Brain Post: How an Automobile’s Rear Differential Works

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Skip to 03:28 to get to the meat of the learning

Ever wonder why one wheel spins while the other remains static when you get stuck?The above video straight out of 1937 is here to elegantly and clearly explain what a rear differential is and how it works. Learn more in 5 minutes than you will all day!

What is a differential?

The differential in your car or truck is a set of gears located at the axle that allows your outer wheel to spin faster than your inner wheel when going around a corner.  Without one, your tires would skid, skip, and generally wear out faster.

Is it always a REAR differential?

No, if you have a front wheel drive vehicle the differential is in the front, or if you drive a 4×4 vehicle you have two differentials: one in the front AND one in the rear.

What is a locking differential?

Sometimes, especially in the instance of getting stuck, you want both wheels to spin in unison.  This is where a lock differential comes into play.  Some vehicles and most tractors offer this option, as it provides more torque to get out of “sticky” situations.

The first differential made it’s debut in 1932 on the Grand Prix (developed by Ferdinand Porsche) and has since become a staple in the auto industry.  Find out more about the design and development of the rear differential here.

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