Vehicle with a beefy automotive differential

Automotive Differential Service – And How It Benefits Your Vehicle

Although the engine and transmission receive much of the fanfare, and preventative maintenance attention, the differential is often overlooked, though it is equally deserving of that level of respect and support.

Whether you drive a front, rear or all-wheel drive vehicle, the differential controls the rotational rate of the axles or driveshafts for smooth cornering. This part prevents your vehicle from hopping, skipping and otherwise acting unruly while turning in either direction – But regular preventative maintenance is required to protect its internal components.

With regular differential service appointments, you will ensure that the high-quality gear oil properly lubricates and cools the drive, planetary and bevel gears inside the differential housing. Read on to learn all you need to know about differential service and its benefits to make the best preventative maintenance decisions for your vehicle.

How Your Differential Works

Exploring the way your differential works can help you better understand its need for preventative maintenance services. Although it is an oldie, the 1937 film, ‘Around the Corner,’ by Chevrolet Motor Division clearly explains how the modern differential works and benefits your vehicle.

With your newfound knowledge, and respect for differentials, you are now prepared to keep this part in great working condition with help from your talented White Center auto technicians.

Types of Automotive Differentials

Automotive differentials come in many different configurations to meet the needs of the vehicle platform and support its intended purpose.


With its cost-effective, general purpose design, the open differential is most commonly used for passenger vehicles. As the gears inside this differential spin, the wheels turn at different rates to allow the outside wheel to track the corner effectively. With this design, however, power goes to the drive wheel with the least grip, which severely impedes the vehicle’s ability to traverse across slippery surfaces, like ice and loose dirt.

Limited Slip

A limited slip differential overcomes the open differential’s tendency for wheel slippage with help from the addition of a clutch pack. The series of clutch plates at either side of the internal gears activate using pressure to keep power going to both drive wheels. The system affords improved flexibility through the varied operation of the clutch discs, but also comes with the increased risk of disc wear. Regular differential fluid changes can reduce the wear rate of the internal components, however, to prevent part failure.


A locking differential, or locker, can operate as an open or locked system as needed for the driving situation. When locked, the wheels turn at the same rate to power the vehicle forward across even the slickest of surfaces. To effectively maneuver through corners, the system must be unlocked, or the locked gears will cause the drive wheels to skip and hop through every turn. Thankfully, vehicles with locking differentials have air, electric or mechanically-activated controls that allow drivers to lock and unlock the system.

Electronically Controlled Limited Slip

Many modern high-end front and all-wheel drive vehicles have undergone an upgrade from basic open differentials to electronically controlled limited slip. The smart differential system utilizes electronic monitoring equipment to effectively apply the perfect amount of torque to each drive wheel. The system looks at each wheel’s steering angle, rotational rate, and other forces to make torque adjustments on the fly. The performance improvements make electronically controlled limited slip perfect for everyday driving, but this high-tech system comes at a premium.

Differential Maintenance Basics

Don’t corner like a rally driver? Your differential still needs care.

The type and location of the differential system directly influences its maintenance needs and ideal service intervals. Standalone differentials, as used for most AWD and RWD applications, benefit from regular fluid changes to continually protect the internal components. Differentials in most FWD applications are integrated into the gearbox design and are best known as transaxles. The transaxle typically only requires regular transmission maintenance services to remain in good operation.

When you come in for auto repair in Seattle, your talented technician will utilize manufacturer service intervals, your vehicle’s mileage and other factors to determine the best timing for your differential service. The service process involves the removal of the differential drain bolt to allow for the complete drainage of the old fluid inside. Once the system has fully drained, your technician will replace the drain bolt, and then fill with the appropriate lubricant type and weight.

Benefits of Regular Differential Service

When you acquire timely auto service in Seattle from a reputable shop, you can trust that your differential receives the appropriate level of care to remain in great operation for years to come. The addition of new gear oil every 50,000 to 100,000 miles, as indicated by your vehicle manufacturer, protects the moving parts inside the differential from excessive wear and damage. Your White Center auto technician can inspect the old oil for metal shavings and other signs of wear to help you determine the appropriate level of care for your differential and other automotive components.

Schedule Your Appointment for Auto Repair in Seattle Today

If you would like to discuss your vehicle’s differential service needs, give Greg at Masters a call at (206) 243-8487 at your convenience. We will help you determine the best differential service interval for your vehicle to support all your driving activities. Call us today to see how we can help keep your vehicle in phenomenal condition.

About the author: Masters Auto and Tire