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

Do these questions sound familiar? They’re not uncommon for Minnesota motorists. A lot of us in Minnesota don’t know what a differential is or what it’s for. Every vehicle has a differential, and, yes, it does need to be serviced. In fact, it’s more essential to the operation of your car or truck than the air conditioner or windshield wipers.

A differential allows your car or truck tires to move at different speeds. This happens more than you think. The best example is when a vehicle is turning. The inside wheel travels a much shorter distance than the outside wheel during a turn. This means the outside wheel has to move faster than the inside wheel. Without a differential, your tires would hop and skip while turning. They would also lose traction in sand or snow.

The location of your differential depends on what kind of vehicle you drive. On a rear-wheel drive vehicle, the differential is located in the back. For a front-wheel drive vehicle, it is located on the front, but it is usually called a transaxle. Four-wheel drive vehicles have three differentials: one on the front, one in the back, and one in the middle. This center differential compensates for differences in speed between the front and rear wheels.

Your differential contains strong gears that 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 car or truck drive train to the wheels.

Your differential needs fluid to lubricate and cool the gears. 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 additives in the differential fluid break down and need to be replaced. That’s why essential preventive maintenance for your car or truck needs to include servicing the differential.

Your owner’s manual can give you recommendations on how often to service your differential. But you should also consult with your kind and professional Kennedy Transmission Brake & Auto Service technician. Kennedy Transmission Brake & Auto Service can give you some good auto advice on whether your vehicle needs to be serviced more frequently. For example, if you drive in hot or cold Minnesota weather conditions, your differential will need to have its fluid changed more often.

Severe conditions will also affect your car care routine, and your differential. 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 Kennedy Transmission Brake & Auto Service, hot or cold North Dakota weather conditions, and towing.

Off-roading is particularly hard on a vehicle’s differential. If you are an off-roader, especially if you cross North Dakota 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 Minnesota auto repair shops. A smooth ride for Kennedy Transmission Brake & Auto Service auto owners is the result of proper preparation and smart choices.

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