What Is A Differential On A Car And What Does It Do?

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The differential is the last part of the car to engage before the wheels start spinning. It is a part many everyday car owners won't hear of, but it is essential. Here's all you need to know about it and what it does for your vehicle.

The Basics of the Differential

The car differential is the part that aims the power of the engine directly into the wheels. Without it, the power won't make the wheels spin around. It will also slow the transmission's rotational speed, working as a gear reduction within the system.

It gets its name from the ability to make the wheels spin at different speeds. This isn't just to make the car move faster and slower. It helps to get the car turning in different directions, where wheels need to move at different speeds to tackle various bends and corners.

Making Wheels Turn at Different Speeds

Why would wheels need to spin at different rates? This is usually due to bends and corners. The inside wheels would need to travel less distance than the outside wheels, so they need to spin at a slower rate than the outside ones. If all the wheels spun at the same rate, the car would sit on a difficult angle and the engine would be damaged.

In some cases, the car wouldn't be able to turn at all! Tires would need to slip, and that isn't exactly easy with modern-day roads. The roads and tires grip together to prevent slippage for safety reasons.

Differentials in the Driving Wheels

The driving wheels hold the differential, since they are the ones that need the power. In most everyday cars, this will either be in the front or back sets of tires. However, in all-wheel drive cars, you will have differentials in both sets. Trucks tend to have more for their individually powered wheels.

It is important to look after the differential. It doesn't get the same care as the engine parts in most cases, and has an oil that you will need to change every 30,000 to 50,000 miles according to the Popular Mechanics. This oil helps to protect the lubrication to allow the wheels to spin properly.

Every part of the car plays an important role, and the differential is certainly no different. It is needed to power the wheels and help them turn at the required rate to get the car on the go. Take care of it (or them if you have an all-wheel drive car) to make getting around the bends easier.

Talk to a professional in an auto repair shop for more information.