Tech Corner: Don’t Be Intimidated by Off-Road Differential Gear Upgrade

Pro Comp Tire A/T Sport

Tech Corner - IntermediateWe’re pounding you with a heavy topic first thing in the morning…before that strong cup of coffee nonetheless. Differential gear and carriers are an essential part of an off-road vehicle’s performance. We all know how the axle is set up can seriously impact the characteristics of the entire platform. Everyone loves the idea of getting a differential properly established, but it can be a big deal for newcomers. It’s crucial to select and install everything just right. Otherwise, the ride quality can suffer greatly and parts will get chewed up fast. So for those who want to get past the initial fear of the jump, let’s talk about some of the steps shop owners, DIYers, and consumers need to keep in mind when tackling the differential.

Before moving to the ring and pinon, always try to understand the carrier you’re working with. This holds true whether you’re doing the project in a garage, working over the counter with a customer, or simply giving advice for a potential build. Once you know what type of carrier you’re working with, then compare the ends to the means.

Determine Your Needs

If traction is an issue, the differential carrier should be updated or replaced. We reached out to Dan Guyer for his input on this matter. You may be familiar with him as one of Keystone Automotive’s outside sales representatives, but he is also very well versed with off-road traction. “Pleasing the customer for their needs is of the absolute utmost importance … You really have to get a good understanding of what the customer wants versus their budget,” says Guyer.

The key is to look at the vehicle’s lifestyle. If the vehicle is driven daily, going beyond a limited slip really isn’t a must. A lot of Jeeps and trucks already come with these types of carriers, in which case you can move onto the ring gear. If, however, a customer is spending a lot of time off road, a locker-style setup is the way to go. Then the idea is to balance the carrier into the budget. “If the guy has an unlimited budget, go right to air lockers. That’s the first thing you do because it’s the best of both worlds,” adds Guyer.

In our conversation with Guyer, he revealed that in many cases customers with dirt-bound rigs are really going to need a ring gear upgrade. “You’re talking to a customer and they say ‘Man, my Jeep doesn’t have any power,’ … that guy just needs to re-gear. He’s just looking to get his power back.” This often happens because the first thing anyone wants to do when building an off-road vehicle is put bigger tires on it. But do this and the performance is going to seem a lot more sluggish. This is because it takes more work to get those tires up to speed.

Do Your Homework

When chasing power, you will always be going to a lower gear. Again, as a seller or consumer, you want to steer away from committing overkill on a daily driver. And of course, budget needs to be kept in mind. “Every differential, besides I think the Ford 9″, has a carrier break. Depending on the gear choice, you might have to pick a new carrier,” states Guyer. He used a Dana setup as a great point of reference. “With a Dana 60, a 4.10 and numerically lower number are one carrier, anything 4.56 and up is another carrier.” So investing in a super low gear may not be that simple. You might wind up investing in a carrier to support it, which can blow the budget wide open.

If You Don’t Think You Have the Skills… Don’t Try This at Home

“The homework pales in comparison to the installation and this is what steers most guys away,” shares Guyer. Though there is a learning curve, it’s really nothing a trained hand can’t take on. However, there’s no shame in seeking professional help. As a shop owner, if selling the components is something you’re after but you can’t get involved with installation, it’s a good idea to arm yourself by teaming up with an installer who is willing to take on the work. This is a great business relationship to have. And if a buyer wants to have a professional take on the work, you can easily point them in the right direction. Once the differential is in, there’s only one thing left to do. Get out and blast away with your favorite 4×4.

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