Click for Coverage
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler
Subscribe to the Free
Newsletter
X

Locking and Limited-Slip Differentials Buyer's Guide: Stop That One-Wheel Peel!

Posted in Product Reviews on February 7, 2018
Share this
Photographers: Courtesy of the manufactures

It’s a common occurrence when driving off-road. You press the gas pedal only to see one of your drive wheels on each axle sitting motionless while the other spins. Is the axle broken? Hopefully not. You’re just suffering from a case of open differentials—standard equipment on many 4x4s. Open differentials are helpful on pavement, allowing your vehicle’s inner and outer wheels to spin at different speeds when cornering. Take them off-road, however, and they can spell disaster when one wheel finds its way into the air or a mud puddle. How do we solve this dreadful differential dilemma? Thankfully we have a wide selection of traction aids you can install on your 4x4.

Lock ’Em Up
The simplest way of stopping wheelspin in low-traction situations is to lock the differential, ensuring both axleshafts spin at the same rate. Locking differentials come standard in some 4x4s, but often it is necessary to install your own. Most lockers are engaged with the flip of an electric or pneumatic actuator—hit the button and your axle is now locked. Why do you want one? They stay out of your way until you need them, most acting as open differentials until actuated. The downside? These lockers are often more expensive and involve electric, air, or cable systems—all items that can potentially fail. Other lockers are automatic (also called lunchbox or drop-in lockers) and require no driver input to work their magic. Instead, these lockers remain engaged during normal driving, only uncoupling during turns, but also keeping wheels from spinning independently when one gets into a slippery situation.

ARB Air Locker
This pneumatic locker delivers 100 percent traction when you want it—meaning it is an open differential until you flip the switch, locking the two axleshafts together. Air compressors are sold separately and can power anywhere from only one locker to a front and rear locker, along with packing the pneumatic punch to refill all your rig’s tires with air.
Fitment: Options for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: arbusa.com

Nitro Gear & Axle LunchBox Locker
Packaged inside a box that looks like a…lunchbox, this automatic locker kit is ready to turn any tire-spinning open differential into a locked-up, traction-oozing gem. Grab your toolbox and show your spider gears to the door.
Fitment: Options for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: nitro-gear.com

Chilkat Designs E-Locker Cable Conversion
Attention Toyota owners! Tired of your electronically actuated electronic locker fizzling out on the trail? Chilkat Designs has removed a point of failure from the electronic locker system and replaced it with a hand-crafted and repairable cable actuator. Now you can stop worrying about electronic issues on the trail and lock your axle with the throw of a lever or the two-inch pull of a dashboard knob.
Fitment: Toyota 8-, 8.4-, and 9-inch axles.
Info: chilkatdesigns.com

Spartan Locker
This automatic locker replaces the factory spider gears with 9310 chromoly drivers and couplers, allowing axles to lock in slippery conditions while still maintaining its manners when turning on the pavement. The Spartan Locker is simple enough to install in your driveway and is recommended for lighter vehicles with 32-inch tires or smaller.
Fitment: Dana 30, 44HD, and 60 axles; Toyota 7.5- and 8-inch axles; GM 12-bolt axles; and more.
Info: ringpinion.com

Eaton ELocker4
This electronically actuated locker from Eaton is one of the fastest engaging out there at 0.14 seconds. During normal driving conditions it acts like an open differential, but when the dashboard button is activated, the locker springs to life and the four-pinion gear mechanism instantly locks the axle. Available for front and rear differentials and operates in both forward and reverse.
Fitment: Options for most common trucks and SUVs.
Info: eaton.com

OX Locker
Known for the cable-actuated locker, OX offers a high-traction solution for your 4x4 that doesn’t involve pneumatic hoses, compressors, or electric shenanigans. The differential’s internal shifting mechanism is 100 percent mechanical and features a shift fork—much like that found in manual transmissions, said to eliminate common pneumatic and electronic failure points in locking differentials. Though the company’s flagship product is the cable-actuated locker, pneumatic and electronic options are offered as well. Another unique goodie from Ox is the Drive Away Lock, designed to manually lock your differential should the shifting mechanism suffer trail damage. Screw the device into the differential cover to manually activate the locker in a pinch.
Fitment: Dana 30, 35, 44, 60 axles; Ford 8.8-, 10.25-, and 10.5-inch axles; GMC 10-bolt axles; and more.
Info: ox-usa.com

Aussie Locker
Proven around the globe from the Land Down Under to the red rocks of Moab, Utah, the Aussie Locker is designed simple, tough, and ready to keep your 4x4 spinning all four tires in all conditions. This locker installs easily and gives the traction of a selectable locker without the added failure points of cables, air compressors, or wiring. Comes with a two-year warranty with no restrictions on tire size or horsepower.
Fitment: Options for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: torqmasters.com

Auburn ECTED Max
Two methods of traction-adding gadgetry are combined in the ECTED Max. During normal use, the differential plays the role of a limited slip. When more grip is needed, activate the in-cab switch and the axle becomes fully locked. Also available in open-to-lock varieties, where the differential behaves like an open differential until it is actuated, locking the axle. For applications ranging from everyday street use to brutal off-roading, the selectable traction options will keep you moving forward.
Fitment: Dana 30, 35, 44, and 60 axles, and more.
Info: auburngear.com

Torq Locker
Whether your flavor of wheeling is sand drags, rock bouncing, or towing a trailer on the weekends, the Torq Locker packs the traction-boosting made-in-the- USA punch needed to get you and your rig where you want to go. All the failure-prone dowel pins were removed from the design and Torq-Masters tells us that the cam gears will never shear. This locker is known for smooth engagement, eliminating the common “pop” associated with automatic locker engagement.
Fitment: Options available for 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-ton Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge axles, and more.
Info: torqmasters.com

TJM Pro Locker
Lloyd Taylor, Cliff Jones, and Steve Mollenhauer put their initials together back in the ’70s when they started manufacturing 4x4 equipment in Australia. Now they’ve shifted into the differential market with the Pro Locker. The pneumatically actuated locker comes with a limited lifetime warranty and is ready to put power to both wheels on an axle.
Fitment: Options for Jeep Cherokee, TJ and JK Wranglers, Land Rovers, Toyota axles, and more.
Info: tjmusa.com

Powertrax Lock-Right
Want the traction of a spool but also need the streetability of an open differential? The Lock-Right takes the place of your traction-sucking spider gears without requiring any changes to the ring-and-pinion setup in your differential—just drop it in and go!
Fitment: Options for many early- and late-model 4x4s.
Info: powertrax.com

Yukon Grizzly
This automatic locking differential features solid 8620 alloy steel internals, redesigned tech to eliminate common failure points, and a roaring behemoth of a bear on the box.
Fitment: Options for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: yukongear.com

G2 Core Locker
With a forged cap and heavy-duty ductile iron body, this pneumatically actuated locker from G2 is the epitome of reliability. In the event of a failure, the Core Locker comes equipped with a differential cover and manual override to get you safely back off the trails.
Fitment: Dana 30, 35, 44, and 60 axles; Toyota 8-inch axles; Ford 8.8-inch axles; and more.
Info: g2axle.com

Limit the Slip
Though they cannot truly lock the axles, limited-slip differentials will help divert power to the wheel with the most traction, should one tire begin spinning in mud or snow. Internal mechanisms range from worm gears to clutch packs and do their jobs automatically—no need to press any buttons or install air or electric hookups.

Wavetrac Limited-Slip Differential
Wavetrac is a maintenance-free, customizable, and innovative solution to the conventional open differential. This limited-slip differential uses a patented Wavetrac cam device to transfer torque to the wheel with traction, stopping the zero-axle load condition.
Fitment: Dana 30, Ford 8.8- and 9-inch axles, and more.
Info: wavetrac.net

Detroit Truetrac
Helical gears inside this limited-slip differential begin meshing together when one wheel experiences a loss of traction, increasing force until wheelspin is slowed or stopped completely. Once the vehicle returns to terra firma, the differential handles as if it were open, allowing one wheel to spin faster or slower through turns. So you can spend more time on the dirt and less time in the garage, this limited slip is built with no wearable parts and requires no maintenance.
Fitment: Options for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: eaton.com

Powertrax Grip Lok
Need a limited-slip differential that can stand up to your rig’s 550hp output? Powertrax built the Grip Lok to combine the power of an automatic locker with the strength of a fully machined forged steel case. Powertrax tells us this is the strongest differential in the lineup and is ready for your wildest wheeling dreams.
Fitment: Options for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: powertrax.com

G2 Limited-Slip Differential
When you need increased traction for your 4x4 but don’t want any of the handling characteristics associated with locking differentials, G2 has you covered. Clutch and helical gear options are available based on your needs and axle requirements.
Fitment: Ford 7.5-, 8.8-, and 9.75-inch axles; Chrysler 9.25-inch axles; Dodge 10.5-inch axles; and more.
Info: g2axle.com

Nitro Helical Worm Gear Limited-Slip Differential
Since 2006, Nitro Gear & Axle has been building differential components you can depend on. The limited slip for the Dana 44 axle pictured here is no exception. The helical worm gears keep torque flowing to the wheel with the most traction, should your 4x4 get into a sloppy mudhole. Also backed by a one-year warranty.
Fitment: Options available for most trucks and SUVs.
Info: nitro-gear.com

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results