What the heck is a differential? While you might not hear about this piece of equipment very often, its actually really important to your car! Picture yourself driving down the road on a beautiful spring day, when you hear a growling, or whining noise coming from your engine. “uh, oh,” you think, “it’s time to head to my mechanic.” Well, you’re exactly right! One possible cause could be the fluid of your differential needs a change. Read on to explore what a differential is, how it works, and its maintenance requirements so you can keep your car on the road and in its best condition!
What is a differential?
The differential is the piece of equipment responsible for making sure your car wheels rotate at the correct speeds when you make a turn while driving. You might be thinking, “rotate at the correct speeds? Isn’t that what a gas pedal does?” Well, when you make a turn with your car, the wheel on the inside of the turn will cover less ground than the outside turning wheel. This means that the inside wheel has to turn slower to let the wheel on the outside of a turn “catch up” to the other wheel. The wheels of your car also turn at different angles. They actually correspond to a center point on the same parallel line as the back wheels of your car! With all of this coordination, your differential ensures that your wheels don’t skid or slip while turning, or slowly wear down unevenly because of uneven pressure caused by a leaning vehicle.
How does it work?
The differential is a housing unit that sits between the front wheels of your car. It is entered from the outside by a pinion which connects to a ring gear inside the housing unit. The ring gear sits perpendicularly between sets of spider gears. The spider gears connect to side gears that connect to the tires. All of these gears coordinate between and respond to the wheels of your car and the steering wheel in the cabin. They receive power from the drive shaft, and then distribute that power accordingly to make each wheel turn at the appropriate RPM’s (Revs per minute). Depending on whether you are driving a 2- or 4-wheel drive, you may have another differential between your back tires as well. These all have fluid and may require a fluid change. Speaking of which…
Should I change the fluid?
As with anytime metal is touching metal, no matter how well engineered, there will be wear and tear on the gears through time and use. The differential fluid is meant to absorb heat and lubricate the gears to minimize this wearing down, however, as particles come off of the gears, it can cause to the fluid to thicken and actually disrupt the gears from functioning properly. Fluid changes help keep lubrication working at its best, and a result, lengthen the life of your differential. The short answer for how often to change the fluid is to check the owner’s manual because it made vary depending on make and model of your vehicle. If you are hearing whining or grinding sounds coming from your engine or transmission, or you’re feeling gears slipping as you drive, it’s always best to seek help from a trusted mechanic as soon as possible. A differential fluid change could solve your problem, and the sooner you attend to this, the less likely it is that you’ll be dealing with expensive repairs caused by a faulty differential. Always feel free to give us a call at Advanced Auto Sports at 248-479-3300 or schedule an appointment here.