When the topic of car fluid comes up, most people immediately think of engine oil and coolant; few spare a second thought on differential fluid.
That’s many beginners’ mistakes, too, but it has a say in your car’s stability and traction and needs frequent flush as well.
So when should I change my differential fluid? For those plagued by these questions, huge congrats; you have come to the right place.
In this article:
What Is Differential and Differential Fluid?
Our cars are subjected to a common principle when going around corners: the outer wheels cover more lanes than the inside.
While some might argue this difference barely matters, they forget that cars are supposed to be precise; any small variation can wreak insane havoc on its system in the long term.
And the differential – the small device installed in the drivetrain – makes up for such differences, ensuring no skidding or slipping accidents can occur. Differential fluids keep them lubricated for optimal performance and engine power, improving stability/ traction for every turn.
How Often Does Differential Fluid Need To Be Changed?
You should replace them every 30,000 to 60,000 miles (3 to 4 years). Since they have no filters, differential fluids do not require frequent changes.
However, signals of bad fluid tend to rear their ugly heads at the most inappropriate timings; if one of these symptoms manifests on your car, you have to change the fluid sooner than the 60,000-mile benchmark:
Signs Of Bad Fluid
1. Whining Transmission or Differential
Failing/bad gear oil often goes hand in hand with noisy differential and transmission. More specifically, the severe lack of proper lubrication causes the gears to howl or whine at every turn – and only get louder as you increase your driving speed.
Such symptoms are easy to recognize. Have your car inspected soon to keep serious damage at bay.
2. Transmission/Gearbox Slipping or Jerking
Jerking transmission might stem from numerous other reasons; however, that does not give you an excuse to rule out the possibility of low or bad differential fluid.
Open the lid to check whether the fluid is contaminated or dropped too low. And if topping/adding the fluid still can’t fix the issue, bring your car to a service shop for a thorough transmission inspection; it seems something much more serious is at play.
3. Burning Smells From The Differential Housing Cover
Another telltale signal of rancid oil is the burning gearbox/differential smell. There are several possible scenarios:
- The smell comes from oil leaks at the old seal; back then, I even spotted noticeable reddish stains under my parking spot.
- It might be the result of overheating gearboxes/poor lubrication. Too-old differential fluid cannot lubricate rotating parts correctly, causing your car’s metal components to melt oil at high temperatures.
Replacing the differential fluid should do the job; if it fails, you might want to consider inspecting the seals or gaskets.
How Much Does It Cost to Change Differential Fluids? Price Comparison
There are no expensive repairs – usually about $180. And this number is for both rear and front fluid changes. Suppose you only wish to purchase new oil for the front or the rear; then the prices will be cut in half, stooping at $75 to $100.
I have had my differential fluids replaced in varied auto chains and managed to compile a brief price chart of the most popular services. Scour through options to land on the most financially-convenient location:
Can You Change Differential Fluids On Your Own to Save Cost?
Yes, you can. Provided you already have the required tools (jack stand, fluid pump, etc.), changing them at home should be a breeze.
Many drivers still prefer to have it done by automotive technicians for the sake of convenience. After all, these changes are only required every 4 years.
Other Tips to Maintain The Differential
Avoid rough terrains anytime you can keep the differential from unnecessary risks; excessive abuse will wear it down faster than you ever imagined!
Also, keep a regular maintenance schedule, and check the gear lubricants once every few months to confirm nothing unusual is going on.
Does Changing Differential Fluid Improve Performance?
Yes, as the contact between metal parts is smoothed out.
Does Differential Fluid Affect Steering?
Yes. Thin rear differential fluids are even proven to increase steering power and traction in intense competitions.
Although most car differentials do not demand regular fluid change intervals to stay at peak condition, you should still keep an eye out for abnormal symptoms. Have these severe service issues fixed as soon as possible, and contact me or your truck manufacturer if unexpected issues occur.