How Differentials Work

The Basics

In most cars, the differential is where the power makes its last stop before spinning the wheels. The differential:

  • Acts as the final gear reduction in the vehicle, slowing the rotational speed of the transmission one final time before it hits the wheels
  • Transmits the power to the wheels while allowing them to rotate at different speeds (This is the one that got the differential its name.)

In a nutshell, differentials allow two wheels on the same axle to spin at different speeds; wheels move at the same speed while going in a straight line but when your car goes around a corner, the outside wheel will spin faster than the inside one. This old video from General Motors explains the functions of a differential very simply:

Why You Need a Locking Differential

Although this technology has its obvious benefits, there are some applications where drivers want both rear wheels to move at the same speed. This is where the locking differential comes into play. Locking differentials allow two drive wheels to be locked together, when it is deemed necessary, so that they both spin together, thus providing better traction. This feature is available on many 4×4 vehicles for the rear wheels, and available for the front wheels on some popular off road vehicles. Other than being useful off road, locking differentials help provide additional grip when traversing deep snow, gravel, mud, if you’re making your way up a slippery hill, or if you find yourself towing an especially heavy load on a low traction surface.

Although there are many scenarios where a locking differential can be indispensable, there are even more situations where they should not be used. For more information on that, check out our article on using 4 wheel drive.

At V&F

… we offer differential diagnosis, rebuild, and service. Our certified mechanics use latest diagnostic equipment, and high quality CARQUEST auto parts, to make sure we get the job done right. Plus, our auto repair services are backed by an industry-leading 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty on parts and labor. Call us today at (413) 314-2280 or schedule an appointment online.

Written by Nicole Palange

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