What is Differential Service and Is It Important?

differential gears

What is a differential and what exactly does it do?

We are going to talk about differential service today, after we explain what  a differential is and how it is important to your vehicle. Your vehicle needs the engine, transmission, and wheels and tires to make your vehicle move. Within or attached to those things are other important components like axles and a differential.

The differential is a mechanism that separates the engine torque two ways. This allows a different speed for each output’s spin. All late model and all-wheel drive vehicles have a differential between each drive wheel set. 

Compensation for difference is the job of a differential, specifically the wheel speed differences when they turn. A good example is as you turn a corner, the inside wheel doesn’t have as far to travel as the outer wheel. That means that outer wheel is going at a faster speed to stay in pace with the inner wheel. 

The differential allows those different speeds and keeps your car powered in the process. All of the power in an engine goes through the differentials. So, is there a difference between a rear and front differential? Yes, because the front wheels travel at a different speed than rear wheels, there is a differential between the two front wheels and one in between the two rear wheels.  

Is differential service necessary?

Yes! The differential uses oil, thicker than the oil that goes in the engine. Changing the oil in the differential is as important as the engine oil change because over time, the oil wears thin and becomes contaminated. Like the engine, without the oil, the differential will start having metal-to-metal contacting that will wear the differential out. 

The differentials on most vehicle should be changed at about 50,000 miles. However, that can vary based on the mileage of the vehicle and the travel conditions, like dirt roads, your vehicle may need differential service more frequent. 

What is the differential service?

Differential service with a mechanic or technician will include draining the old fluid from the differentials and replace it with new fluid according to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications.

The rear differential service is a little different in the fact that the mechanic or technician will perform a          Differential service and fluid flush before putting in the new fluid. This is typically recommended to be done every 30,000 to 35,00 miles, and definitely before 50,000 miles. Many mechanics will suggest having the Differential service and tires rotated at the same time, making it easier to remember getting the differential service performed on a timely basis. 

Can you overfill a differential?

There is a fill hole on most differentials that may have a rubber plug covering it. This makes it easy for the mechanic or technician to check the fluid. Overfilling the differential can cause the seals to push through the vent tube. When this happens, the axle seals must be replaced. Because it can be too easy to do this, and the fact that draining the old fluid is extremely messy, having a professional mechanic or technician perform your differential service is always recommended.

What does a bad differential sound like?

Just as you pay attention to the oil change for the engine, the differential needs that same attention. The differential in your vehicle needs to be working properly for longevity of your vehicle and safety. Some indicators that your vehicle’s differential is having problems would be: 

  • Leaking Oil: If you see what appears to be oil dripping from under the vehicles at one of the axles, you need professional differential service immediately. 
  • Strange Noises: A differential that is going bad will often make loud rattling or whirring noises. If you’re hearing these noises from under the car, see differential service. 
  • Vibrating: Of you notice an unusual vibration while driving, it could be differential and is worth taking it to your mechanic for a differential service check.  
  • Unusual Odor: As differential oil ages, it can start to smell like it is burning. When you smell burning oil, it is time to get a differential service. 
differential under an old 4x4 truck

Can you drive with a bad differential?

A differential doesn’t just go out without warning.  The indications we listed above could be what keeps your car on the road if you have professional differential service performed. As long as your following the recommended schedule for fluid and oil change in your vehicle, including the differential, you shouldn’t ever have these problem. 

Technically, yes, driving a vehicle with a bad differential is possible, but not recommended. Driving with a bad differential will only make it worse and you could find yourself stranded on the roadside somewhere. Other components of your vehicle can be damaged as well, cost you even more money with extensive repairs. 

Next to your home, your vehicle is an expensive and important investment. Just like your home, you should follow the recommended maintenance schedule of major components like a differential service, oil changes, and tire rotations. These are considered preventive maintenance and will extend the life of your car. Call 941-493-6511 today for your differential repair in Venice, FL.