Limited Slip Differential (Advantages, Disadvantages and How it Works)
There are three types of differentials that a vehicle could have; open differentials, locking differentials and limited slip differentials. The function of any differential is to transmit engine power to the wheels. This is how wheels can rotate at various speeds. While an open differential would still power the wheels if they’re losing their traction, a limited slip differential would limit the amount of power that is sent to a particular wheel if it is losing traction. It does this by electronically activating the brake for that one spinning wheel. This can have its pros and cons, depending on the type of terrain you’re driving the vehicle.
Top 5 Advantages of a Limited Slip Differential
Below are the top 5 advantages of using a limited slip differential.
- Off-Road Traction – Compared to an open differential, you will get better off-road traction with a limited slip differential. This is due to the limited slip differential transmitting power into the wheels which have traction to them.
- Paved Surfaces – As good as limited slip differentials are off-road, they are even better on paved surfaces. The performance will be excellent as the traction is near perfect. It should be a smooth driving experience whenever you’re on a paved surface.
- Less Tire Wear – Since the limited slip differential can take power away from a wheel that is losing traction and give more power to other wheels with traction, this helps prevent too much wear on the tires.
- Less Axle Shaft Wear – The axle shafts won’t have too much stress and pressure put on them during turns because they have the ability to rotate at various speeds. This means they won’t get worn down as much.
- Not Too Expensive – A limited slip differential will not be a terribly costly upgrade to make on your vehicle. Most people spend between $600 and $1,200 to get this upgrade, which is not a lot if you think about it. These differentials are suitable for regular vehicles, so you don’t need a high-performance vehicle to enjoy it.
Top 3 Disadvantages of a Limited Slip Differential
Below are the top 3 disadvantages of a limited slip differential.
- Lack of Full Power to Wheels – If there is a wheel with traction, the limited slip differential won’t be able to power it completely. It will always have to transmit a small amount of power to the wheel that doesn’t have traction, even though it has taken a lot of power away from it. Therefore, it can’t give transmit 100% power to just one wheel.
- Traction is Hard to Manage – You won’t always be able to predict what the traction is going to do when you’re on rough terrain with rocks, mud, and sand on it. While the limited slip differential will send some power to the wheels losing traction, it won’t be a continuous supply of power. Once other wheels start to lose traction, the differential will transmit more of the power over to them. As a result, the vehicle could end up being pulled to just one side.
- Not all the Same – A limited slip differential won’t be the same in every vehicle that has it. Some will be able to control various elements differently, such as the durability levels and the wheels. Therefore, don’t get used to one kind of limited slip differential and think it will be the same in another car that has one, because it won’t.
How Limited Slip Differential Works
A differential is designed to let a set of wheels rotate at their own separate speeds. Most vehicles have one differential in the front axle or rear axle, depending on whether it is a front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive vehicle. However, an all-wheel-drive vehicle would have two separate differentials for the front and rear axles.
The main purpose of a differential is to help the vehicle make stable turns. But there are different types of differentials which function in their own unique way. The two most common differentials are open differentials and limited-slip differentials. The former is great for turning on clearer roads while the latter is better for road conditions which will likely cause your wheels to slip.
In a limited-slip differential, engine torque is distributed evenly to each wheel on the axle. Ideally, it is better to drive on roads that are clear when you have this differential. But if you drive over mud or ice on the road, one of your wheels may lose traction as it spins. In order to prevent this wheel from slipping on the road, the limited-slip differential takes away some of the torque energy from the slipping wheel.
As a result, you can make hard turns much more easily and reduce slippage in the process. If you had the more common open differential, it would not be able to reduce slippage as you make hard turns. That is why you should always use a limited-slip differential if you live in areas which commonly get snow, rain, mud, ice, and other nasty road conditions.
A limited-slip differential contains different clutch discs which are secured by springs. When a wheel experiences slippage, the tension increases between the different clutch discs. This will cause more resistance to occur between the two wheels on the axle, resulting in limited slippage. This type of differential needs more maintenance than an open differential. Be sure to replace the differential fluid periodically because this keeps the clutch discs functioning normally.
An auto mechanic can perform all the maintenance and repair work needed. But it is important that you understand the potential of a limited-slip differential and why it is a good investment if living in an area with certain road conditions that call for it.
A limited slip differential is suitable for both regular vehicles and 4x4s. It is not the best to use on terribly rough terrain if you’re going off-road, but it can still provide you with a comfortable driving experience on dirt or paved roads.