Axle vs Differential: What’s the Difference?

Axle vs Differential: What’s the Difference?

by Next Gear on July 22, 2023 Categories: Did You Know?
One of the most essential features of a car is its ability to turn.  A car that is unable to turn is useless.  What parts cause a car to be able to turn? The answer is the differential and the axle. 
What is a differential? What’s an axle? You may be even wondering what the difference is between a differential and an axle. 
A differential is essential to the axle, and they work together to keep your wheels moving.  

What Is an Axle?

One of the most basic components of machinery, the axle is the rod-shaped part of your car that is responsible for rotating your wheels, and ultimately bears the weight of your vehicle on your wheels. 
The engine is what powers the axle directly, giving power to the axle to rotate the wheels.  

What Is a Differential?

The axle of a vehicle contains the differential and is essential to the car’s ability to turn.  When your vehicle completes a turn, the tire of your car must rotate faster than the wheel attached to the axle on the inside of your car.  The differential is the part that makes this all possible, making it essential to the axle of the car. 

Different Types of Differentials

  • Open Differentials: A very common type of differential that uses a series of gears to power the axles. These are most likely going to be found on your average vehicles. 
  • Limited-Slip Differentials: Best for heavy-duty vehicles, with a strong towing capacity or a higher level of performance, this type of differential locks the sides of the axle in the event the vehicle loses traction. 
  • Torque-Vectoring Differentials: This differential is very technologically advanced.  It reads a number of inputs from your vehicle via sensors, such as the steering system and road conditions, to take into account before distributing the power to the wheels.

What's the Difference Between a Front and Rear Differential?

In this case, what matters is what kind of car you have.  If you drive front-wheel drive (FWD), the differential will be operating near the transmission.  If you have a rear wheel drive (RWD), the differential will be housed in between the back wheels.  This is how the engine will then power the turn.  

How To Tell If You Need a New Axle or Differential?

Having a damaged differential or axle is extremely dangerous and should be fixed immediately.  With either of these parts malfunctioning, The standout signs that an axle or differential is having issues are,
  • Strange, clunking noises coming from the wheels when accelerating or turning.
  • Leaking oil and going through oil more frequently. 
  • There is unexplainable damage to your tires. 
  • Brake pads are not in alignment.