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What Types of Differentials are Available for My Wrangler?

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Getting over tough obstacles and rugged terrain requires the right setup. Equip you Jeep with lockers and a solid limited slip differential to conquer whatever is in your way.

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Most stock Wranglers are equipped with an open differential which works extremely well until you get stuck because only one wheel will be spinning. This is where it’s useful to have lockers for your Wrangler. There are also limited slip and spool type differentials. All have their own benefits.

Extreme Terrain

What's an Open Differential?

Open differentials come stock on most Wranglers and are gearboxes designed to allow one wheel to rotate faster or slower than the other when turning. This helps prevent your wheels from hopping around turns, wearing out your tires faster, and causing you to lose traction. How this works is when you are driving normally and you take a turn, your outside wheels will want to turn faster because it has to travel farther than your inside tires. This system works best when both wheels have an even amount of traction which is easy on pavement. However when you are off-road it is easy for one wheel to have more traction than the other causing one to spin and the other to act like a limp noodle.

2007-2017 JK Wrangler on a Road

Limited Slip Differentials - Not Open, Not Locked

Limited slip differentials combine the benefits of an open and a locked differential. They are less common on Wranglers than open differentials. A limited slip differential was a factory option and is also sold as an aftermarket upgrade. It is designed to act as an open differential in most driving conditions. In conditions where both wheels have an equal amount of traction and the vehicle is not turning, the differential will spin both wheels at the same speed with an equal amount of torque. This is how vehicles with limited slip differentials are able to do burnouts. In conditions with poor traction like on snow, ice, or mud, where one wheel has less traction than another, the differential will send more torque to the wheel with more traction. Limited slip differentials are better than open differentials at providing extra traction to the wheels, however lockers provide the most traction on uneven surfaces like mud and rocks. This is because they provide the benefits of both an open differential and a spool/locker.

30 Spline Limited Slip Differential for Dana 44 Axles
Limited Slip Differential Cut to Show Internals

What’s a Locker/Spool?

A locker or locking differential, is designed to “lock” both wheels of the same axle together so they both move at the same speed with the same amount of force. Without a locker it would be difficult to do any rock crawling due to there would almost never be an even amount of traction. This is thanks to rocks being different shapes, sizes, textures, and some may have dirt covering parts of them making for a very slippery surface. There are two ways to convert to a spool/locker type differential. There’s the full spool which replaces the entire ring gear carrier, and a mini spool which fits inside of the existing ring gear carrier replacing the spider gear assembly. Both forms have the same effect. A locker should not be used in vehicles that are intended for anything other than drag racing or extreme off-roading. However, there are two main kinds of lockers (automatic and selectable) which have their own pros and cons (and can beat back the off-road only tag).

27 Spline Locker Differential for Dana 35 Axles
Locker Differential Cut to Show Internals

Pros and Cons to Automatic Lockers

Pros:

  • Always ready when you need it
  • Quicker and easier installation
  • Cheaper

Cons:

  • On-road handling is impacted
  • Resistance on sharp turns
  • Possible tire skip when cornering
  • Makes a clicking sound
  • Can impact handling in snow
  • Always engaged until you let your foot off the throttle

Pros and Cons to Selectable Lockers

Pros:

  • When disengaged it acts as a normal open differential
  • Precise control over when it is activated
  • Doesn’t effect on-road handling when disengaged

Cons:

  • Can cause serious damage to differential if you forget to disable it
  • More complicated installation
  • Expensive
  • More components to fail
  • Has to be manually activated

What are Wrangler Lockers Used For?

Lockers are most useful in situations like rock crawling, self-recovery, and the recovery of others. In rock crawling you are likely to have a lot of changes in traction between different rocks and angles, so it is possible the wrong wheel could start spinning. Another possible situation in rock crawling is if your Wrangler doesn’t have enough articulation causing a wheel to lift off the ground. Lockers are designed to give you more traction when you need it, whether you are off-road or just pulling a friend out of a ditch.

TJ Wrangler Using Its Winch for Recovery
Fitment includes: JK, TJ, YJ, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018