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Trust Vancouver Axle and Frame for your differential and other drive train maintenance and repair in the Fraser Valley, BC! A family-owned business since 1959, we work on all types of vehicles, from small passenger cars to heavy-duty commercial trucks and everything in between, including RVs and fifth wheels! Whether you need help for a failed differential, need accurate diagnostic for a problem that stumps other garages, or need routine service on your fleet, we fix differentials right! Contact us now with your differential issues and other drive train needs!
Your differential is a gearbox in your drive train that allows your wheels to travel at different speeds. In rear-wheel-drive vehicles, the differential is located in the rear of the vehicle. In front-wheel-drive vehicles, the differential is located in the transaxle.
Your differential has three main functions:
- A differential lowers your overall drive train gear ratio, usually between 2:1 and 3:1. Gear ratio is the speed of the engine compared with the output speed of the transmission and/or the differential in a given gear. In the end, lowered drive train gear ratio reduces stress on your transmission.
- Many differentials can rotate your power flow by 90 degrees. Most rear-wheel drive vehicles have lateral transmissions which run down the length of your vehicle. When the transmission sends power, the power goes the wrong way. Well, the differential uses a gear set to turn that flow of power 90 degrees. In the end, this rotation in power flow helps the drive train move the car right.
- A differential lets the two drive wheels turn at different speeds: a difference that is vital when turning corners. When you’re driving straight ahead, the wheels on both sides of the vehicle are going the same distance and turning at the same speed. With cornering, things get more complicated.
When a car turns, the wheel on the “inside” of the turn doesn’t travel as far as the wheel on the “outside” of the turn. To make up this difference, the outer wheel must turn faster than the inner wheel to cover the greater distance in the same amount of time. If the wheels were locked together directly, the tires would skip or slide across the road with cornering!
This is where your differential comes in. The differential connects the two wheels through four gears: two side gears and two “spider” gears. The side and spider gears allow your axles to turn at different speeds while continuing to drive the wheels.
Types of Differentials
Open Differential: An open differential lets both tires spin at different speeds. When you’re on dry road and your vehicle corners and your axles turn at different speeds, an open differential works just fine. The trouble begins when one or both tires lose traction. In that case, one tire will spin because of low traction; the other tire will sit as it has good traction.
Limited-Slip Differential: An answer to the problem of “sit and spin”–when one tire sits on dry pavement while the other tire spins on a patch of ice. Limited-slip differentials use clutches to drive both tires. Their locking mechanisms offer enough slip to one tire for cornering and enough torque to drive the tire with the most traction.
Locking Differential: A locking differential locks both axles and allows them to turn in all driving conditions. These differentials are good for extreme off-road driving. Automatic locking differentials release when your vehicle corners. Selectable locking differentials let you control the locking mechanism with a button.
Maintenance: Change Your Differential Oil!
You won’t get very far if the lubrication in your differential fails. Change your differential oil as you would your engine oil; both are of equal importance for your vehicle’s safety and performance.
Standard Differential: With a standard differential, you should have the fluid checked when you have your engine oil changed. Unfortunately, some shops won’t change your differential fluid unless you ask. And be sure to use the correct type of fluid.
Front-Wheel-Drive Vehicle Differential: Your differential is likely part of your transaxle. In this design, your transmission and differential usually share a fluid-collection pan. Thus, if your transmission fluid is level, you’ll know your differential fluid is level, too. Use the right kind of fluid.
Limited-Slip Differential: Your limited-slip differential needs fluid changes. It’s important to use the right type of fluid for a limited-slip differential. The wrong fluid will cause your differential to groan and misbehave on turns.