Four-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, you might have wondered what it means. It’s a simple indicator of where the differential is placed in the vehicle. Differentials hold a significant amount of importance when it comes to driving.

When you go left or right, making hard turns the wheels should have different torque, speed, and power to make it possible and safe for you to drive and it’s the differential that makes all these possible.

So what happens when you have a bad differential, what to expect and how to resolve the issue? Let’s have a look.

Can you drive with a bad rear & front differential? 

It is technically possible to drive even if the rear and front differential are in the worst shape but it is most likely to add on more complications in the long run. So willing to risk it all just to save money or time on minor repairs is not wise at all. It is best to keep an eye on upkeep. 

Can you drive with a bad differential? 

Yes, driving with a bad differential is technically possible but it has extreme drawbacks in the long run. A differential in the car, truck, and other vehicles are placed there to transfer the engine power to the wheels and achieve a certain speed, torque, or assist in making hard turns.

So, it is fair to say that the role of a differential in a truck or car is quite significant. 

Now if your differential is broken or malfunctions while driving and you need to reach the mechanic shop to repair it, in such a case you might rely on your luck and try to reach for help.

Driving to the repair shop with a bad differential to fix it might hold some risk but if you are ignoring or delaying the repair and driving to your work, home, the school with a car or truck with a bad differential then you are putting your life on the line.

If you get into an accident and if the investigation finds out that you knew about your vehicle problem and ignored it then you are up for a great deal of trouble. So it’s better to call for a tow truck and get to the repair shop to fix your vehicle.

Can you drive with a bad rear differential?

Yes, driving with a bad differential is feasible but not recommended. Rear differentials are there to transfer engine power to the front axle and wheels.

Now a differential is not there to control only the speed, it also plays an equal role in making hard turns and keeping the torque balanced.

Now driving with a bad rear differential is more likely to cause problems, making hard turns or controlling the overall speed can prove to be almost impossible.

So it’s up to you to decide whether you would like to drive a car that has a high probability of losing control any moment of the time or fix the issue with the differential.

Can you drive with a bad front differential?

It’s highly discouraged to try driving while your front differential is in a bad condition. Most of the cars might not have front-wheel drive so no front differential but there are cars with a four-wheel-drive which means both front and rear differentials are present.

Nowadays, it’s recorded that people who are driving with bad front differential are more likely to have faced their engines getting burned and other fire hazards.

It’s obvious that if the front differential gets on fire it won’t take much to reach the engine and create a destructive and devastating fire. Engine oil, brake fluid, electrical fuse all can ignite and spread the fire pretty easily.

So driving with a bad front differential can bring a lot of misfortune.

Is it dangerous to drive with a bad differential? 

Yes, it is extremely dangerous to drive with a bad differential. A bad differential will not be able to balance the torque, so making turns is going to be quite risky with such vehicles.

It won’t be able to control the speed and if it’s stuck in a certain gear then it might make it almost impossible to control the car.

What happens if you drive with a bad differential? 

It is not that surprising to expect the worst if you are dealing with a bad or worn-out differential. Some common phenomena after having a bad differential are given below: 

Getting stuck:

if you are trying to start a car with a broken differential, it will surely start and give you the usual vroom-vroom noise but it will neither go forward or backward.

So getting stuck is most common and in some cases the safest thing that can happen to you.

Losing control:

Now, let’s look at the scenario when a differential goes bad while driving. A broken differential means you have lost all control on how much speed your car is going to be on the road.

It might go at a constant speed if the broken differential and gear are stuck. You can’t go up or down on the gears, even hitting the brake might not be that much useful to lower your speed. No doubt it is quite dangerous to lose control over the speed while driving.

Fire hazard:

the worst-case scenario for a bad differential is igniting a fire and reaching all the way to the fuel tank. Losing control over the speed and having to deal with the fire reaching the fuel tank while driving is nothing but a disaster waiting to occur. 

How long can you drive with a bad differential?

Maximum 1 or 2 miles, as ignoring or delaying the issue any longer can cause serious damage to all the connected parts. How long you can drive with a bad differential completely depends on the magnitude of the damage and the conditions of the differential.

If it’s a broken gear tooth you might feel significant vibration while driving. There could be fluid leaks and clanking noise, in such conditions you can drive to your nearest repair shop. However, if the axle is broken then it’s better to tow it. 

How much does it cost to fix a differential?

The repair cost is going to vary according to the extent of the shape and conditions of the differential. Changing bearing, repairing seal, complete fluid change might cost $150 to almost $300.

But if your differential has received tremendous damage then you would have no better option but to change it altogether, it might cost you a hefty amount almost up to $2000.

How much does it cost to replace a differential?

Rear differential:

usually it costs $800 to $1000 to get the job done. 

Front differential

same price range as the rear differential. If you search differential parts online you might find them in the $300 to $500 range but when a differential gets bad, other connected parts receive minor damage.

You will also have to add on the labor cost. In a favorable situation, it might take $1000 to $1500. But in the worst-case scenario, it might cost almost up to $3000 to $4000.

Can you drive without a rear differential? 

If you own a car with a front-wheel-drive then certainly you can drive without a rear differential. If you have a four-wheel-drive car then you can remove the differential in case of emergency and the front differential would be enough to drive you to your destination.

However, if you have a rear-wheel-drive car then you can’t move, make turns without your differential.

What does a bad differential sound like? 

From a bad differential, you can expect a high pitch whining or clunking noise. It will be a sharp noise, it might indicate a lack of lubrication or a broken part.

Can a bad differential cause vibration? 

Yes, a bad differential can cause annoying vibrations while you are driving on the road. A mild vibration usually means the differential lacks lubrication, needs a fluid change, and has few minor repairs.

If the vibration is on a massive scale then there might be parts broken inside which need immediate attention.

Can a bad differential cause power loss? 

Yes, a bad differential won’t be able to transfer the power it received from the engine. It might not move the wheels in your desired direction, making turns will be kind of impossible.

The speed will get affected, the torque will be imbalanced, and certainly, it will cause significant power loss.

Final thoughts

Even if the rear and front differentials are in bad shape, it’s technically possible to drive, but this will cause further issues in the long run. It’s not a smart idea to put everything on the line just to save money or time on maintenance, it’s kind of necessary to achieve optimal performance.

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