Vehicle care 101 | Differential repair and maintenance

Posted on: 30 August 2016

The differential is a very handy mechanical device in any vehicle. It allows the drive wheels to rotate at different speeds when taking a corner, since the outer wheels have a slightly greater distance to cover than the inner wheels. The differential thus ensures the outer wheel moves faster for better corners. Its absence means that dangerous turns run the risk of the wheels binding or hopping. Despite this, the differential is often ignored when it comes to regular vehicle maintenance and is noticed only when a problem occurs. If you own a vehicle, here are some ways you can keep the differential in peak condition.

Regular oil change

You need to check the oil in your differential and change it whenever necessary. The oil gradually gets dirty over time as the gears grind down and release metal shavings. Also, some additives in the oil degrade over time so a change is in order. Manufacturers normally advise the owner to change the oil after a certain mileage is achieved, so remember to consult your owner's manual. Changing oil is especially important for rear-wheel drive vehicles. For front-wheel drive cars, the differential is integrated into the transmission housing and benefits from the regular servicing performed there. Differentials in the rear wheel are easily ignored. Don't forget to clean the gears inside to remove metal particles before adding new oil. Additionally, be sure to use the highest quality gear oil that meets the capacity and density stated in your manual.

Make immediate repairs.

Differentials will inevitably undergo wear and tear as the gears grind on. This will warrant a differential repair or replacement, since a faulty differential is not something to shrug off. If you suspect your differential has a problem, stop driving immediately and contact a car service professional. The warning sign is usually a strange noise around your axle whenever you make a turn. This noise typically fades when driving along a straight path. A faulty differential could freeze up while you drive and cause you to lose control of your vehicle. It may also cause lasting damage to the axle or the transmission.

Consider your environment.

Environmental conditions will determine how often you need to schedule your differential servicing. Extreme weather conditions such as excessive heat or cold will wear down your differential at a faster rate. The terrain you drive on also affects your differential. Off-roading is especially hard on it, since such driving exposes your differential to an inordinate amount of dirt, water and other contaminants. Frequent inspections are consequently paramount to make sure the differential remains in shape.