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For many truck owners, the ability to go off-road and handle rugged conditions is a necessity. After all, being able to do that is just one of the many benefits of driving a pickup. In terms of off-road features, locking differentials can be a gamechanger, and you may be wondering if you should get a truck that is equipped with them. So, what exactly are locking differentials and does your truck actually need them?

What are locking differentials?

Locking differentials are a mechanical part of your vehicle’s axels that allows the inside tires to turn slower than the outside tires. This comes in handy when taking corners because it means the tires are not all spinning at the same speed. Without a differential, during a turn, your vehicle may try to keep going straight because each wheel is going the same speed. 

A Jeep Gladiator uses locking differentials to navigate off-road terrain.
Jeep Gladiator | Jeep

Where a locking differential comes in is during cases of low traction. A locker, or a locked axle, will ensure that both tires are turning no matter what the conditions are, this adds legitimate traction allowing you to handle more rugged situations. So long as your locker doesn’t break or malfunction while you are on the trail.

According to MotorTrend, there are a variety of different kinds of differentials. Each one comes with unique pros and cons. The most expensive and strongest locker is known as the full-case or full-carrier locker. These can be automatic or selectable by the driver, and they are desirable for their strength and reliability. 

Which new trucks come with a locking differential?

A range of new trucks come with standard locking differentials, these include models like the 2022 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the new Ford Raptor. Because these pickups offer standard lockers, you do not have to worry about looking to aftermarket options. Still, some folks prefer to modify their 4x4s with components that they trust. So it is possible to add a locking differential to a vehicle that did not originally come with one. 

A 2022 Nissan Frontier mid-size trucks tears up the desert. The PRO-4X has a locking differential.
Nissan Frontier | Nissan

The type of differential used in a new truck varies on the brand. For instance, in the case of General Motors, typically an automatic differential will be used. This means that the driver cannot control when the axles are locked or not. Other brands use something known as an “electronically locking” differential. This allows you to decide when you need your wheels locked. 

Do you need a locking differential to go off-road?

In terms of off-road ability, locking differentials can make a world of difference. It is for that reason that so many 4×4 enthusiasts have vehicles with them. While typically, there will be a rear locking differential, some vehicles like the Mercedes G-Wagon take it to the next level with multiple locking diffs. Of course, for most needs, that is likely overkill. 

a red g-wagon in the dirt
2019 Mercedes G-Wagon | Mercedes-Benz

If you do not plan on off-roading your pickup truck, you can probably go without a locking differential. Especially considering that the feature is typically an additional charge to get. But if you want a truck that is ready for the road less traveled, go for it.


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