Upgrading Your Wrangler's Differential

Upgrading Your Wrangler's Differential

Last Updated January 6, 2020 | Sam Padgett

Survivors of a calculus class may shiver upon hearing the word differential. For off-roaders, however, the word differential may cause them to salivate. The differential is one of the most important parts of any 4x4 vehicle. Without one, the engine’s power couldn’t be properly distributed to where it’s needed.

If you plan on heavily modifying your Jeep Wrangler, then upgrading your differential is inevitable. If you want larger wheels and tires, a lift, or even want to fully transform your Jeep into a dedicated trail-crawling beast, a high-quality differential is necessary.

What Is a Differential?

First off, what exactly is a differential? A differential, often referred to as a “diff”, is a set of interlocking gears that changes the direction of the engine’s rotation toward the wheels. The driveshaft, which rotates along the vertical axis of the vehicle, connects to the differential, which then sends the power horizontally to the wheels.

Ring and Pinion Gears

On RWD and FWD vehicles, the differential is located solely on the rear or front axle respectively. 4WD vehicles will have two differentials, one on each axle. In between both axles is the transfer case, which doles out power evenly to both the front and rear axles.

A big part of the differential’s job on your Wrangler is to keep both of the wheels spinning at the optimal speed. When turning, the outside wheel has to travel farther than the inside. A differential allows for the outer wheel to spin faster than the inside wheel at the correct ratio. This allows your Wrangler to properly turn while not heavily degrading your tires or losing traction.

Why Upgrade Your Wrangler's Differential?

Differential Insides Exposed

So why would you want to upgrade your differential? There are a few reasons.

One of the most common reasons you find people running upgraded differentials in their Wrangler is so that they can run larger tires. Stronger or more robust diffs can prevent axles from snapping.

Additionally, running a different differential is a great way to change your Wrangler's gearing. If you want a gear ratio that is more conducive for off-roading, then changing your differential is an effective way to do so.

What Axle Does Your Wrangler Have?

A popular avenue for Wrangler owners looking to upgrade their differentials is to opt for a larger Dana axle. For clarity’s sake, they are called axles because they are an integrated unit of the shaft that transfers power to the wheels, and the differential as well. Although Every Jeep Wrangler comes equipped with a Dana axle, though the sizes will vary. Below is a chart that’ll tell you which axle your Wrangler has.

Wrangler Differentials
Model Front Rear Front Rear
YJ 30 35 N/A N/A
TJ 30 35 44 44
TJU (LJ) 30 44 44 44
JK 30 44* 44 44
JL ** 30 35 44 44

*Early versions of the JK Wrangler had a Dana 35 rear end. These were later changed to Dana 44s

**The Dana axles used on the JL Wrangler are not compatible with previous generations of Wranglers

There are aftermarket Jeep Wrangler differentials available on the market, but many Wrangler owners opt to simply move up to the larger sized Dana axle. Upgrading to the higher caliber Dana axle is generally the move. These are tried and true differentials that have been on the Wrangler for years.

Red Diff Cover

It’s unlikely that you will upgrade the differential alone. A lot of the time, Wrangler owners who are seeking a beefier differential will opt to install a full rear axle assembly instead. This way, all of the necessary parts are already included. Since you are prepping your Wrangler to handle more torque and just be tougher overall, you ought to avoid uneven upgrades. If your differential can handle the extra stress you’re putting on it, then the surrounding parts need to deal with the extra stress as well.

Differential Covers and Other Upgrades

If you aren’t quite ready to upgrade your Wrangler’s entire differential, then a differential cover could be a nice stop-gap modification. These can further protect the insides of the differential while giving the Wrangler’s rear axle a killer look.

The differential is in a particularly vulnerable spot on any off-roading vehicle, so it needs protection. Any sort of leak in your diff case can lead to serious damage to your drivetrain. Protecting your differential not only keeps it safe, but it can protect your transmission as well.

Beyond differential covers, there are individual components of your Wrangler's differential that can be replaced and upgraded as well. The ring and pinion gears and be replaced with higher pinion versions, and stronger axle shafts can be attached to the differential itself. Most of these upgrades can further increase your Wrangler's durability and allow it to withstand greater forces. If you are going to heavily invest in your rig, you'll want parts that'll last. Be sure to check out the selection of Wrangler parts we have here at CJ Off-Roads.

Upgrading Your Wrangler's Differential

If you plan on lifting your Wrangler and running larger wheels and tires, then you should consider upgrading your differential. A bigger and tougher differential is an essential part of a heavily modified off-roading rig.