Can you drive with a bad differential? Here’s the answer

Having a bad differential can be so risky to drive a car with. Understanding the signs and symptoms of a bad differential can save drivers from many drivability problems.

A car differential is an important part that aids in handling a car’s wheel systems. The differential transmits power from the engine and vehicle transmission to the engine wheels.

Rather than the wheels turning at a similar rate, a differential gives more precise car control. It is important to check out your car if you start hearing some weird sounds and noises from wheels or unusual vibrations.

If you continue to drive with a bad front differential, it can result in an accident. The rear-wheel-drive vehicles are well equipped with a back differential. The front-wheel drives are equipped with a transaxle or front differential.

The four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive cars are fitted with rear and front differentials. However, despite the kind of differential your car is equipped with, it is important to ensure it is properly working.

So can you drive with a bad differential? Yes, you can drive with a differential but be prepared for the severe damages it could cause.

The damages can increase more so at the point of stopping abruptly. But if you want to know if you can drive with a broken differential, the answer is no. If you drive with a broken differential, then it will cause damage to the whole drivetrain system.

What are the symptoms of a bad differential?

Like many other mechanical components, a bad or failing rear differential might develop signs to hint to the driver that there is a problem.

Excessive noise

Whether rear or front, any failing differential will produce whining, humming, whining, and howling noise. The noises would change gradually during deceleration, acceleration, or when turning around a corner.

The car’s whining or humming noise results from a worn-out or damaged bearing in the carrier or axle. When it produces a howling and whining noise, it is usually a result of worn-out pinion and ring ears or worn out or damaged gears.

A pinion and ring failure is often caused when worn or scored out of adjustment.

Moreover, when there is more backlash or too much clearance between the pinion and ring, you will experience clunking sounds while shifting from parking to driving.

If you hear such noise but are unsure of what is causing the noise, you can use a telescope to detect which between a real axle and differential is causing the sounds.

Additionally, when the differential requires maintenance or service, the axle also needs inspection or services for the potential damage that can arise due to a failed rear axle bearing. Generally, too much noise is a common symptom of a bad rear axle.

Differential Failure due to lack of lubrication

The first thing you need to do is ensure that the rear differential gasket has no leaks. The next thing required is checking the leaks in the back area. The leaks can happen in the pinion gear seals, and when the leaks become worse, oil and dirt will begin accumulating below the pinion gear seals and in the area between the brake system.

Differential overheating

Differential overheating results from the use of wrong oil, worn-out gears, backlash between the pinion and ring, poor lubrication, and too much preload while pulling a heavy load, trailer, or equipment. The heating of the differential is the major sign of low brake fluid.

Challenges in handling the wheels

In most cases, if you experience difficulties handling the wheels, more so in a corner. If you experience that, it is advisable to inspect the differential and other surrounding parts like the universal bearing and propeller.


Vibrations are common symptoms of differential problems. If not, then it is related to automotive. If you experience any vibration, it is important to inspect the differential issues.

What might happen if you drive with a bad differential?

If you drive with a bad differential, the differential is likely to cause more damage, and the problem might become worse while stopping abruptly. Moreover, the whole drive drain system will be damaged.

What makes a differential go bad

A differential is a simple mechanical device, and a few things could make it fail. They include:

  • Lack of oil
  • Using the wrong oil type
  • Normal wear and tear
  • Driving recklessly

How long can you drive with a failing or noisy differential?

You can drive with a bad differential, but not for too long. But generally, you can use it for a period between ten days to ten years. This will greatly depend on the bearing’s condition. But if the differential’s condition is worse, it is important to replace it as early as possible.

What happens when your differential goes out while driving?

If a car differential goes out while driving, it will produce strange sounds. There will be whirring, growling, howling, and whining noises that increase or reduce when accelerating or decelerating the vehicle.

When the universal differential joints go out or wear while driving, vibrations will be felt from the drive shaft. These vibrations increase upon stepping on the gas pedal to accelerate the car.

Moreover, the vibration will worsen when there are leaks in the differential fluid.

How much does it cost to fix a differential?

Fixing differential costs between two hundred to four hundred dollars depending on the vehicle model and make. However, if the car has more severe damage that needs to be overhauled or dismantled, the cost will be around $400 to $800 for repair costs.


Differential Problems are common problems that most drivers face. They Can be caused by various things like lack of enough oil, reckless driving, and using the wrong oil, among others.

These can lead to symptoms like vibration and various sounds while driving. If you want to increase the life of your rear differential, here are the tips to use. Drive safely, use the only recommended oil and carry out a scheduled oil change.

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