What is a Differential Locker? Learn from the Experts!

A red Ford Endeavour driving uphill

With summer now in full swing, everyone is ready to take their four wheel drive vehicles out for a spin, whether it be for a day out on the dunes or a road trip through the bush. Therefore, it’s time to make sure your vehicle is ready for anything. This may include installing a differential locker (diff locker) for the first time or replacing your current one.

There are several different differential lockers, each operating slightly differently to help prepare your vehicle for the optimum four wheel drive experience. It can be hard to know which diff locker will suit your vehicle, but have no fear; the experts at DBS Perth are here to help!

What is a differential locker, and why do I need one?

A differential locker can significantly increase the performance of your four wheel drive in certain conditions.

Differential lockers are needed if you plan to four wheel drive on surfaces other than sealed or hard roads.

As you may know, when you are four wheel driving, different tyres have different levels of traction to varying times due to the unevenness of the surface – for example, if you are driving over gravel and sand. The primary purpose of a differential locker is to make both wheels spin simultaneously, regardless of which tyre has more traction.

What is the difference between a differential locker and an open differential?

Open differentials will allow whichever tyre has the least amount of traction to spin. Although this attribute of an open differential is ideal on hard roads, it can cause issues in some situations four wheel drivers may find themselves in.

Therefore, if you plan to four wheel drive on uneven or softer surfaces, we encourage you to look into differential lockers.

Different Types of Differential Lockers

  • Air Diff Lockers
  • A diff locker that uses compressed air from an onboard source to keep gears locked together with a locking collar.
  • Electric Diff Lockers
  • A diff locker that uses an electromagnet to pull to roller cams apart and then pushes heavy pins into the side gear of the differential to lock them together. This does not rely on an outside source of power.

What is the difference between an air diff locker and an electric diff locker?

The main difference between an air and an electric diff locker is how the diff locker is activated.

The air locker is activated generally using an onboard air compressor. Due to the nature of the design, air lockers are positive locking and do not require the tyre to rotate before locking.

However, the electric locker uses an electromagnet on a camlock system, which requires the differential assembly to rotate a bit before locking.

Both diff lockers have their advantages and disadvantages.

The E-Lockers require fewer components to function (i.e. no air compressor) and are generally lower maintenance as there are no seals that can leak due to age/wear and tear.

However, the air lockers generally have stronger internals. Therefore, if the vehicle already has an onboard air compressor to pump up the vehicle’s tyres, then an air locker is a solid choice.

To read more about the debate between air and electric lockers – click here!

How do differential lockers compare to my factory fitted LSD (Limited Slip Differential)?

The majority of four wheel drives are fitted with a limited slip differential (LSD) when you purchase them.

Some factory fitted LSDs are great for all types of four wheel driving. For example, the mechanical clutch type factory LSD in Nissan Patrols.

However, some factory fitted LSDs are not up to the task of four wheel driving and are intended for sealed or hard road surfaces. If this is all you intend to use your 4WD for, then the factory fitted LSD may suffice.

Differential lockers, such as the air and electric lockers, are known as “Positive Locking.” This means that once they are engaged, both wheels spin at the same time, the differential locker is engaged the whole time and doesn’t allow any slip.

In a four wheel driving environment, this is ideal as both wheels always have traction. The LSD, on the other hand, does allow some slip, which will cause the vehicle to lose traction. This may cause a safety issue.

Click here to contact DBS Perth for more information!

Driveshaft Balancing Services Perth is a family-owned and operated business providing mechanical and manufacturing services to all types of vehicles, including modified cars, 4WDs, mining vehicles and heavy trucks. DBS are the premium Western Australian specialists in:

  • Drift shafts
  • Truck shafts
  • CV Joints
  • Differentials
  • Testing and Diagnostics
  • Mechanical servicing

If you are looking for mechanical services that you can trust, look no further than the experts at DBS Perth.

Just give us a call on 08 9249 9778, and our experienced team will be happy to talk through your needs and ensure we find the ideal solution for your vehicle at a competitive price!


Need a price?

Contact DBS today for experience you can rely on and service you can trust.

We are happy to quote you on services and repairs, so give us a call on (08) 9249 9778 and talk to one of our friendly team or submit your inquiry via this form and we will be in contact soon.