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The Three Different Kinds of Differentials

October 1, 2017 1958 Views No comments

For those who don’t know, a Differential allows your wheels to spin at different speeds when you drive. Sure that sounds odd, but it’s especially true when turning. The wheels on the inside travel a shorter distance and when turning, turn slower than those on the outside. If we didn’t have differentials the tires would have to by default be locked together and when you did turn, your axles would be put under extreme stress just by such a simple movement. To make differentials even more complicated there are three different types which we will be discussing in this blog: Open, Locked and Limited Slip.

Open

Open differentials are by far the most common differentials seen out in the wild. They’re quite fine in a normal car that rides on pavement for the majority of its life; however when going off-road there are other better differentials made for those environments. Like stated before, a differential gives power to the wheels and an open differential sends that power evenly across all wheels when on a flat surface, but when you start riding on uneven surfaces the differential will send power to the wheel that slips or has the least amount of traction. This can put you in a tricky situation where one tire spins aimlessly because there’s no traction and then the other wheel doesn’t have enough power to get you out this mess. Basically, the power isn’t getting to the wheel you’d want it to which may end up stopping you in your tracks.

Locked

A locked/locking differential locks the rotational speed of the tires, which forces the left and right wheels to turn at the same rate. This happens regardless of which tire has traction. Locked differentials are good because they provide consistent performance, which can be quite helpful during an off-road ride. When it’s unlocked,(some locked differentials can sense when to unlock themselves and others have a switch to manually turn them off) it becomes a normal open differential, acting the same as stated above. If you have a choice, make sure when you’re moving onto pavement or hard flat stone that you go into open mode. If the tires can’t turn at different speeds on a flat surface than there’ll be a whole lot more strain put on the vehicle, eventually causing parts to break.

Limited Slip/ Positraction Differential

When an open differential does what it’s supposed to, it ensures the same amount of power goes to each wheel and when your vehicle’s wheel does lose traction it sends all the power to the wheel with no traction, exactly what you don’t want. The Limited Slip differential on the other hand sends power from the wheel that is struggling to get traction to the wheel that has traction. It’s really good while off-roading, especially during tricky situations like driving on snow, gravel and sand. This type of differential is relatively silent; however Limited Slip differentials are a bit more complicated and in general cost more to install and maintain.

For those of you who love hitting the trails and piling through sand dunes, an open differential might not be for you, the other two options; locked and limited slip will go far in making your ride even more enjoyable. No one wants to get stuck in a pothole only to see their friends blow past them. With an open differential, that’s likely to be in your future.

Have any questions, have a favourite type of differential? Let us know in the comments.

Sources:

  1. The 411 on 4x4s: Open Differentials vs. Limited Slip vs. Locking: http://lifewetravel.com/the-411-on-4x4s-open-diffe...
  2. Open Differentials: http://4wheeldrive.about.com/library/bl/blopendiff...
  3. What is an eLSD?: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/elsd1.htm
  4. Locker vs. Limited Slip: http://www.fourwheeler.com/how-to/1101or-locker-vs...