Transfer Cases for Off-Roading: The Top 7

The inside scoop on the linchpin of 4x4 adventure: the transfer case.

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Bronco Transfer Case Shifter
The 4HI/4LO transfer case shifter on the New Ford Bronco. [image: TFL]

The transfer case is the backbone of a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It’s only natural that you’d want one of the toughest, most dependable transfer cases on the market. Seamless functioning is also critical, as dependability doesn’t always equal efficiency.

However, a wide variety of transfer cases exist on the market, all catering to various makes and models of vehicles. Finding a transfer case that’s most dependable is a trial-and-error process that can get very expensive in a short amount of time.

Luckily, we’ve taken the time to break down and review the top seven transfer cases based on durability and dependability. You’ll find some old favorites on the list that any four-by-four enthusiast is familiar with. However, other options included might surprise you.

Each of these transfer cases is well-revered for its unique specifications, but they all have one thing in common – you can guarantee we’d be proud to include any of them as part of our four-wheel package on any of our trucks. Each of the following transfer cases is a selection released by the original manufacturer. They’re still available the exact way we describe them, with no modifications or aftermarket tweaks. A lot of these transfer cases are still around today and you can find remanufactured transfer cases at online retailers like

What Is a Transfer Case?

4x4 Transfer Case Inside
The inside of a 4×4 transfer case showing the connection between the front- and rear-axle drive shafts [Image: Shutterstock]

A transfer case is a unique part installed on four or all-wheel drive vehicles. Typically, four-wheel drives include most trucks, and all-wheel drives tend to come installed on cars and compact SUVs.

The job of the transfer case is to divide the engine power and distribute it to all four wheels of the vehicle using the rear and front axles. Any all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle relies on the transfer case to be the nerve center of the drivetrain system.

Different styles of configurations exist that require a specifically designed transfer case. Off-road style vehicles use transfer cases that possess at least one set of low-drive gears to navigate the most treacherous landscapes.

All-wheel drive vehicles use the most straightforward variation of transfer cases. Part-time 4WD or Active 4WD vehicles require a more intricate design that operates in multiple drive modes.

Once the engine sends power to the transfer case, it’s diverted to the right axle. The differential helps with power distribution, adding more control over the vehicle by improving its handling.

Transfer cases are either gear or chain driven. Gear-driven cases don’t experience as many breakdowns but don’t engage as smoothly as the chain-driven variety. The transfer cases listed in our top seven picks below include models that use both variations.

1. BW1356 Transfer Case

The BorgWarner 1356, otherwise known as the BW1356 transfer case, is found in several of the Ford-F Series pickup truck offerings and the Broncos manufactured from 1987 to 1997. The decade-long release of this chain-drive, part-time transfer case is known for its strength, most notably because of its usability in the 7.3L Power Stroke diesel.

It is created for manual and electric shifting and sports an internal oil pump that provides lubrication to the bearings during operation. Because of this element, it’s critical that the right ATF is applied, avoiding heavy oils to prolong the life of this transfer case.

Make no mistake, the BW1356 transfer case is all about strength, and we consider it to be the strongest T-case ever made for a Ford truck.


* Electric and Manual Shift
* Manual Shift Pattern: 2H, 4H, N, 4L
* Part-time Chain-driven
* Requires Mercon ATF or similar fluid
* High Range Ratio: 1.00:1
* Low Range Ratio: 2.69:1

2. NP205 Transfer Case

New Process Gear manufactured this warrior, keeping it in rotation from 1969 to 1993. The NP205 is a part-time, manual-shift transfer case commonly found on GM, Ford, and Dodge trucks between the years mentioned above. Certain construction and industrial equipment also relied on this incredibly durable component.

Many experts consider the NP205 the toughest, most durable transfer case in existence. The 140-pound total weight is mostly thanks to the cast iron housing that made this offering nearly indestructible. Several different mounting configurations exist, each with a separate input shaft and bolt-pattern setup, which means all the components should match if you’re acquiring one from a junkyard.

The NP205 comes in married and divorced models, making it a versatile unit you can convert to a twin-stick without a complete disassemble.


* Manual Shift Pattern
* 4L, N, 2H, 4H
* Part-time
* Gear-driven
* SAE 80 or 90W Fluid
* High Range Ratio: 1.00:1
* Low Range Ratio: 1.96:1

3. NP231 Transfer Case

The NP231 is considered the most reliable Jeep transfer case ever manufactured by many. This aluminum-housed, chain-driven T-case sports three gears. However, versions manufactured for Dodge or Chevy 4x4s used a larger chain that included six gears instead of three.

The gear range used on the NP231 made it suitable for use in off-road situations like sand-dune climbing but is also suitable if you’re using it for daily driving. Although certain Chevy and Dodge trucks use the NP231, it’s primarily seen on Jeeps and is favored for its ability to receive upgrades. Since 1988, it’s often found on Jeep Wrangler YJ, TJ models, and the Cherokee XJ.


* Manual Shift Pattern: 2H, 4H, N, 4L
* Part-time
* Chain-driven
* ATF+4 Fluid
* Uses direct drive in 2H
* Low Range Ratio: 2.72:1

4. Atlas 2

The Atlas 2 is an incredibly versatile transfer case that began production in 1996. It’s been included in our favorite Chevy, Toyota, Dodge, and Ford Trucks and is also a staple on the Ford Explorer model. Several low gear ratios exist, depending on the specific type of vehicle you’re driving.

The Atlas 2 is a favorite because it’s suitable for extreme uses like rock climbing and mud, but it’s also efficient as a daily driver. Jeep enthusiasts also prefer the Atlas 2 for its level of customization. This gear-driven twin-stick has exceptional strength and is encased in heat-treated aluminum.


  • * Manual Shift Pattern: R, N, H, L
    * Part-time
    * Gear-driven
    * 75W-90 Fluid
    * High Range: 1.00:1
    * Low Range Available In: 2.0:1, 3.0:1, 3.8:1, 4.3:1, 5.0:1, or 6.0:1

5. Dual Ultimate Crawler

The Marlin Dual Ultimate Crawler is incredible for climbing rocks and established the “slow crawl” required for navigating steep, jagged formations. This unique setup involves dual transfer cases running back-to-back and fits 1979-1995 gear-driven four and five-speed transmissions.

The front case and rear case have multiple configurations, with the possibility of a 459:1 crawl ratio. The rest of the specifications on this monster are incredible.


  • * Manual Shift Pattern
    – Front: H, N, L
    – Rear: J-pattern
    * Full-time
    * Chain-driven
    * 75W-90 Fluid
    * High Range: 1.00:1
    * Low Range: 2.8:1 + 2.8:1, 5.2:1 when both cases are used

6. Lovell 357

The Lovell 357 is another serious rock-crawling transfer case. Instant shifting on this offering makes it the preferred T-case for competition rock climbers and is indexed for either left or right support.

Premium-grade alloy allows this model to take a beating, and it’s able to withstand an eye-popping 5,300 lb.-ft. Of torque. The 357 is most frequently used as a bolt-in replacement for the Atlas 2.


  • * Electric Shift Pattern
    * Full-time
    * Gear-driven
    * AMSOIL Synthetic ATF Fluid
    * Low Range Ratio: 3:57:1

7. T-136-27

This 400 lb. cast-iron monster is a gear-driven divorced unit originally crafted for military 6×6 vehicles. The four-bolt pattern is made to support 2.5-ton transmissions and is very mechanically similar to the NP205.

The T-136-27 is preferred for its ability to permanently lockdown into 4WD mode using an air actuator. These giant T-cases use mechanical cables or levers to shift, making them a bit outdated but a classic.


  • * Manual: H, N, L
    * Part or full-time
    * Gear-driven
    * 90W Fluid
    * High Gear Ratio: 1.00:1
    * Low Gear Ratio: 2.00:1

The versatile range of T-cases included in our list is made to have something for everybody. Depending on the type of 4×4 you’re using, one of these options should accommodate your setup, allowing you to maximize your 4×4 ability.