Although some engineers claim that automatic transmissions are just as capable as manuals, the stick shift still holds a special place in the hearts of many car enthusiasts. It serves to transform the driving experience by connecting the driver with the road. The locking differential, and even the manual transfer case, may soon be relegated to the same role as an upsell for off-road-buying enthusiasts. trucks and SUVs.
Automatic locking differentials
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For years, Chevrolet truck buyers who selected a locking differential didn’t get a manual locking differential that they could control. Instead, GM equipped these 4x4s with a G80 or “auto-locking” differential. Unlike a limited-slip differential, the G80 actually locks the left and right wheels together after it detects that one has started to slip. But it does so without controller intervention, according to LC Engineering.
Land Rover is also a pioneer in automatic lockers. This automaker calls its technology “active locking.” Like GM’s 4WD, Land Rovers equipped with Active Locking Differentials lock the left and right wheels together when you start to lose traction.
There are more factory lockers available than ever before
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For generations, off-road enthusiasts have been modifying their 4x4s with manual locking differentials. You might think that the advancement of auto-locking differentials would hurt manual locker sales. But the result has been the opposite.
For years, only a select few versions of trucks and SUVs came from the factory with locking differentials already installed. These were legendary nameplates like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Dodge Ram Power Wagon, or Mercedes G Wagen. But in recent model years, the number of available factory lockers has skyrocketed.
I count at least 20 separate trim levels you can order with electronic locking differentials. Most only offer a locking rear differential, but a surprising number of vehicles offer electronically locking differentials, both front and rear. There are no models that I know of that are available with an inner tube from the factory.
What is the reason for the increase in factory-installed manual lockers? It may simply be because 4×4 enthusiasts crave more control over their off-road experience, even if an auto locker could do the job.
See a partial list of factory 4x4s with locking differentials.
The rise of full-time 4x4s
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All-wheel drive has a bad rap. Early AWD systems could limit one wheel spin, but there were certain situations that called for a real locker. Some traditional 4WD systems lock the front and rear axle together and therefore can provide a bit more traction. (But without a locker, they don’t lock the wheels from left to right.)
Over the years, car manufacturers have gotten more and more good at creating systems that can prevent wheel spin in almost any condition. One major improvement has been a Multiple Terrain Select (MTS) system that essentially locks the wheels together sooner if you tell it you’re driving off-road with poor traction.
Many of these systems also activate the vehicle’s brakes to stop wheel slip. The result is an incredibly capable off-roader, even with very little driver input.
However, when automakers install these new systems on some top-tier SUVs, they don’t refer to them as AWD. Both the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX, for example, are advertised with full-time 4WD instead of AWD. But one unique feature of these new trucks is that they have retained their Hi/Lo manual transfer case, just without any 2WD setup.
Below, learn more about the differences between AWD and full-time 4WD, or find out if you need a locking differential in the video below:
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