Have you heard, “You need to change your car’s differential oil”? You may have thought to yourself, “What is a differential?” Often auto technicians or service advisors use words to describe components and services for vehicles that many people have never heard of. If you ever have questions, please ask! We’re happy to explain what parts we’re talking about and describe in detail the services needed.
So what is a differential?
Most drivers don’t know, but it’s a critical component of keeping your car running smoothly. It’s the mechanism either at the rear of a traditional powertrain design or in the transaxle where it’s also known as the “final drive” in a front wheel drive vehicle.
The differential is a device that divides the engine torque two ways, allowing each output to spin at a different speed. This allows your vehicle’s tires to move at different speeds, particularly while turning. Think about making a right-hand turn. The outside wheels (the left-hand side) need to spin faster than the inside wheels (the right-hand side) to cover the same distance. Without a functional differential, your tires would hop and skip every time you tried to make a turn.
A differential can be found in every modern car and truck. Four wheel drive vehicles usually have an additional differential, to allow both left and right wheels, as well as front and back, to spin at different speeds. This allows for greater traction, more control while turning, and smoother driving in extreme conditions like steep hills, snow, or rocky terrain.
Maintaining my Differential, do I really need to?
The differential is crucial to keeping your car running well. Differential systems usually have a special fluid that should be serviced per the manufacturer’s preventative maintenance schedule, usually every 30k or 60k miles. The gears of the differential need to be kept lubricated for optimal performance – this will improve your driving experience and extend the life of your differential mechanism. If you often drive in extreme conditions (such as towing or off-roading), your differential fluid will need to be changed more often. Not sure when the last time your differential oil was changed? Wondering if it’s time? Just ask your service provider at Fisk Automotive if it’s due. The more you know!