A vehicle’s differential is a complex mechanism that allows the wheels of the vehicle to rotate at different rates when turning a corner. If you watch a front or rear wheel drive vehicle moving in a circle, you’ll notice the inside wheels make a slightly tighter circle than the outside wheels. Further, if you watch that vehicle make a right or left turn, you’ll see the wheels on the outside of the turn spin slightly faster that the wheels on the inside of the turn.

This difference in wheel spin rate during a turn is accomplished by a differential. Without a differential, steering a vehicle becomes a lot more complex and difficult. The outside wheel would experience greater wear during a turn because it is dragged along rather than increasing its rotation to compensate for the longer distance it has to travel compared to the inside wheel.

That’s the easy part to explain.

Differentials become more complex as you introduce 4-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD), which require two differentials working together to regulate the wheel spin for both the front and back tires.

To further complicate the world of differentials, there are also what are called open and locked differentials.

Open differentials are the most common and are found on the majority of cars and trucks that aren't regularly used for heavy towing or traversing extreme terrain. Open differentials divide the amount of torque driving the two wheels evenly. This works great provided you’re driving on a relatively flat surface and you’re not stuck in snow or mud. In these driving conditions, when one wheel spins uselessly, the wheel with traction is only able to deliver half the overall torque, making it more difficult to get unstuck.

With a locked differential, a heavy duty vehicle in a rough terrain or muddy/snowy situation has an advantage in that 100 percent of the torque can be delivered to the wheel that has the most traction, making it much easier to power a vehicle through treacherous conditions.

For all your differential needs—open, locked, 4WD or AWD—you can count on Zumbrota Bearing and Gear (ZBAG) to have the right replacement differential for your unique vehicle requirements.

We’re a small town business with customers throughout the United States. Our new and remanufactured differentials, transmissions, transfer cases and other specialty automotive parts feature some of the most trusted quality available in the market today.

While we’re located in Zumbrota, MN, our nationwide distribution is only a phone call away.