Buying a Transfer Case Motor: Essential Do’s and Don’ts
A staple in vehicles with 4WD or AWD powertains, the transfer case motor is one of the many small motors scattered across the body of your car. But despite its relative obscurity, the transfer case motor plays a big role in how the transmission works. And once the motor burns out or malfunctions, it has to be replaced as soon as possible or else the car's transmission will not function properly or not at all.
When buying a new transfer case motor for your car, take note of these do's and don'ts
- DO make sure that the motor has the corresponding part number for your car. Transfer case motors are not manufactured equally, as they are specifically built to spec for a particular make and model. This is why a transfer case motor for a Ford pickup will not fit, let alone work, in an SUV made by Toyota. Because of this, transfer case numbers are issued with a unique part number, which is typically etched on the side of the motor. So before you buy a transfer case motor, make sure to cross reference it first with the maintenance manual and the part number etched in the old motor.
- DO make sure it meets quality control standards. Aside from OEM compliance, some of the standards you need to look for include that of the DOT and SAE.
- DO buy a motor that includes the wiring harness and connectors. Although you can use the one from your stock transfer case motor, the old harness may already be compromised and fail at a later time. Most motors nowadays come with harnesses at basically the same cost as those without, so there's really no reason not to get one.
- DON'T buy a motor without a warranty/guarantee. This should be standard for all replacement parts especially if you purchased them online.
- DON'T buy from a seller you don't trust. This is why it is preferable to purchase parts from a reputable big-box retailer rather than someone you met off Craigslist.
- DON'T use a motor that looks deformed or damaged. Keep in mind that your car's transmission and your road safety is on the line.
Transfer Case Motor Buyer's Guide
- The switch between 2WD to 4WD modes can be done with just a touch of a button thanks to a small yet critical component—the transfer case motor.
- This motor is located between the transmission and the driveshaft. It is a key component of the transfer case, which houses the mechanical components that transfer power from the transmission to the vehicle’s front and rear axles.
- This part is only seen in vehicles with E.S.O.F. transfer cases. The transfer case motor eliminates the need for a lever that needs to be manually activated by the driver from inside the vehicle cabin. Instead, the motor engages the internal levers that activate the four-wheel-drive system automatically.
- The transfer case motor is located underneath the vehicle. This makes it prone to damage caused by environmental factors, as well as road debris. Its electrical components may also wear out and malfunction over time.
- Some of the signs of a bad transfer case shift motor: dashboard warning light/s are illuminated, drive mode switch is blinking or won’t light up, and difficulty/failure to switch between 2WD and 4WD operating modes.
- The ability to switch between 2WD and 4WD is essential to the safe operation of your vehicle. A transfer case motor failure should be immediately checked and repaired by a trusted mechanic.
- The cost of a transfer case motor varies between different makes and models. OE replacement transfer case motors can cost as low as $40. You may also find transfer case motors that cost over $700 in the higher range.
Part-time four-wheel-drive systems make it possible for the same vehicle to have excellent handling in the city, and at the same time, produce enough traction and power for driving off-road. This is possible because of the transfer case, which connects the front and rear axles together, allowing all four wheels to spin at the same speed while in 4WD mode.
In older vehicles, switching between operating modes meant slowing down or stopping the vehicle completely before pulling a lever on the vehicle floor. Today, the switch between 2WD to 4WD modes can be done with just a touch of a button thanks to a small yet critical component—the transfer case motor.
What is a transfer case motor?
A transfer case motor is a device that enables the driver to switch between 2WD to 4WD operating modes. It is located between the transmission and the driveshaft. This motor is a key component of the transfer case, which houses the mechanical components that transfer power from the transmission to the vehicle’s front and rear axles. The transfer case shift motor makes it possible to automatically engage each driving mode automatically from inside the cabin, with just a push of a button.
How does a transfer case motor work?
To understand how a transfer case works, it’s a good idea to review the two kinds of transfer cases based on shift type—Manual Shift On-the-Fly (M.S.O.F) and Electronic Shift On-the-Fly (E.S.O.F.)
Older vehicles equipped with an M.S.O.F. transfer case came with a lever on the vehicle floor, which allowed the driver to manually lock and unlock the front axle locking hubs to switch between 2WD and 4WD. The vehicle must either be moving at a low speed or be completely stopped and shifted to neutral before a change in operating modes can be selected.
The floor lever was replaced by dash-mounted switches or buttons in newer vehicle models with E.S.O.F. transfer cases. Unlike its predecessor, this type of transfer case has a transfer case motor that engages the internal levers to activate the four-wheel-drive system automatically. Some transfer cases are fully automatic, shifting in and out of 4WD mode as the system detects the need for increased traction.
Common transfer case shift motor problems
Without a functional transfer case motor, your vehicle will be unable to shift into 4-wheel-drive mode. This makes it incredibly important to replace a faulty transfer case shift motor checked by a professional and replaced as needed.
The transfer case motor is located underneath the vehicle. This makes it prone to damage caused by environmental factors, as well as road debris. Its electrical components may also wear out and malfunction over time. To give you a better idea about when you should have this part checked, here are some common transfer case motor symptoms to watch out for.
- Dashboard warning light/s are illuminated (4WD service light, traction control, transfer case, or ABS warning light)
- Drive mode switch is blinking or won’t light up
- Difficulty/failure to switch between 2WD and 4WD operating modes
Should you drive with a bad transfer case shift motor?
The ability to switch between 2WD and 4WD is essential to the safe operation of your vehicle. A transfer case motor failure should be immediately checked and repaired by a trusted mechanic.
It can be dangerous to drive with a bad transfer case shift motor because you’ll be unable to shift in and out of 4WD. Failing to shift into 4WD mode will make it difficult for your vehicle to maintain traction while driving in snowy, sandy, rocky, or elevated terrain.
At the same time, a vehicle that’s stuck in 4WD mode can be unsafe to drive on dry pavement. Failing to switch back to 2WD puts extra strain on your front axles and differential gears, and may even cause you to lose full control of your vehicle because of slipping tires while making sharp turns.
How much does a transfer case motor cost?
The cost of a transfer case motor varies between different makes and models. If you’re working on a budget and are not particularly brand conscious, it may be a good idea to choose an OE replacement transfer case motor for your vehicle. OE replacement transfer case motors can cost as low as $40. You may also find transfer case motors that cost over $700 in the higher range.
Finding the right fit
Our website makes finding the right parts so much easier with its built-in vehicle selector. Simply plug in your vehicle’s correct year, make, and model into our search filters to narrow down your search results to all compatible parts. All items in our catalog have been selected and vetted by our team of industry professionals, so you’re guaranteed that you’re only choosing from top quality replacement parts.
7 Steps to Replacing a Transfer Case Motor in Your Truck
Having problems with the transfer case? Chances are that the motor is burnt out and needs replacing. There really isn't much that you can do once the transfer case motor fails, but you can consider yourself lucky as replacing one is a lot easier than changing the entire transfer case. You can get the motor replaced in most auto parts stores, but if you have the skills and the tools on hand, you can also do the replacement yourself and save some cash.
The following is a step-by-step guide on replacing the transfer case motor:
Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate
- 3/4” socket set with deep well sockets
- Flathead screwdriver
- Floor jack or truck lift
- Narrow-tip tap or punch
Step 1: Switch off the engine and disconnect the battery. This will help avoid against a short circuit (and the ensuing shock) when handling the wiring harness of the transfer case motor.
Step 2: Lift up the truck with the floor jack or lift. Although this is not essential, but lifting the truck will provide additional space to access and remove the transfer case motor.
Step 3: Locate the motor. In most trucks, the transfer case motor is located behind the transfer case, which in turn is typically mounted at the back of the truck's transmission.
Step 4: Disconnect the wiring harness. The harness must be removed first before touching anything else with the transfer case and case motor. Take note that there are other components wired to the same harness, so you will need to remove these as well (take note of the color coding of the wires). Push the clip of the harness to detach it from its base, and use the tap or punch to disconnect the other wires connected to it.
Step 5: Remove the bolts from the motor. These are usually 4-8 10mmm bolts that hold the motor to the transfer case. A ratchet with an extension attachment should make short work of removing these bolts.
Step 6: Once the old motor has been detached, install the replacement. Make sure that the mounting points match up with the bolts holes and that the motor or bolts will not pinch the wires.
Step 7: Replace the wiring harness and reconnect the battery terminals. Verify if the truck's 4x4 function is working again. If not, recheck the motor and the wiring.