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The thing that makes four-wheel-drive, or 4WD, transfer cases strong is why they’re expensive to repair. They’re also complicated, which adds more expense. And finding out how much it will cost to repair is another hurdle, as you’ll get a wide range of estimates. The good news is that properly maintained, they should last well beyond 100,000 miles. 

The difference between all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive transfer cases

transfer case
Two-speed off-road transfer case | Magna

A transfer case transfers engine power to all four wheels. Some only evenly transfer the power to all four wheels. Others will transmit different ratios of power depending on each wheel’s needs. There are two main types of transfer cases, one for all-wheel drive vehicles and the other for off-road applications. 

All-wheel drive units send power continuously to the four wheels. Four-wheel-drive, or 4×4, on the other hand, only sends power to the two rear wheels until it is engaged. Switching on engagement then applies power to the four wheels. This allows for slightly better fuel mileage when 4×4 applications aren’t necessary. 

Repair or replace?

transfer case
Open transfer case | Nogalitos gear

Choosing to repair a transfer case rather than replace it saves costs. The labor to replace it is low, but the cost of the replacement unit isn’t. It ranges anywhere from $2,500 to $8,000, depending on what truck you have. 

You’ll know you’re having issues with your transfer case based on one or several factors. If your truck won’t shift from Low to High gears, it has an issue. Not staying in 4×4 mode is another issue signaling the transfer case needs repair. 

If you’re noticing that fluid is starting to pool under your truck, this is another bad sign, as are sounds like growling, grinding, or whirring. Some of these issues may actually be coming from the transmission or driveshaft, so it is best to have a service technician determine where the issues are occurring. 

What does it cost to replace a transfer case?

transfer case
Chain-driven transfer case | Magna

According to Consumer Affairs, a problem like the replacement of an output shaft seal may only cost around $400. But other repairs can cost several thousand dollars. In other cases, it is cheaper to just replace the transfer case, if it is a high-mileage unit that is essentially worn out. 

Consumer Affairs looked at three different makes of 4×4 vehicles from 2017 to see how much it cost to replace a transfer case. 

Ford F-150 Lariat: $2,077

Jeep Wrangler Sport: $3,858

Land Rover: $7,714

As you can see, there is a big gap in pricing, which is why it is hard to pinpoint one specific price of replacement. 

As for repairing your transfer case, you’ll need to compare quotes to those for a replacement, to see where you stand. You’ll also need to access your vehicle’s overall condition and value. It might be better to send it down the road and purchase another vehicle. 

Check your transfer case now rather than later

transfer case
Actimax transfer case | Actimax

There are two last things to keep in mind. Though the transfer case is not dependent on the truck’s ability to function, doing so can cause more damage. So it is better to find out what the problem is sooner rather than later. Otherwise, once you do decide to have it looked at, it could cost more than if you had taken it in sooner. 

And keep up maintenance. Replace transfer case fluid at least every 30,000 miles. That’s a cheap price for the added miles of service it will guarantee. 


How Does a Transfer Case Work in Full-Time Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) Vehicles?