Power to the Drive Wheels

Simply described, a differential is a component that takes power from the driveshaft and distributes it to the wheel or wheels that will drive your vehicle. Older vehicles typically had the engine in front, followed by the transmission which had a driveshaft that attached to the differential driving the rear wheels. If the vehicle had all or four-wheel drive, another driveshaft would come from a transfer case attached to the transmission and go forward to the front differential, driving the front wheels.

Many vehicles today have an engine, and transmission/differential unit, all attached and fitted over the front drive wheels. Most manufacturers refer to this transmission/differential unit as a transaxle. It performs the same function, but is built-in to the transmission to be more compact to fit under the hood. In some Porsches, the engine and transaxle sits over the rear wheels.

Differential maintenance

In addition to distributing power to the drive wheels, a differential allows the wheel on each side of the vehicle to turn at a slightly different rate when making turns, as the distance each wheel covers in a turn is slightly different. This is how an open differential works, putting the driving force to one side of the vehicle, while the other wheel just follows along.

There are also differentials that drive both wheels, usually referred to as either limited slip or locker differentials. A limited-slip differential uses small clutches to sense a loss of traction to a wheel, and will engage that side of the axle to get more traction. A locker style differential is usually only used in racing, putting the maximum amount of traction to both wheels at all times.

Your differential puts the engine power to the drive wheels. If it malfunctions, the vehicle likely won’t move, and may require an expensive repair. This is why regular maintenance of your entire driveline is so important.

At Auto Z Repairs, your complete automotive care center in San Antonio, TX we install only quality replacement parts. Give us a call and let us help keep you safely and economically on the road. We serve San Antonio and the surrounding areas.

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