Lockers and Limited Slips

Every vehicle has a differential, but it's usually just performance and off-road enthusiasts that care about the type of differential and its design. That's because the differences between various differentials are most apparent at the track or on the trail.

Lmtd slip diff lckr

Differentials for NEWBs

First, before we dive into lockers, let's talk about the standard differential types:

  1. "Open" differentials, which basically send power to wheel with the least amount of traction (or both wheels equally). Open differentials are pretty rare in the modern era.
  2. "Limited Slip" (aka Posi-traction) differentials direct power from a wheel that's slipping to a wheel that isn't. This is the standard modern automotive differential design.
  3. "Locking" differentials, which lock the wheels together so that they rotate at the same speed no matter what the driving conditions are for either wheel. This type of locker is somewhat common, at least on 4WD vehicles.

The reason that many off-road enthusiasts like a locking differential? It's harder to get stuck in mud or spin out on loose rocks when the differential is locked. While a limited slip differential will shift power from one wheel to the next in an unpredictable fashion, a locking differential will give you steady, consistent acceleration.

What's A Locking Differential, and What's It Good For?

Locking Diff

Lockers are most often used in 4WD vehicles for off-roading adventures, but they're found on dragsters as well due to their consistency in straight line acceleration. Rock-crawling enthusiasts like locking differentials as well - when one wheel has good contact with a rock or obstacle and the other wheel is in the air, a limited slip differential can be a headache as it constantly shifts power from one wheel to the other.

Summing up, the main reasons to have a locking differential are:

  • You're looking for consistent performance/acceleration (most desirable in drag racing and off-roading)
  • You've got an open or limited slip differential that just doesn't work very well in mud, sand, or on loose rocks

Of course, there are some downsides to driving a vehicle with a locking differential:

  • Vehicle tires tend to wear more quickly than they do on a vehicle with an open or limited slip differential, mostly because the locker forces the wheels to slip while turning and/or while traveling on loose surfaces
  • If the locker is on the front axle, steering capabilities can be affected when the road is paved and/or has lots of traction
  • If the locker engages on its own (automatic locking), it can be noisy
  • Locking differentials place a lot of stress on axle shafts, which can fail as a result of this stress (especially when over-sized tires are involved)

But, generally speaking, a locking differential that locks and unlocks (either via manual locking or automatic) is an asset for any vehicle that's used for serious off-roading.

The Skinny on Limited Slips

Limited slip differential

Most vehicles have limited slip differentials; they allow the right and left wheels to rotate at different speeds simultaneously. When one vehicle wheel is on a high traction surface and the other wheel isn't (say, one wheel is on the shoulder of the road and the other is on pavement), the limited slip differential re-routes power from a wheel that's turning faster to the other wheel. If the shoulder of the road is sandy or icy, and the pavement is dry, than a limited slip differential sends more power to the wheel on dry pavement and the vehicle accelerates.

There are a lot of mechanisms used to create limited slip differentials...gears, clutch/plate, electronic and viscous couplings, just to name a few. While there are pros and cons to each specific design, generally speaking these are the positives associated with limited slip differentials:

  • Good performance and traction for most daily driving situations
  • Most tire-friendly option in terms of minimizing wear and tear
  • Axle shafts aren't subjected to an inordinate amount of torque or stress, thus they are less likely to fail

The downsides of a limited slip differential:

  • Since the wheels can rotate at different speeds, traction is unpredictable in poor conditions (mud, sand, loose rocks)
  • Many limited slip differentials have a "bias" and pull to the side when traction is reduced
  • Limited slip differentials limit the tendency of an open differential to spin wheels that aren't getting traction, but they don't eliminate it...sometimes, even a great limited slip just isn't good enough off-road

Should I Upgrade My 4x4 To Have Locking Differentials?

While the answer to this question very much depends on what you want to do with your vehicle, the general consensus is that locking differentials are best for vehicles that are driven aggressively off-road. If you've got a Jeep that you only occasionally get dirty while driving to your favorite fishing spot, a locking differential is probably overkill. A limited slip differential, good tires, and some basic off-road driving skills are all you really need for this type of "light" off-roading.

On the other hand, it's not really possible to tackle difficult off-road trails with only a limited slip differential (OK - it's possible, but it's neither easy nor fun). Lockers make the more difficult trails easier to manage, and once you get into serious trail riding, racing, etc., locking differentials are common.

If you're in this second group and you're ready to buy a locking differential, you've got lots of choices. We'll go over the pros and cons of each type of locking mechanism in a future post.

  • Posted on   08/28/15 at 10:00:24 PM   by Jason  | 
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Tagged with differential, limited slip, locker

Reader Comments (25)

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While the answer to this question very much depends on what you want to do with your vehicle, the general consensus is that locking differentials are best for vehicles that are driven aggressively off-road. If you've got a Jeep that you only occasionally get dirty while driving to your favorite fishing spot, a locking differential is probably overkill. A limited slip differential, good tires, and some basic off-road driving skills are all you really need for this type of "light" off-roading. Have a look at Buy Vardenafil which is the best.

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If the shoulder of the road is sandy or icy, and the pavement is dry, than a limited slip differential sends more power to the wheel on dry pavement and the vehicle accelerates. 2v0-642 pdf

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Traction is vital on and rough terrain. Limited slips will include more "transparent" footing, though lockers will Write my Assignment for me Online give more "positive" footing. traction. Most limited slips will connect with and disengage without you even noticing.

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