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5 Signs of a Differential Problem

The differential (or transaxle in the case of many front-wheel-drive vehicles) is a key part of your car that sends power from the engine and transmission to the individual wheels. Rather than both wheels turning at exactly the same rate, a differential allows for more precise control of the vehicle. A rear-wheel-drive vehicle will have a rear differential. A front-wheel-drive vehicle will have a front differential or transaxle that basically performs the same function. An all-wheel or 4-wheel-drive vehicle will have both front and rear differentials providing power to all four wheels.

Whatever kind of differential set-up you have, you want it to be working properly. Here are some of the most common symptoms of a failing differential:

1. Service Past Due

Like all components of your vehicle, your differential needs periodic service. The primary maintenance step is to replace the differential oil (otherwise known as gear oil) per the manufacturer's recommendation. To understand your differential maintenance requirements and frequency, consult your owner's manual. 

2. Leaking Differential Oil

To the naked eye, differential/gear oil will look similar to common engine oil if it is leaking out the bottom of the vehicle. However, a good indicator is to figure out where the leaks are coming from. If the leak is directly under one of your axles (especially the one corresponding with your front- or rear-wheel-drive system), then there's a good chance it's a differential leak and you will want this fixed as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the wheels, axles, drivetrain or transmission.

3. Strange Noises

A failing differential will often produce loud whirring noises or sometimes rattling. Any time you hear a strange noise coming from your vehicle, you should get it checked out by an auto repair expert. It can be any number of problems, including the differential.

4. Vibrations

Feeling unusual vibrations while driving is another common indicator of a differential problem. However, just like strange noises or smells, it can be a sign of many different automotive issues that are worth getting looked at by a professional mechanic.

5. Unusual Smells

When the differential oil goes bad, it will start to thicken and burn. In turn, it can cause the internal gears and other components to seize up or break. If you ever notice a strong burning oil smell, take it to your mechanic. You may just be due for a regular oil change or it could be the differential oil deteriorating.

These are just a few signs of differential problems that you can look for. If you are in the Central Valley and think you might have a differential issue or any other kind of transmission, clutch or drivetrain concern, call Ralph's Transmission in Modesto today at 209.526.1909. We specialize in transmission and differential repairs, so we'll diagnose the problem, get it fixed and get you back on the road as quickly and safely as possible. You can also book your service appointment online using this convenient scheduler.