How Do Car Differentials Work?

By Mister Transmission

An important and oft-overlooked component of your vehicle is the differential. Gain an understanding of what it is and what it does

It’s possibly one of the most overlooked but necessary preventative maintenance procedures your vehicle needs: changing the differential oil.

What is a differential? It’s a gear train with three shafts that divides your engine’s torque – torque is a measure of force. It’s one part of your car’s drivetrain, and is designed to transmit the power from your engine to the vehicle’s wheels while allowing them to rotate at different speeds. It is particularly useful whenever you turn a corner.

We recommend you have the differential wheel oil checked regularly by a professional. Why? Because if lubrication in the front or rear differential is inadequate, dirty, or if the differential fails, it can cause significant damage to your vehicle. Dirty differential fluid could contain particles of metal, which would indicate excessive wear of internal gears. In general, you only need to change the differential oil every 50,000 to 80,000 kilometres but consult your vehicle owner’s manual.

Why Your Car Needs a Differential

 

Car wheels rotate at different speeds, especially when the vehicle is turning. If all wheels were travelling at the same speed while turning, the vehicle would experience a great deal of stuttering or skittering. Each wheel travels a different distance through the turn, and the inside wheels travel a shorter distance than the outside wheels. Since speed is equal to the distance travelled divided by the time it takes to go that distance, the wheels that travel a shorter distance travel at a lower speed. Also noteworthy, the front wheels travel at a different distance than the rear wheels.

There are different types of differentials: open, locked, limited slip, and torque vectoring. The open differential is the oldest of its kind, and it allows each of the vehicle’s wheels to rotate at different speeds. A locked differential ensures both wheels on the same axle rotate at the same speed. A limited-slip differential, meanwhile, is designed to reduce automatically the loss of drive which can result from spinning wheels on one side of an axle. Lastly, a torque-vectoring differential is a newer technology that uses sensors to provide the ability to vary the power to each wheel. It’s often found in all-wheel drive vehicles.

Changing the Differential Oil

 

As it is with any other lubricating oil in your car, the differential oil level needs to be checked occasionally, and the state and quality of that oil should be inspected. If your car’s differential oil breaks down, the greater the wear and tear will be on your gears.

High mileage, heavy towing or hauling, or having your vehicle’s rear axle submerged under water (for instance, to offload a boat on a trailer) can accelerate the degradation of your differential oil’s viscosity.

How can you tell if you should have your differential checked? Like your vehicle’s transmission, if you hear strange, loud, unusual noises, it may be a sign that your differential oil is low or needs to be replaced.

If you have a question about your car’s differential or transmission, contact the Mister Transmission service centre nearest to you.

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Customer Reviews
Good and friendly and reliable...
Albert Wilton
Good and friendly and reliable people and they work hard to get your vehicle doneService: Transmission
Date: July 25, 2021
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Thank you, Mister Transmission! After...
Christy McMurray
Thank you, Mister Transmission! After taking my vehicle to the dealership where I bought it, and paying $150 for them to tell me what I already told them was wrong, the Dealer gave me a quote of $6,500 to replace my 9 year old transmission with a factory rebuilt one, because it couldn't be fixed or rebuilt by them. Thankfully I called Mister Transmission and Chris knew exactly what the issue was, how to fix it, and it only cost me $385 for everything and it was fixed in a day. I am so grateful that Chris and Dawn run an honest operation and provide genuinely great service. Thanks again!
Date: July 25, 2021
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Cambridge Mister Transmission was awesome....
Sarah MacArthur
Cambridge Mister Transmission was awesome. We ended up having a small issue but they still took the time to show me where on my vehicle the problems were and fully explain the possible issues. They were prompt in getting back to me the following day and I had my vehicle back in no time. Chris and Nick were amazing and the office is so clean and pleasant. Great customer service!
Date: July 24, 2021
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Great service , friendly and...
John Neven
Great service , friendly and very knowledgeable.Excellent work
Date: July 23, 2021
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Mazda 3 AT light came...
Chris Elmquist
Mazda 3 AT light came on one with some bad noises and clunking. Dealer said need a new transmission for only $4400. Took it to this and a quick check they determined it needed new TCM which is very common on the mazdas. They took care of it and even did a bunch of extra work fixing a wiring harness all for the cost of the TCM . cannot say enough about how we were treated by Chris and Dawn. Would recommend them. FIRST CLASS!!!!!
Date: July 23, 2021
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Workers are very nice and...
Ely Bolivar
Workers are very nice and explain thing clearly. Also they have an option to finance your repairs.
Date: July 22, 2021
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They assessed the problem quickly,...
Colleen H
They assessed the problem quickly, quoted a good price, provided fast service, in a no-pressure, friendly manner. I've been telling everybodyService: Transmission
Date: July 20, 2021
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I took my differentials down...
Kieran Massicotte
I took my differentials down to get rebuilt and Steve was very professional and the total was 200 bucks cheaper than the quoted price and there was a few things during the whole process that didn’t go as planned as I had brought all the bearings parts and some bearings were the wrong ones and I had brought 4.88s to put in end they would not work and before continuing with anything Steve would call and double check to let you know what needs to be done and get the ok from me first before they would continue overall amazing place Steve and the guys were awesome and the work was done perfect and the diffs have never been more smooth highly recommend.
Date: July 20, 2021
Website: Google
Excellent customer service.Service: Transmission
Eduardo Vieira
Excellent customer service.Service: Transmission
Date: July 20, 2021
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Thank you Kyle and the...
Roman Danko
Thank you Kyle and the Mr. Transmission team for very professional and friendly customer service and repair. I definitelly recommend their services.Service: Transmission
Date: July 19, 2021
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