4WD Engages Randomly, '96 XLT set in 2WD Mode | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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4WD Engages Randomly, '96 XLT set in 2WD Mode


Well-Known Member
September 15, 2001
Reaction score
City, State
Richmond, Va
Year, Model & Trim Level
'96 XLT
1996 Explorer XLT w/ Control Trac 4WD, switch for 2WD, 4WD Auto, and 4WD Low. 122,000 Miles.

When I leave for work in the mornings, for the first few miles at 25-35mph, the 4WD engages, or tries to. You can feel and hear the clunk. At 35mph, it clunks about once every second, and is most noticeable if letting off the gas or cruising with little throttle. Switching into 4WD Auto mode instantly makes this stop happening. After driving a few miles in 2WD, it will stop also.

I've been reading about this since I started noticing it last week, but still am not positive what I need to fix. Do I need to clean my hubs? Or is it the clutch in the transfer switch? Any ideas?

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I'm almost positive its your automatic hubs engaging/disengaging when they aren't supposed to. Either it's a dirty hub, or a hub that's going bad. I had this same thing happen to my 94 when I had autohubs on my TTB.

Check the hubs first, it's an easy pop a wheel off check. Then do the more complicated things like checking your transfer case and electronics. Always operate by the law of cheapest fix first.

Good luck!

2nd gen Explorers ain't got no hubs B - them supper fly CV axle shafts are directly super splined into the "unitary wheel bearing" junx.

I had a '91 XLT before this one, I was thinking it was hubs. Now that I think about it, I should have known there are no hubs.

So I'm guessing its the clutch in the transfer case?

Ahh, those silly IFS explorers.

It could be the electronic engage/disengage in your tcase. Maybe try unplugging the wiring to the electronic motor that shifts it to 4x4/4x2 and see if that makes a difference.

Unplugged, have not heard the noise yet. Where do I go from here? Could the motor be dirty and need a cleaning?

Well I'd try cleaning the contacts of the plugs up nice with some electrical contact cleaner. Pull the electric shift motor off of the transfer case and plug it in. Have a friend hit the 4x4/4x4low/4x2 buttons and watch to make sure the electric motor is shifting between those settings properly (it should just be a little knob-like device that turns a selector on the tcase).

If the center axle disconnect was not working properly, would that cause the issue I am experiencing? I've been reading threads all day, but I still don't know what would cause the problem.

It's still clunking for the first few miles of driving. I am going to plug the tcase back in so I can engage it and hopefully prevent damage.

I was under the truck yesterday, and the front drive shaft spins freely. There is some rotational play/rattle to it, so I believe that is a U-joint?

Does the front drive shaft turn in the tcase while driving in 2WD? If so then I'm guessing the clutches in the case are binding until the fluid warms up. Maybe it's time to flush the fluid. Any other ideas?

When your tcase is in 2wd the front driveshaft should spin freely (along with the front driveline. aka, if your in 2wd and front wheels are in the air the front driveshaft will spin free and spin the front wheels). If you grab the driveshaft and wiggle it it shouldn't move back and forth.

Next option is to pull the front driveshaft and see if your noise goes away. If it does, I'd suspect a bad ujoint.

I'm not too sure about these 2nd gens. I'm not sure if the wheels spinning spins your driveshaft or not, since you don't really have locking hubs.

The shaft does not move back and forth, but it does rotate a little. I put the truck in 4WD, front axle was locked, but I could turn it 1/4" or so. I'm guessing this is not good, because I cannot turn my rear driveshaft at all. Any idea what this means?