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Buyer Beware: No Chevy Silverado 4LO for some 4x4s, GMC Sierra, too

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Imaging owning Chevy Silverado trucks for decades, buying a new one and then having trouble pulling your boat up a wet dock. When you reach for that 4LO button, you discover your new truck, simply a newer variation of your old truck, didn’t come with 4LO standard. Well, crap.

That’s exactly what happened to one owner.

Chris Tonn, friend of the website, recently shared a story about his uncle — a loyal Silverado owner whose last 13 trucks have been some variant of 1500 or 2500 to tow his boat — and this exact situation. It seems GM decided 4LO (aka a two-speed transfer case) wasn’t necessary for 4×4 trucks — except in off-road models. Instead, you get a single-speed transfer case with Auto, 2HI and 4HI.

According to Tonn:

“[My uncle] tells me that this fall, he buys a 2020 Silverado 4WD (because Wisconsin) and this spring he goes to try and drag his boat out of the lake. He struggles, as he can’t find the low-range. Indeed, it seems that 4LO is only available as an option — it’s standard with the Z71 package, of course. Had he known that GM had made low range an option, he’d have bought the Z71 — but neither he nor the dealer (big surprise the dealer is uninformed) knew a thing about it. And he’s well into his 70s — he’s not going to peruse spec sheets for months prior to buying.”

So, if you’re confused about the Chevy Silverado 4LO situation, clearly you aren’t alone. Here is what is going on.

Chevy Silverado 4LO Optional

Taking a close look at the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra brochures, we confirm not all 4×4 models come with both a 4HI and a 4LO. Instead, the single-speed transfer case is standard while the two-speed transfer case is optional and limited.

For example, on newer models, consumers must opt for the Z71 package on the Silverado — or the X31 package as GMC calls it — in order to get the extra speed for their trucks.

This means customers will need shell out an additional $1,595 for the Z71 package on a crew cab, short bed Silverado LT or $1,105 for the X31 crew cab, short bed, GMC Sierra Elevation.

What about other automakers?

Checking out Ford, Ram, Toyota and Nissan, we find all of them offer a two-speed transfer case as standard equipment.

Ford and Ram go one step further, adding an auto 4WD transfer case option. Ford takes it one step further, offering a torque-on-demand transfer case option as well.

For Nissan and Toyota, they simply have a two-speed transfer case for all their 4×4 trucks.

Why do you need a two-speed transfer case anyway?

One of the big questions this raises is: Why would you need a two-speed transfer case anyway.

There are really only a few cases where it is helpful:

  1. Off-road driving: The 4LO provides extra low-range torque, helping a truck get out of a stuck situation. It also turns off all the additional electronic assist features, such as traction control, allowing the driver to have the ultimate control navigating the road conditions.
  2. Towing: When towing a trailer, having 4LO is handy for getting the camper or trailer into an elevated parking place or going through sloppy terrain. This is similar to how drivers used to use manual transmissions with a so-called “granny” low first gear, tapping into all the torque available.
  3. Pulling a boat out of water on a slippery ramp: Like the aforementioned owner’s story, by having 4LO, the truck is better able to put torque to each wheel and tires are less likely to spin. This really helps when coming up a steep ramp and gives a lot more driver confidence.

The bottom line on Chevy Silverado 4LO

Removing standard 4LO from a 4X4 seems like yet another way companies are penny pinching their highly profitable full-size trucks, and without a knowledgeable dealer or a customer doing their own research, it’s easy to purchase a truck without the features you would assume it has from the factory.

The reality is buying any vehicle — but especially a truck — has gotten more and more complex, and you need to be aware of these changes that can happen when models switch over or make mid-year changes — such as some 2021 GM trucks coming without fuel saving technology.

It stinks, but the onus is on the customers to do their homework — especially for features they use frequently. Never assume that just because your truck has always had XYZ, that it continues to do so.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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6 Comments

  1. Robert Louis Hummel October 27, 2021

    You also need a two speed transfer case to flat pull behind a motor home. I just made that mistake. The sticker on the window doesn’t tell you what case is in the truck! And the sicker doesn’t tell you that a single speed tranfer case will not allow you to flat pull. Now i own a 4×4 truck that i need to figure out if i can replace the single speed transfer case with a two speed. If anyone can help me please email me @boblh69@gmail.con.

    Reply
  2. Bob August 8, 2022

    Just got a 2022
    Has a button to set follow distance
    Has a alert when you’re behind a car.
    Has a on/off for auto braking in the system menu.
    Doesn’t have adaptive cruise or auto braking.
    How am I supposed to sort that out without too much research

    Reply
    1. Tim Esterdahl August 17, 2022

      Read the manual. That’s the best way to do research.

      Reply
  3. Don October 22, 2022

    totally fell for it myself – bought my first and only chevy this summer; couldn’t resist the call of the 3.0 duramax. Drove cross-country to find a regular 6.5′ bed with smaller 4-door cab. Buying remotely I didn’t test drive but being 4×4 I assumed it had a low range – I’d never heard of a full size truck NOT having low; ESPECIALLY if it’s badged as “4×4” as opposed to AWD. That’s pretty much the deciding factor between the two terms after all. While this won’t cause many issues for my specific use case, I was shocked to find no low range. Yet another GM cheap-shot.

    Reply
  4. Bob Hoyle November 3, 2022

    2 speed transfer cases aren’t available with max towing package, GM you suck buying a new Ford

    Reply
  5. Robert Thompson November 13, 2022

    I just upgraded to a new 4X4 Tahoe and didn’t realize they now made them without 4 low. I used to use Low range on my older model a lot. This really sucks GM!

    Reply

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