Buyer’s Guide to Differential Locks (Diff Locks)

For any driver who often finds himself in off-road situations, having specialized equipment such as bull bars, air intake snorkels, and differential locks could significantly impact their entire driving experience. A differential lock or diff lock could be particularly helpful in keeping the adventurous drivers safe during their excursions over steep or uneven terrain.

Diff locks are considered as specially modified versions of the standard open locker. Its primary purpose in any automobile is to facilitate the outer wheel’s rotation during every attempt to make a sharp turn. After all, though having an unlocked differential would suit a driver used to cruising along even and paved roads, being behind the wheel of a four wheel drive poses a different challenge that calls for more specialized equipment. This buyer guide has been specially made to help you make the right decision in selecting your differential lockers.

How differential locks work

Compared to the smooth cruises experienced by regular urban motorists, there are certain situations which drivers of 4×4 vehicles will have a hard time facing when using a regular open differential lock. Often, when traveling over uneven terrain, the amount of resistance or traction being applied on each wheel will end up being uneven. For this reason, the diff locks aid in ensuring that the wheels on the axle achieve the same rotational speed.  The wheel with more traction is restricted and made to rotate less, while the wheel with less traction is controlled to rotate more to compensate.

A 4 wheel drive vehicle, in particular, is specially equipped with one diff lock for each axle. This helps increase the amount of ground the outer wheels can travel in contrast with that of the inner wheels. For instance, while turning a corner or making a full turn, the difference between the outer and inner wheels can be as much as 30 feet.

Additionally, off-road vehicles often need more assistance when it comes to pushing forward over rough terrain. For such cases, an additional differential lock can also be helpful in distributing an equal amount of torque for those times when the front wheels end up rotating much faster than the wheels in the back while moving forward.

Differentials for regular automobiles and 4×4 vehicles

Though a simple small car or van can travel just fine with a single differential lock, a 4×4 vehicle should ideally be equipped with 3 diff locks. The first two lockers are located between both the front and back wheels. Meanwhile, the third locker is found at the vehicle’s central point.

By locking the first two diff locks, you will be able to make the front and rear wheels spin together on their separate axles. Conversely, locking the third or center differential will equalize the amount of power expended by both sets of wheels.

The center differential works by enabling the front and rear wheels to have different rotation rates. This function serves to compensate for the difference between the faster rotation speeds of the front wheels and the slower rotation speeds of the back wheels when cornering.

2 Types of Differential Locks

The first type of differential lock is the automatic diff locker. Diff locks under this category are responsible for automatically locking during situations when a vehicle loses traction. Likewise, it will automatically unlock as soon as the vehicle regains traction.

Conversely, there are also some automatic differential locks which do not actually unlock automatically. Instead, they only unlock for situations where a single wheel is needed to spin faster than its axle and drive mechanism.

The second type of differential lock is the manual diff locker. As its name states, the driver will have to manually select when to lock or unlock the differential using the lever or switch located near the driver’s seat. It is therefore up to the driver’s own judgment whether he needs extra traction for any of his wheels.

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