Causes and Signs of Bad Transfer Case

The transfer case is one of the essential components that differentiate the all-wheel-drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD).  Driving all four wheels provides higher traction, which improves performance in rugged terrain.  It is done by the transfer case, which allows the ability to move to the front and back wheels.

When you have a damaged transfer case, you will find that you may have a problem or cannot switch to AWD or 4WD.

So let us discuss the symptoms that you may experience when this component fails.

Symptoms of Bad Transfer Case

The transfer case is supposed to have delayed the vehicle’s life — but that did not always happen.  Here are the most common signs you may come across  when dealing with a bad transfer case:

  • Issues while changing gears

One sign of a bad transfer case is when you have trouble rotating between gear ranges.  Although the problem may arise from a different cause, such as a low fluid level or a damaged connection, it indicates the internal transfer case failure.

transfer case

However, before you think something is wrong, make sure you follow the instructions (in your master’s manual) for handling the transfer case.  Before switching to a four-wheel drive, the vehicle must be stopped and the transmission set to neutral. Contrarily, you will hear a cracking noise when trying to change gears.

  • Problem staying in 4WD

Another common problem is the transfer case in 4WD.  The issue may appear due to external influences (e.g., a problem with the differential or the driveshaft), or it may be due to the internal transfer case’s concern.

  • 4WD will not engage or disengage

There are many reasons why a 4WD car system will not engage or disengage.  The issue may be due to anything from operating an incorrect rotation on the front axle to an electrical error in the control system.

It is also possible that the transfer case has internal problems.

  • Greasy puddle directly under Transfer Case

The one and the only reason behind the formation of a greasy puddle under your car is a “leakage.”

And this leakage could be in a transfer case.

transfer case

Ensure the leak is coming from the transfer case by lifting your car and checking it visually.  It is easily recognizable in the back part of the transmission or transaxle assembly.

  • Growling, grinding, or humming noises

Another sign of trouble in your car is the presence of strange noises that usually do not occur.  Strange noises can be disturbing and alarming, and they almost always indicate that big problems are right in the corner.

If you hear a growling, grinding, or humming sound that changes with the vehicle’s speed, it may come from a transfer case.  The cause can be a low level of fluid or a mechanical problem, such as loose chain, poor bearings, or damaged gears.

  • Illuminating 4WD Warning Light
transfer case

Some cars have a “four-wheel-drive” message (or something similar) that appears on the steering wheel when there is a problem with the system.  Other vehicles will allow the 4WD light to illuminate the track to indicate a problem, which may be a poor transfer case.

Causes of an Inadequate Transfer Case?

Often, a transfer case will fail due to a low level of fluids(caused by leaks), lack of maintenance, or normal wear.

It is important to deal with fluid leaks quickly to avoid damaging the case.  Frequently changing the transfer case fluid is also important.  

Faulty Transfer Case or Transmission Issues?

The transfer case is a component of your vehicle’s drivetrain, just like transmission – and they both have their functions.  Despite this, symptoms of transmission failure may resemble those of poor transfer case.  It can sometimes lead to confusion for car owners trying to repair their car themselves.

To avoid any confusion, it is a good idea to have a car inspection from a professional if you suspect a transfer case problem. They will have the proper tools (and years of experience) to properly inspect your vehicle.

Can transmission be damaged with a bad transfer case?

There are cases where a transfer case’s failure can damage other parts of your vehicle, including transmission.  It is always advisable to address any known issues as soon as possible to avoid additional problems.

transfer case

Transfer Case

As previously mentioned, the transfer case is found on vehicles with AWD or 4WD power and allows drivers to switch to these operating modes.

  • 4WD Transfer Case

A typical 4WD transfer case is located behind the transmission, powered by a transmission output shaft, and works very well as a second transmission.

Most 4WD transfer cases have four operating modes:two-high, neutral, four-low, and four-high.  Because drivers only do 4WD when needed, this type of system is called “part-time” four-wheel drive.

The gear unit you want can work with a lever, engine vacuum, or in-vehicle electronics.

  • AWD Transfer Case

AWD systems are distributed to all four wheels without any input from the driver.  Most modern SUVs have AWD and a front-wheel drive-bias layout.  Vehicles with this design have a transaxle instead of a transmission.

The transfer case mounts to the transaxle side and distributes power to the rear differential and one of the front CV axles. You may also hear that people refer to this type of transfer case as part of a power transfer unit (PTU) or something similar.

Some cars have AWD and a rear-wheel-drive scale.  With this design, the transfer case is very much like the one found in a 4WD vehicle. The main difference is that the transfer case does not have multiple gear ranges for the driver to choose from.

That is why this type of setup is also known as full-time 4WD.

If you are looking for transfer case part types, visit The Auto Parts Shop.


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