A limited-slip differential and a locking differential are not the same thing. Both are designed to maximize available torque to the wheel or wheels with the most traction, but they accomplish this in different ways and have different applications.
Open Differential Problem
Both limited-slip and locking differentials solve a problem with the standard open differential found on most passenger cars. This open differential allows the wheels to spin at different speeds to help in cornering, but will allow excessive wheel spin when one wheel loses traction. This tricks the system into sending too much torque to the slipping wheel.
A locking differential's key feature is its ability to force both of the drive wheels to rotate at the exact same speed regardless of traction needs. The benefit of the locking mechanism, either automatic or driver-selectable, comes in when one of the wheels is slipping. The differential will continue to send torque to both wheels equally and the wheel with traction will provide motion.
A limited-slip differential allows the wheels to continue to turn at different speeds without locking to each other completely but can limit the amount of torque sent to the spinning wheel and maximize the torque sent to the wheel with the best traction. The limited-slip differential is common on sports cars as well as all-wheel drive vehicles.
- Photo Credit off road image by Pencho Tihov from Fotolia.com
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