Differentials are very important components in cars. They serve a very important purpose in transferring power from the engine and transmission to the wheels. If you have differential problems, you’ll notice how poorly your car handles and you’ll want to get it fixed immediately.

A differential serves three primary purposes:

     1. Directing power at the wheels

     2. Providing a final gear reduction, slowing the transmission’s rotational speed before it hits the       wheels.

     3. Transmitting power to the wheels and enabling them to rotate individually.

The 3rd purpose above is really what gives the differential its name. A vehicle’s wheels need to be able to run at different speeds while driving. Front wheels spin at different rates than rear wheels, and left wheels need to run independently from right wheels (especially when making turns). If they didn’t, your car would not handle well at all and it can lead to bigger problems.

Now, there are different types of differentials and different types of vehicles require specific differential set-ups. For instance, a four-wheel or all-wheel drive car will have front and rear differentials (and maybe even a central differential depending on the car). Meanwhile, front- and rear-wheel drive cars will have the differential positioned to power only the drive wheels. The other ones naturally run independently.

We won’t get into too many technical details in this article, but needless to say, you want your differential(s) functioning properly. If not, it can lead to major axle, wheel, brake and tire problems. It can also damage the transmission if the power isn’t being properly distributed to the wheels.

If you hear grinding or whining noises, especially when turning, it could be a sign that you have a differential problem. Likewise, it can affect your car’s handling on curves or lead to noticeably uneven tread wear on your tires. At the first sign of differential problems, you’ll want to have it checked out by an expert. Sometimes, just the differential fluid needs replacement. Most auto manufacturers recommend replacing the differential fluid somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 miles, so check your owner’s manual for more specific differential maintenance recommendations.

For more information about differential service and repair, contact Ralph’s Transmission, your transmission service in Modesto, at 209.526.1909 or bring your car in to our Modesto shop. We’ll be happy to inspect your differential(s) and diagnose the problem. If it is not a differential or transmission/drive train issue, we will gladly refer you to another reputable general automotive shop in town!