Differentials

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What is it?

The differential is a gear train with three parts that allows each of the driven wheels to rotate at a different speed. This is necessary when the vehicle makes a turn, since the inner wheels have a shorter distance to travel than the outer ones.

What does it do?

The differential is connected to the driveshaft, which runs down the center of the car and connects to the wheels through a series of axle shafts. Each axle shaft runs to one of the driven wheels. The differential consists of two bevel gears inside a housing, with the input shaft in the center. The input shaft is connected to the driveshaft and turns both of the bevel gears at the same speed. However, each gear is mounted on a spider gear carrier that allows it to rotate independently from the other. This gives each wheel the freedom to rotate at its own speed, which is essential for making turns without skidding. Differentials are found on all cars and trucks with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive.

Typical Wear and Tear

The differential is a key component of the car’s drivetrain, and it is subject to a great deal of wear and tear. The main component that will degrade is the gear oil, which will gradually break down and become less effective at lubricating the gears. This can lead to increased friction, which can damage the gears and cause them to fail. Differentials will also commonly develop leaks, which can cause the gear oil to escape and eventually lead to failure.

Symptoms

  • Decreased fuel efficiency
  • Strange noises
  • Vibrations
  • Leaks
  • Whining noise that increases in pitch as speed increases