A quick look at the basic types of differentials

Let’s start with the basics, the open differential.

An Open Differential allows the inner and outer wheels to rotate at different speeds when going around a corner; this makes the ride smooth and planted.

The internals of a differential might seem daunting at first, and we could get into walls of text about the theory behind it, but instead, the video below clears things up quite nicely.

The Locking Differential

This kind of Differential is used most often in off-roading and all-terrain vehicles, it acts just like a regular open differential, until it’s “locked” meaning both wheels rotate at the same speed, and are mechanically locked together, this happens thanks to a mechanism inside the ring gear, that locks the spider gears.

The video below will illustrate this.

The Limited Slip Differential

A limited slip differential is used mostly on performance oriented vehicles, this kind of differential can work in many different ways, and one of the most common is the clutch pack variety, which works by having a stack of friction plates at each side, and a spring in the middle. Mechanically, this is more complex than other types of differentials.

The video below provides an animation of this.

And there you have it, well, the basic kinds of differentials explained and illustrated.

The differential is one of the most important mechanisms in an automobile, and while here we have outlined the basic types of differentials and their functions, it’s always worth reading further.