Wayne’s Automotive Center Guide to Servicing Your Differential

Differential? What’s that? And what’s it for? I’ve been told by my service advisor that I need to get it serviced, but is that on the level?

Do these questions sound familiar? They’re not uncommon for Reno drivers. A lot of us in Reno don’t know what a differential is or what it’s for. All vehicles have a differential and it does need to be serviced. In fact, it’s more important to the operation of your vehicle than the air conditioner or windshield wipers.

Your vehicle’s tires to need to move at different speeds and a differential allows them to do so. This happens more than you think. The best example is when a vehicle is turning where the inside wheel travels a much shorter distance than the outside wheel during a turn. To make up the extra distance the outside wheel must rotate faster than the inside wheel. Without a differential, your tires would hop and skip while turning and would lose traction in sand or snow.

Where the differential is located depends on the vehicle. On a rear-wheel drive vehicle, the differential is located in the rear while a front-wheel-drive vehicle, it is located on the front and usually called a transaxle. Four-wheel drive vehicles have three differentials: one on the front, one in the back and a center differential which compensates for differences in speed between the front and rear wheels.

Cross Section of a Car DifferentialThe strong gears in your differential need to be protected from dirt, debris, water and other contaminants. A differential is sometimes referred to as a “gear box.” The work of these gears is to transfer power from the vehicle drive train to the wheels.

Fluid is needed to lubricate and cool the gears in your differential. This fluid, even though enclosed in the “gear box,” can get dirty because the gears grind down over time, releasing tiny bits of themselves into the fluid. Also, the differential fluid has additives which break down and need to be replaced. That’s why preventive maintenance for your vehicle needs to include servicing the differential.

Recommendations on how often to service your differential can be found in your owner’s manual. But you should also consult with your friendly and knowledgeable Wayne’s Automotive Center professional. Wayne’s Automotive Center can give you some good auto advice on whether your vehicle needs to be serviced more frequently. For example, your differential will need to have its fluid changed more often if you drive in hot or cold Nevada weather conditions.

Your vehicle’s care routine and differential will be affected by severe conditions. Check your owner’s manual for a definition of “severe service” conditions that affect your vehicle. Examples may include driving with frequent stops and starts, a lot of short trips around Reno, hot or cold Nevada weather conditions and towing.

Off-roading is particularly hard on a vehicle’s differential. If you are an off-roader, especially if you cross NV streams or waterways, it is important that you service your differential more frequently than the recommendations suggest.

Properly servicing your differential will extend its life and keep you out of Reno auto repair shops. A smooth ride is the result of proper preparation and smart choices.

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