Why Can Ignoring Potential Car Diff Problems Become an Expensive Mistake?

car diff

The humble car differential is one of those components that few people pay much attention to during regular maintenance of their cars. It’s neatly tucked out of sight, doing its job flawlessly – until it doesn’t.

What is a Car Differential?

You might be thinking – what is a diff in a car? In simple terms, a diff uses specialised gears that allow two wheels, connected to the same axle, turn at different speeds. When you turn a corner, the outside wheel needs to turn faster than the inside one as it has a greater distance to cover. This is where the differential, or car diff, comes in.

Car diffs have become increasingly complicated over the years, evolving to meet the needs of more powerful and refined vehicles. The three most common types of car diffs are the open, limited slip and torque vectoring differentials.

What is an Open Differential?

The oldest and most common design, the open diff is simple, reliable and widely used. The powered pinion gear (at the end of the driveshaft) meshes with the ring gear, which in turn transmits the power to both axles through a second set of gears. This set up is perfectly suited to most production cars. It’s only weakness is that when one wheel begins to slip, all power is essentially sent to the wheel with the least traction. This makes the open diff not ideal for off-road driving or high-speed racing.

What is a Limited Slip Differential?

A limited slip diff is essentially an open diff but with an integrated clutch system. The clutch mechanism will lock the left and right sides of the axle together when one wheel begins to lose traction. For obvious reasons, this is often the car diff of choice for high-performance vehicles, vehicles which tow heavy loads and drag racers.

What is a Torque Vectoring Differential?

A differential with torque vectoring represents the latest advancement in car diff technology. Torque vectoring diffs involve a complicated array of sensors and electronics to gather data from the vehicle’s steering system, throttle position, road surface and more. The diff is then able to distribute the optimal level of power to each wheel according to this data. The torque vectoring diff can provide maximum traction while cornering, considerably increasing performance.

The Importance of Maintaining Your Car Diff

When you consider how integral a car diff is to the functionality of any vehicle, it becomes immediately clear why it’s so important to keep it in tip-top shape. After all, without a car differential your vehicle would not be able to turn effectively. It’s highly complex nature means that any maintenance work should be completed by a car transmission specialist. However, you can learn to identify car diff problem warning signs so that you can take action before any real damage occurs.

If you encounter any of these, have your car diff checked out as soon as possible:

  • Whining noise when accelerating.
  • A whirring noise when decelerating.
  • Rumbling at the steering wheel or a whirring sound when you exceed a certain speed.
  • A regular clanking sound, which repeats every metre or so.
  • A banging sound when turning a corner.
  • Rumble while turning may indicate worn wheel bearings.
  • A steady vibration that increases with the vehicle’s speed can be caused by worn u-joints or an out of balance driveshaft.
  • Clunking only when starting to move or getting on/off the gas might be loose yokes, bad u-joints, a worn transfer case or transmission parts.

Like with any integral part of a car, regular maintenance of a car diff is required to keep it running optimally. Differential fluid is used to lubricate the car diff and is a key part of regular differential servicing. Over time, your car diff fluid can become contaminated. This can cause unnecessary wear on components and in worst cases, can lead to permanent vehicle damage. Plan to have your differential fluid changed every 50,000km by a trained technician. 

For all differential and transmission enquiries, contact Automatic Transmissions R Us by calling us on (08) 9240 5449, emailing info@autotransrus.com.au, or submit a contact form!