Locking differentials are a popular upgrade for off-road 4×4s. Multiple midsize pickups and heavy-duty trucks feature front and rear locking differentials from the factory. But only one light-duty full-size pickup truck offers a locking front differential: the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra.
What vehicles come from the factory with a locking differential?
Most truck and SUV manufacturers offer a locking rear differential option. Some off-road-ready trims feature a rear locking differential standard: these include the Jeep Mojave, Toyota TRD Pro, Ford Raptor, and Ram 1500 TRX. But a locking front differential is reserved for elite 4x4s such as the Rubicon, Power Wagon, G Wagon, AT4X, and ZR2.
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Factory locking differentials are relatively rare, even for 4×4 vehicles. One reason for this is that many off-road enthusiasts immediately swap stock axles for beefier axles, and add locking differentials at the same time. Many of these 4×4 fans prefer heavy-duty air-powered lockers to the electronic lockers automakers offer.
Only the most capable off-road vehicles come from the factory with lockers. This includes legendary names like the Mercedes-Benz G Wagon or Jeep’s top-trim Wrangler: the Rubicon. When you see a vehicle with a locking front differential, you know it means off-road business.
Do trucks have differential locks?
Many automakers claim to build capable off-road trucks, and while the Tundra TRD Pro, the Ford Raptor, and the Ram 1500 TRX have a locking rear differential, they don’t offer one up front. A locking front differential is prized for low-speed rock crawling, but the only full-size light-duty pickup truck manufacturer offering it is General Motors.
All the full-size pickup truck manufacturers offer an electronic locking rear differential option. You can order one on the Nissan Titan, the Toyota Tundra, the Ford F-150, and the Ram 1500.
Some elite off-road packages come with both front and rear locking differentials; this includes the heavy-duty Dodge Ram Power Wagon, and the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. But other top-trim-off road trucks skip the front locker altogether. These include the Ram 1500 TRX, the Ford Raptor, and the Tundra TRD Pro.
The only full-size light-duty trucks you can order from the factory with a locking front differential are made by General Motors. They are the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X and the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2.
Do you need a locking front differential?
Advanced limited-slip and automatic lockers are nearly as good as manual lockers. Driver aids on trucks such as the Toyota TRD Pro can prevent wheelspin using the ABS. But some off-roaders still prefer the precise control afforded by a locking front differential.
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High-speed desert racing trucks probably don’t need a locking front differential. Trucks like this are limited by suspension travel and the number of gears, not by traction. For this reason, the Ford F-150 Raptor, Ram 1500 TRX, and Jeep Gladiator Mojave were purpose-built, without front lockers.
Engineers have been improving alternatives to locking differentials for years. One solution is the limited-slip differential which prevents one wheel from spinning much faster than the opposite wheel. For example, you can order a Torsen limited-slip in a Ford Raptor.
Land Rover uses similar technology in its “automatic locking” differentials which lock up once you get stuck. Until recently, General Motors also offered automatic locking differentials in its trucks instead of its current electronically locking differentials.
In addition, many off-road vehicle manufacturers are exploring driver aids that use your ABS braking system to prevent tire spin. The 2022 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro’s multi-terrain select (MTS) system detects wheel spin and slows the spinning wheel automatically. Some reviewers tested the Toyota system and reported not even engaging the locking rear differential, and not needing a front locker.
Get a peek at the all-new GMC 1500 Sierra AT4X in the video below: