How a Rear End Differential Works

August 16, 2021 4:33 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

While driving your car, you may not give a second thought to its ability to turn. You probably just flip your turn signal and casually turn the wheel to the right or left as you smoothly change the direction you’re heading.

But you may not know that your car’s ability to turn is more complicated than it seems. When your car turns, the outside wheels travel a different distance and at a different speed than the inside wheels. No matter what kind of driving system your car has (front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive), your car has to account for that. That’s where the rear end differential enters the picture.

The differential’s jobs

The differential on your car serves three main purposes. Its first job is to direct the engine’s power to the wheels. Its second job is to regulate the speed of the transmission—it does this by reducing the transmission’s speed before it arrives at the wheels. Its third and final job is to power the wheels while letting them spin at different speeds (hence the name “differential”).

Where a rear end differential is located

A differential’s main function is to regulate the speeds of the driving wheels, so it’s naturally going to be positioned up front for a front-wheel drive vehicle, and in the rear of a rear-wheel drive vehicle.

How it works

There are several different types of rear end differentials, but for the purpose of this article we’ll cover the most common type: open differentials. Its main purpose is to divide the torque from the engine in two, allowing each wheel to spin independently.

The most basic type of open differential consists of two halves of axles with multiple gears affixed to the end of them as they meet in the middle. There are two additional gears connecting the axles that are in the center and add strength and stability to the differential system. A ring gear is linked to the drive shaft by a pinion and allows your wheels to receive power.

An open differential supplies equal power to either wheel while possessing the ability to reduce torque to zero if any wheel loses contact with the ground or goes off-road. It does operate within a framework that puts a lower traction limit on the two driving wheels. The lower the traction on the wheels, the more they’re allowed to spin.

The open rear end differential’s main goal is to improve cornering by allowing the outside wheel to spin faster than the inside wheel on turns. It’s mainly used on lower performance civilian cars and is relatively cheap to manufacture.

The open differential served as a base model for other types of differentials, which were created for different purposes with higher performance in mind.

Call for differential service today

The invention and implementation of rear end differentials may have made it easier for cars to turn, but their existence also added a mechanical system that’s at risk of breaking down. If that happens, give us a call at Rivergate Muffler & Auto Repair. We’ve been fixing cars for nearly 40 years, and we’re dedicated to ensuring your car can get you safely where you need to go.

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