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The importance of taking care of your vehicle's differential

A car's differential plays an important role in its road performance. Here is a brief explanation of this component's main function, along with some advice on how to keep it in good condition. 

The primary function of a differential

When a vehicle turns a corner, its outer wheels must rotate at a faster speed than its inner wheels, in order to compensate for the additional distance they need to travel during this manoeuvre. The component that allows them to do this is called a differential. This is located in between the drive wheels, inside a gearbox.

Without this part, the wheels would be forced to spin at the same rate; this would mean that when the driver of the vehicle attempted a turn, the outer wheel would end up slipping, which would not only make this process more difficult to carry out, but would also eventually destroy the axle components and cause axle to seize up.

The most crucial aspect of differential maintenance

Keeping your differential's oil levels topped up is the most effective way to extend its lifespan. Without proper lubrication, this component will overheat, creating friction which will wear down both the differential itself and the wheel's bearings and gears. When this happens, all of these parts will need to be either repaired or replaced, depending on the extent of the damage done. Given that a differential repair job can cost quite a bit of money, it really is worth keeping an eye on this component's fluid levels. 

Most car manufacturers provide their own individual guidelines regarding how often their vehicles' differential oil should be changed. However, if you travel on rough terrain regularly or if you live in a place with a wet climate and therefore often drive through large puddles, you should check this fluid more often than is recommended by your manufacturer, as these conditions can increase the chance of the fluid leaking or becoming contaminated.   

When it starts to run low, differential oil can cause clunking or whining noises. If you hear these, take a look inside the axle housing, where this substance is located. To do this, you'll need car jack stands to lift your vehicle up from the ground, a ratchet to open the differential fill bolt and a dipstick to check the current level of fluid. If you're not confident in your ability to carry out this check correctly, it may be best to have your mechanic do this task for you.