Which is Better Limited-Slip or Locking Differential?


You want to make sure that your car is capable of running smoothly on many different surfaces all while keeping good traction. But the question is, which differential is better: locking or limited-slip?

Limited-Slip and Locking are both great differentials with good functionality. While limited is meant more for driving around town any time of year, locking is meant for off-roading. Both have their pros and cons for use, but either can work for your vehicle.

Below, I’ll go over the main differences, pros, and cons between limited-slip and locking differentials. I will also mention what they are usually meant for when it comes to what you drive on.

Limited-Slip Differential

A limited-slip differential helps control the torque of the wheels (aka how often the wheels spin). When activated, either automatically or by the driver, it gives the wheel that has more traction more torque and the wheel that has less traction less torque.

For example, if you are driving and one wheel is on ice and the other is on the road, the wheel on the road will receive more torque, and the one the ice will receive less. This will keep the car moving despite the change in terrain.

This is great for all-wheel and four-wheel drive cars. It also works great for wet or icy roads. It is less meant for off-roading, so if you are going to use it for normal driving, you’ll be set.

Pros

One of the main pros to this type of differential is that it is made to help the car keep moving, even when the terrain gets tough. It applies a good balance of torque so your car can still move past the ice or sandy road. It is called limited-slip for a reason, it limits your tire’s slipping. Another great pro is that it does work on snowy or icy terrain. Now you don’t have to worry as much in the winter about your wheels slipping around on the ice.

This differential also limits tire wear. Since it isn’t trying to force the car forward and lowers the torque on the wheels, the tires won’t wear as fast. On top of that, it isn’t too noisy either when in use. You won’t really hear that your vehicle has activated the limited-slip differential.

Cons

One of the main cons is that while it is activated, the tires won’t really use full power. The tire using more torque will get a little more power, but it won’t be using all of it to push forward. This means that sometimes if your car does get stuck, it may not be able to get out of the situation with a limited-slip differential.

Another main con is that this is a weaker differential. It can break easier and you may have to replace it sooner than expected. It can cost between $600 and $1200 to replace which can leave a nice hole in your wallet.

Locking Differential

The locking differential is a little different from the limited-slip differential. Instead of adding more torque to one wheel, it syncs up the wheel’s torque to keep the car moving. If you do end up driving on rough roads, your car can automatically lock up the back wheels and provide them with a lot of power so that they are stable enough to move forward. This makes the locking differential better for off-roading.

On one occasion the wheels will rotate at different speeds and that is when one wheel is no longer touching the ground. Then more torque will go to the wheel that is stable, while the other wheel in the air will not get torque. This will help keep the vehicle moving the same way a limited-slip keeps the vehicle moving.

The video below helps explain how the locking differential works.

Pros

One of the main pros of a locking differential is that it is meant for off-roading and even racing. When the wheels are locked and going at the same speed, the car will continue to move at a steady, even pace. While it is doing this, the wheels are getting their full power, without one wheel getting more or less than the others. This makes it easier to go faster and handle more difficult roads that could throw a variety of things at the car. It also gives the vehicle a lot of traction.

Another great thing is that the locking differential is durable. You won’t need to go in often to replace it or fix it. So essentially, you can keep going off-roading again and again without having to worry about your differential breaking any time soon (if at all).

Cons

One of the main cons of locking differential is that it will wear out your tires pretty quickly. Since it doesn’t have the ability to slow one tire down or speed up another, both tires will wear out more quickly. On top of that, they will also be using 100% of their power when locked, so they are being used to the fullest. This is different from the limited-slip differential, which only uses part of the tire’s power.

If your tires wear out faster, you’ll need to change and replace them more regularly. Make sure you’ve got some spares on hand if you want to do a lot of off-roading with this differential. Tire replacements could add up, so weigh that potential cost before you choose this setup.

Although you can use it for rough terrain, it also doesn’t do the best on wet or icy roads. It is more likely to get stuck on icy roads because both wheels are turning at the same speed while one or more of them have no traction. This can also mess with your steering ability if one wheel is stuck and the other is not. On top of that, the locking differential is loud! If you are driving on the road, it will make a lot of noise as it tries to adjust.

Will Turner

Will has an absolute passion for 4x4s and loves discovering all of the small details about each model. Will joined the Four Wheel Trends team in early 2021 and has been a valuable contributor ever since!

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