What Is a Locking Differential?

What Is a Locking Differential?

If you’re looking to tear up the off-road terrain, your car is going to need a lot of special equipment that most modern cars you buy off the dealer lot don’t include. While some SUVs and trucks include a few of the features that make off-roading possible and enjoyable, there are a few things that any true off-roader will need in their vehicle in order to really be ready to conquer the toughest terrain. One of these things is a locking differential, and on this blog we’ll explain why by taking a closer look at how they work and what they can do for your car.

What is a Differential?

In order to understand what a locking differential is, first we must understand what a differential is and how they work. To put it simply, a differential is a box on one of your axles that’s geared in a way that allows both wheels on that axle to spin and receive varying amounts of power independent of each other based on the resistance applied to each wheel. This reduces tire wear, eliminates chatter, and makes your ride smoother, especially in corners.

Think of it this way: when you turn your car, the tires on the outside have to travel further and faster than the ones on the inside because the outside of a turn has a longer distance than the inside. However, detaching the wheels that are receiving power from the axle itself would require two different powertrain drives and a highly-specialized computer to control power distribution. A differential instead is a mechanical solution that allows the wheels on your axle to turn at different rates while still receiving power in order to turn your car without dragging your outside tires.

Why Lock Your Differential?

As you might imagine, a locking differential is one that can lock up the gearing in order to force both wheels on an axel to spin at the same rate, regardless of resistance to both wheels. So if a differential has so many benefits, why would you want to lock it? Simple: independent resistance amounts are extremely common in an off-road setting, to the point where it’s fairly normal for one wheel receiving power to not even be touching the ground at all. However, his presents a problem: with such a widely-varied amount of resistance, power will often be distributed in ways that are not optimal for the conditions, and that will lead to traction loss and possibly even getting stuck in softer sand or terrain.

A locking differential is the solution you’re looking for. When you lock up the gearing in a differential, you essentially force both wheels to turn at exactly the same rate, regardless of resistance and power application. As a result, this encourages your vehicle to actually have better traction in these situations than you would with an open differential.

Off-Road Differential Lockers

Anybody who knows anything about off-roading will know that four-wheel drive vehicles are the way to go, but you can actually get even more out of your 4WD system with locking differentials. Being able to lock your front and rear differential can give you unmatched traction levels when scaling even the toughest obstacles, including even shorter vertical walls, large boulders, gigantic crags or cracks, and much more.

However, because locking your differentials can place a lot of added stress on your axle, it’s super important that you only lock your differentials momentarily, such as when scaling a particularly difficult obstacle. This is particularly true for your front differential, as you’ll also be using this axle to steer your vehicle. Turning too sharp with a locked differential places a tremendous amount of stress on your tires, ball joints, and the axle itself as your vehicle struggles to turn. Always make sure that you keep your vehicle’s speed to no more than a crawl while both your front and rear differentials are locked, and try to avoid turning your vehicle as much as possible. Once you scale your obstacle, it’s advised you unlock your front differential, and even unlock both if traction won’t be an issue. This alleviates any added pressure or friction in your differential boxes and ensure you won’t strip any gearing or break an axle.

For more information about upgrading your differential or adding a locking mechanism to your car, call the Katy off-road performance shop at HP Motorsports today at 281-231-9950!
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