close up view of a differential

What is a differential?

Differential types and what they do 

If you have heard the term “differential” said but are unsure what it means, we will be diving into everything you need to know and break down the different types. Keep reading to learn more. 

So, what is a differential? 

A differential uses the drivetrain of the vehicle to send power from the engine to the wheels to control how the vehicle performs. There are four common types of differentials – open, locking, limited-slip and torque-vectoring 

close up view of a differential

Differential types are broken down: 

  • Open – Used in most economy cars and sedans, open differentials separate the torque from the engine into two outputs. This split of power allows the wheels to rotate at different speeds so when one tire loses traction, the other tire will also lose power. 
  • Locking – Often found in Jeep Wranglers and full-sized trucks, locking differentials connect the wheels so they spin at the same speed all the time.  
  • Limited-slip – As a combination between open and locking differentials, the limited-slip differential is designed to act as an open differential until the tires start to slip, then it will automatically lock to help keep traction on the road. Many sports vehicles like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Nissan 370Z have limited-slip differentials. 
  • Torque-vectoring – Found in the Lexus RC F or BMW X5 M, the torque-vectoring differential slows or quickens the car’s rotation around a corner by delivering torque to each wheel. This type of differential is complex and heavy so the vehicles that use it often have a low fuel economy. 

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