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When you take a corner smoothly, without your tires skipping or hopping, it’s thanks in large part to the differential fluid. So, what is differential fluid? To understand that, it helps to know more about the differential.
The differential is part of the drivetrain and helps evenly distribute power to each wheel. It compensates for the difference in distance the inner and outer wheels travel as your car goes around corners.
If you haven’t guessed already, the differential relies on differential fluid (aka gear oil or differential oil) to stay working in peak condition.
So, here’s the simple answer to what is differential fluid: It cools and lubricates the internal components of the differential to minimize wear and maximize the life of your car.
The pros at Jiffy Lube® have a more in-depth answer: It is fluid located in the axle housings and is designed to perform under high-pressure situations, rather than high temperatures like engine oil. Differential fluid is also responsible for lubricating clutch packs, bearings, and gears such as the ring and pinion gears that move power to the axles from the driveshaft.
Now that you know what is differential fluid, you may be wondering what it looks like. Think engine oil but thicker; it’s similar to fluid that’s used to lubricate manual transmission gears.
There are two basic types of differential fluid:
Mineral oil, which is a natural, crude oil-based fluid
Synthetic differential fluid, which is created with chemicals and can be fine-tuned for optimal performance
There are different needs for different vehicles, let’s dive in.
Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) vehicles use a rear differential but no front differential
A Front-Wheel-Drive (FWD) vehicle will use a differential, which is part of the transmission (transaxle)
A Four-Wheel-Drive (4WD), or All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) vehicle, will use both a front and rear differential – meaning it will utilize both front and rear differential fluids
Like many other parts of your car, the differential needs proper upkeep, so without differential fluid, your car could:
Overheat due to metal-on-metal contact (possibly causing safety issues and expensive repairs)
Have weakened gears and worn-down surfaces
When differential fluid levels are low, gears can begin to grind (which can cause differential failure). And, unlike motor oil, which works with an oil filter, differentials don’t have a filter. Meaning, when a differential experiences unwanted friction, small metal shavings or pieces can appear in the differential and may cause significant damage.
The answer depends on your car manufacturer, so it’s always best to consult your car owner’s manual for the proper service interval. (Don’t worry if you can’t find your manual. Call Jiffy Lube® and a technician can access that information for you.) Typically, you should change differential fluid every 30,000 to 50,000 miles.
If you’re not sure how often to change differential fluid and don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, Jiffy Lube has you covered. Just bring your car to one of the more than 2,000 Jiffy Lube locations nationwide.
During differential fluid service, trained Jiffy Lube technicians will drain/evacuate your differential fluid and fill with the manufacturer’s recommended type, weight, and volume. You’ll be in good hands and will be enjoying that smooth ride again very soon.
Now that you know how often to change differential fluid, learn about proper vehicle maintenance scheduling.
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Please note: Not all services are offered at each Jiffy Lube location. Please check with your local Jiffy Lube service center or visit jiffylube.com for specific services offered.