite challenging. This involves connecting the transfer case, front differential, and 4WD switch, enabling you to control the 4WD system. However, this process can result in issues such as power loss, ABS system troubles, power windows not working, and HVAC blower problems.

To tackle these challenges, consider using a DC-DC converter or a 3-way switch for the inverter source. This will ensure that the power is distributed properly across all the components. As with all stages of the conversion, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional if you’re unsure or facing issues.

The Impact of  4WD Conversion Kit

Upgrading for Performance and Durability

Beyond the necessary modifications for the 4WD conversion, it’s essential to consider how to enhance the vehicle for performance and durability. After all, the added power and functionality of a 4WD system will place additional strain on your vehicle, and it needs to be able to handle this.

Strengthening the Drivetrain

To handle the added stress of 4WD, your drivetrain needs to be strengthened. This can be done by:

  • Installing a stronger front axle
  • Getting a top-notch transfer case
  • Putting in locking differentials
  • Beefing up the suspension and other drivetrain parts

Remember, the strength of your drivetrain is crucial in determining how well your vehicle can handle the extra power and weight of a 4WD system, as opposed to a two wheel drive system.

Using materials like:

  • aluminum tubing
  • gussets
  • iron alloys
  • steel

can greatly increase the strength of your drivetrain. These materials can handle the roughness of 4WD operation, ensuring that your vehicle can triumph over any terrain.

Suspension and Chassis Reinforcement

Reinforcing the suspension and chassis is another crucial step in upgrading your vehicle for a 4WD conversion. The additional weight of the 4WD components will place extra stress on your vehicle’s suspension and chassis, and these need to be strengthened to support this weight.

Suspension upgrades will involve reinforcing control arms, sway bars, and track bar, strengthening the chassis, and upgrading the steering system. When making these modifications, make sure to follow the right installation steps and if needed, consult with a professional to ensure everything works correctly.

Chassis reinforcement is crucial for a 4WD conversion as it:

  • Increases the vehicle’s stability
  • Improves steering
  • Reduces body roll
  • Handles the extra stress on the vehicle structure

Materials such as steel plates, box sections, and gussets can be used to reinforce the chassis and ensure that it can handle the strain of the 4WD components.

The Impact of 4WD Conversion on Vehicle Dynamics

The dynamics of your vehicle will be affected by a 4WD conversion. The added weight and changes in the drivetrain setup can affect how your vehicle handles and performs overall. However, these changes also come with significant improvements in handling and off-road capabilities.

Handling and Off-Road Capability

Switching to 4WD can greatly improve your vehicle’s handling, allowing for better grip and control on different driving surfaces. The higher driving position also offers improved visibility on the road.

Off-road, the benefits of 4WD become even more apparent with increased control, better traction, and improved capability on rough terrain.

Fuel Efficiency and Engine Load

However, there are some downsides to consider. The added weight of the 4WD components can lead to decreased fuel efficiency and increased engine load. The engine will need to work harder to move the vehicle, which can lead to increased fuel consumption.

Therefore, it’s crucial to consider these implications before undertaking a 4WD conversion.

Professional Services vs. DIY: What’s Best for Your Conversion?

Having journeyed through the process of a 2WD to 4WD conversion, the final decision now lies with you. Will you take on this project yourself, or hire a professional to handle it? This choice depends on your skill level, budget, and the complexity of your project.

When to Consider Professional Conversion Services

If you’re not confident in your mechanical skills or if the project seems too complex, then it might be best to consider professional conversion services. Not only will this save you time and effort, but you’ll also have the peace of mind knowing that the conversion was done correctly and safely. Plus, professional services often come with a warranty and support.

Tips for the DIY Enthusiast

If you’re the DIY type and are up for the challenge, then here are some tips:

  • Research thoroughly
  • Create a detailed plan and timeline
  • Set up a dedicated workspace
  • Organize your parts and components

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek guidance when needed, and adjust your plan as you go. Remember, as with all DIY projects, safety should always be your top priority. Yes, it can save you money, but remember you’re going to be driving this thing so you want to make sure you have the relevant experience. There are a lot of details you have to pay attention to!


Converting 2WD to 4WD is no small feat. It requires careful planning, a fair amount of mechanical knowledge, and a great deal of patience and can change drastically if you’re upgrading a vintage truck or a new one. But with the right approach, the right tools, and the right guidance, it can be an incredibly rewarding project.

Whether you decide to take on this project yourself or hire a professional, one thing is certain: the end result will be a vehicle that’s more capable, more versatile, and ready to take on any terrain. So gear up and get ready to embark on this rewarding journey of transforming your 2WD into a robust 4WD just make sure you give it a good clean when you’re finished.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to convert a 2WD to 4WD?

Converting a 2WD to 4WD can cost anywhere from $1,399 for a basic setup to $10,999 for a complete, assembled kit from Kincer Chassis. Their conversion kits are designed to make the process straightforward and hassle-free.

How hard is it to convert a 2WD to 4WD?

Converting a 2WD to a 4WD involves switching out various truck parts like the output shaft, transmission, wiring, and shifter, so it’s not a quick and easy DIY project.

Can I convert my 2×4 to a 4×4?

Converting your 2×4 to a 4×4 is possible but involves a lot of work and can be expensive, including fitting a drive axle assembly and potentially changing the suspension.

What is the role of the transfer case in a 4WD conversion?

The transfer case plays a crucial role in a 4WD conversion, distributing power to both front and rear axles and enabling your vehicle to navigate various terrains with all-wheel drive capability.

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