Without a differential, each turn your vehicle made would become a wild, bumpy ride. When your vehicle turns, the differential transfers more angular velocity to the wheel on the outside to compensate for the longer distance it needs to travel in order to complete the turn. Simply put, it helps the outside wheel speed up to help you maintain control of the vehicle. Pretty cool, right?
While two-wheel drive vehicles have only a single differential, all-wheel drives are equipped with a differential in both the front and back. Four-wheel drive vehicles have a transfer case between the front and rear differentials to adjust the speeds between the rear and front wheels. No matter the application, the differential’s primary responsibility is to route and regulate power between the wheels.
How to Tell if Your Differential is Failing
When differentials start to go bad, the signs are mild at first, but quickly escalate into bigger issues. When healthy, differentials operate silently — not so much when they begin to fail. Here are a few things to listen and feel for on your vehicle:
Whistling Sound — If you begin to hear a high-pitched whistle or whining sound around the axle where your differential sits, this is often your first sign of trouble. You may have to turn down the stereo to actually hear this.
Rumbling or “Clunking” around Axle — When there’s a rumbling or clunking sound around the axle where your differential is located, this is
a sign that the situation is getting worse.
Vehicle Starts to Drag — When your differential is failing, your car may feel more sluggish while coasting, especially at lower speeds. This is often compared to the sensation you feel when your tires are too low.
If you notice any of these signs, we highly recommend bringing your car or truck into S&E Automotive Ltd. Whether it’s a front-wheel, rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, your vehicle’s differential will experience heavy wear and tear over time. Driving on rough terrain such as dirt, gravel or unpaved roads can reduce the lifetime of your differential. As with everything, differential maintenance varies from vehicle to vehicle.