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Common Differential Problems

by | Apr 19, 2024 | Best Western Transmission

Every vehicle owner knows the importance of regular maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations, but there’s a critical component often overlooked: the differential. It’s the unsung hero that ensures a smooth operation of your vehicle, especially when turning corners.  In this month’s blog post, we examine common differential problems you may experience.  We also review key maintenance tasks to ensure that the differential is functioning properly.

What is the Differential?

In simple terms, the differential is a set of gears designed to assist the rotation of your vehicle’s wheels at different speeds.  This is important as you make turns in your vehicle, because the inside and outside wheels need to rotate at different speeds to maintain control of the vehicle.  It’s an essential part of your vehicle’s drivetrain, working in tandem with the transmission to deliver power from the engine to the axle. Without it, your tires would skid or hop during turns, leading to a rough and potentially unsafe driving experience. 

How Does a Differential Work?

When you take a corner, the wheels on the outside of the turn have to cover more ground than those on the inside.  The gears in the differential compensate for that difference by adjusting the speed of each wheel.  This enables the inside wheel to rotate slower than the outside wheel because the outside wheel needs to cover more distance during the turn. Without this speed difference, the wheels would drag or skid.

Common Differential Problems and Causes

Differential issues can arise from:

  • Low or Dirty Fluid: Just like your engine, the differential needs clean oil to lubricate its moving parts.
  • Worn Bearings: These can lead to a rumbling noise and are often due to inadequate lubrication or normal wear and tear.
  • Gear Damage:  If your driving habits are rough, this may cause damage to the gears and create excessive noise or vibration.

Maintaining Your Differential

There are ways to keep your differential functioning properly, with a few ongoing maintenance tasks.

  1. Check your differential fluid: While you do not have to check it as frequently as other vehicle fluids, the differential fluid can become diminished, or the fluid can become contaminated.  Follow your vehicle’s recommendations for the proper differential fluid levels.
  2. Change the fluid regularly: Most manufacturers recommend a differential fluid change every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. Consult with your vehicle owner’s manual for specifics.
  3. Be aware of odd noises: Developing problems in your differential may manifest through unusual sounds coming from the differential area during operation.  If you notice any unusual sounds, schedule an appointment with a service professional.

By understanding and maintaining your vehicle’s differential, you can ensure a smoother ride and prolong the life of your car. Remember, the differential might be out of sight, but it should never be out of mind when it comes to vehicle maintenance. If you would like to have your differential inspected for wear and tear, contact the service professionals at Best Western Transmission to schedule an appointment.