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What Is a Differential in Cars?

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 15/04/2024

To use and maintain their cars to their best, vehicle owners need to learn some crucial terms related to the functioning and performance of their beloved vehicle, such as the differential in the car. This is one of the most used terminologies in automobiles. But what is the differential in a car?

It is the critical component in automobiles that enables vehicles to navigate turns smoothly with optimal traction. In simple words, it allows wheels to turn or rotate at varying speeds by distributing power efficiently.

As simple as it seems, the process behind the car differential gear is complicated. In this blog, we will learn all about the differential and types of differential in automobiles.

What is Differential in Cars?

The differential in a car or automobile is a component or gears that allows vehicle wheels to rotate at different speeds at the time of turning. The function of the component is to distribute power evenly to ensure stable and smooth cornering, even on varied road surfaces.

The car differential gear is located at the middle or centre of the rear axle. This gear allows wheels to turn at varying speeds while maintaining torque.

Why Differentials are Needed in Automobiles?

If the differential gear is missing from the car, it can cause the vehicle to slip and drag. In other words, the vehicle will not turn properly. Further, all the power goes to one wheel, which can cause traction or handling issues that could lead to significant vehicle damage.

Differentials in cars also adjust the power that goes to each vehicle. This becomes equally important in slippery conditions when drivers need to maintain control of the vehicle.

Not just this, the car differential gear also helps in hauling or towing the vehicle. When a heavy weight is towed by a vehicle, it can cause the back wheel to sag. It changes the angle of the driveshaft, which further changes the position of the pinion gear.

It means without differential gear, vehicle safety can be compromised. This is why a differential is needed in cars or automobiles.

Types of Differential in Automobiles

Differentials in cars are classified into 4 types:

Open Differential: This is one of the most used car differential types. It is the differential gear that helps wheels receive different torque while cornering. This kind of car differential gear works smoothly on a proper road with good condition. However, when a car wheel comes to a slippery road, cornering becomes difficult.

Limited Slip Differential: This car differential type shares the torque evenly with wheels like an open differential. However, the difference is when sharing the power on wheels, when the traction is zero or less on one wheel, it offers more power to the wheel that has more on-load traction.

Due to this, even on the slippery road, the vehicles keep on moving. This type of differential gear is generally employed in high-performance vehicles or race cars.

Locking Differentials: Another car differential type is a locking differential, which is similar to an open differential in function and design. This means that in this differential, the engine torque is also distributed between the wheels equally.

However, as the name suggests, in this differential, a manual or electronic lock is used to create a fixed axle. This helps in providing increased traction and better grip to the wheel. This type of differential is good for off-road vehicles.

Torque Vectoring Differential: This is one of the most advanced differential technologies in automobiles. In this type of differential, the power distribution is managed electronically.

This car differential gear uses sensors to assess the different conditions such as throttle position, steering wheel, road condition and more.

Once the system gets the proper understanding, then with the help of controllers and clutches, it distributes the torque to the wheels.

How Differential in Car Works?

To understand how a differential works in a car, it is essential to know that it has two working mechanisms. This means that the differential working is different for a vehicle going in a straight line and different for a vehicle approaching a corner. Let us understand both in detail:

**Vehicle Going Straight:**When the automobile moves in a straight line, both the wheels on the rear side move with equal speed. In that case, all the units, such as gears, ring cage, and pinion, work as a single unit.

Further, the axle shaft at the side of the differential also moves at similar angular speed. Due to this, both wheels cover equal distance and move in a straight line.

Vehicle Approaching Corner: When the automobile takes a turn or corner, the differential working is different. For instance, the vehicle is taking a right turn. In that case, the right wheel has to cover less distance than the left wheel.

In that case, the differential gears will enhance the rotational speed of the left wheel to some extent and reduce the speed of the right wheel. By doing this, the car will turn to the right side smoothly.


The differential in cars is a crucial component and offers several advantages, such as manoeuvrability, speed variation, traction, and more. Driving a vehicle without a differential or with a damaged differential can be dangerous. The car differential gear can be complex to understand, and it requires proper maintenance and repair.

Need for Car Insurance Policy

Another crucial thing vehicle owners need to know is that driving a vehicle without third-party car insurance in India is a criminal offence. In that case, vehicle owners must pay an applicable fine to the authority. Further, in rare cases, it also leads to three months imprisonment.

Third-party car insurance protects vehicles in case of third-party or property damage. However, to get the maximum coverage against natural and man-made damage, individuals need to consider purchasing a comprehensive car insurance policy.

Tata AIG offers four-wheeler insurance plans that cater to individual-specific needs. To learn more, explore the Tata AIG website.


?Do you need a differential in a car?

Yes, it is an essential component of the four-wheeler that allows vehicles to rotate at varying speeds while turning.

?What happens when the car's differential fails??

If the differential in the car is damaged or faulty, it can cause damage to the vehicle.

?Why is car differential gear used??

The function of the differential gear is to transmit power to the wheel and allow the wheels to turn at varying speeds.

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