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
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.
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?
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.
*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.
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.