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Center diff lock vs Front and Rear diff locks | Which is best for off-roading?

One thing that affects your off-road experience regardless of the vehicle you are using has to be the differential mechanism that comes with your vehicle. 

With more manufacturers now opting for a center differential lock compared to the rear and front diff locks, the answer to the best off-road option between them might have been answered already. 

The main question you might be asking is, why is the center diff lock dominating the off-road vehicle scene. 


Center Diff Lock 

The center diff lock system is one of the most consistent and probably most common systems to use when it comes to off-road driving. 

The center diff lock serves the principal purpose of dividing drive power. If you are well accustomed to car mechanics, then you have to understand that the drive of the vehicle is not only about the power of the engine but how it is distributed to the wheels. 

This is where differentials and differential locks come in. The center diff lock is one of the best differential locks in the business. The reason for this is the years, car manufacturers have been sliding towards center diff locks more and more. 

This is a testament to how efficient and useful the center diff lock is when it comes to the car manufacturing industry. 

The center differential lock is located at the center of the wheel drivetrain. The name center is derived from the location of the drivetrain. 

The center diff lock is used in All-Wheel Drive vehicles and constant 4WD vehicles. If your vehicle is not an AWD vehicle or a constant 4WD vehicle, then definitely, it does not come with a center diff lock system. 

The center diff lock divides power between the front end and the back axle for your vehicle. This means that your engine power is divided 50/50 between the two axles. 

This allows your vehicle to drive from both ends. That is the most important thing when it comes to understanding the center diff lock.  This means that all wheels have traction and will rotate when your vehicle is driving. 

The center diff lock due to its division of torque between the axles can be used in some instances even for on-road driving. This is not the case though for front and rear differential locks as we are going to find out in this article. 

Front and Rear Diff lock 

Front and rear diff lockers are a big deal in the 4X4 world. They are essentially one of the main reasons why even 2WD trucks can undertake the most difficult terrain. 

Unlike the center differential lock, rear and front-end diff locks are located at either the front or the rear of the wheel drive. That means between front two wheels or rear two wheels inside the differential.

 In terms of operation, the operating principle is similar to that of that center diff lock. Front and rear diff locker lock wheels together from both ends of the axle, in one differential operation.

By doing this, the diff lock ensures that rather than the two wheels on the same axle turning at different speeds, they will rotate at a similar and equal speed. This is very important, especially when undertaking difficult rocky terrain.  

The Differences between center diff locks and front, rear diff locks

  • Location 
  • Types of vehicles suitable for use (AWD, 4WD, or 2WD)
  • Total torque distribution

Although both the front and rear differential serve the same purpose, they are not in essence identical. There are several differences in terms of performance and operation. 

The main difference between the center diff lock and the front and rear end locks has to be the location. These differential locking systems pretty much do the same thing but just at different points for different parts of the drivetrain.  

To understand these two better it is a good idea to look at each individually.

Difference between Rear and the Front Differential?

In terms of the metrics, the front-end diff locks. The most common belief when the debate between the placement of front and rear diff locks is that, “there is more weight at the back” is used to recommend rear placement of differential locks. 

Studies have however shown that in terms of traction no difference results from the placement of differentials either at the back or at the front. 

This is true for nearly allowed weight distributions and inclinations. If the main reasoning behind the positioning debate is based on the weight and inclination debate, then there is no merit in placing the diff lock at either the rear or the front. 

You are probably asking, if everything is equal then I can place my differential lock on any end, and get the same results, right? Well technically, no. 

Other factors should be put up for consideration before choosing to place differential locks at either position. 

These include other installed modifications for example wheel spacers.

Based on what most car mechanics and off-road experts recommend, it is a good idea to place your Diff lock at the rear. 

The reason for this has nothing to do with differential locking performance. Rather the reasoning behind this is the fact that at the front end there are CV joints

This means that placing a differential lock at the front will increase the stress of the drivetrain, which will already be under stress from the concentrated torque.  

In addition, if there is anything that history has proven is that a CV and a diff lock is a disaster waiting to happen every time you take an uneven turn. This means that if you do decide to place your Diff lock at the front end, then you are going to have to limit your driving with it to only straight stretches. 

This will be a problem. If you were to ask us, we would recommend that you place it at the rear end.

The Similarities between front and rear diff locks

  • Principle of operation
  • Operation techniques 
  • Can be both used for off-road driving

There are bunches of similarities when it comes to the front-end and rear-end differentials. 

For starters, both center diff locks and front and rear end differentials distribute power from the engine to different parts of the drivetrain. 

The working principle is the same; the execution though is where there is a difference. 

Another obvious similarity is the fact that regardless of which type of lock you have on your vehicle, you are going to need to slow down when it comes to driving the vehicle. 

The locking of differentials means that your vehicle has to be at a very low speed. We have already highlighted how front-end differentials make it difficult for your CV joints to function and high speeds make it very much worse. 

Regardless of which differential type your car is rocking, you are going to have to keep your speed at a minimum.

Another similarity is the mechanism by which the two types of differential lockers bring about their action. Both parties in this instance use a gear mechanism. 

The center diff lock mainly uses three gears to bring about the change in the distribution of power.

As a capping similarity, both center lock differential locking and rear and front end differential locking are all suitable for off-roading. 

It is important to note though about the capability of off-roading is the fact that there is a varying degree between the two types of differential locks. We are going to be getting into more detail on that.

Which differential locker Is Better for Off Off-road and Why?

If you are planning to get a 2WD vehicle that you will not struggle with if you go around some rough off-road terrain, then the most definite choice we recommend is that you get yourself a vehicle fitted with rear differentials. 

The reason for this is that rear differentials can actuate and divide power between two wheels on their axle. 

This means that the wheels on the axle where the differential is located will all have the same number of rotations that it will all rotate at the same speed. 

This is very important as it allows the wheels to spin. If you have ever seen a car stuck in a pool of mud, with only one wheel rotating, which is essentially the one that is not stuck, chances are that the vehicle did not have a differential locker installed. 

Front and rear end differentials are great but that is if they are installed together.

The center diff lock pretty much does the same but the best part is that the center locker distributes torque for all four wheels rather than just two, as is the case with either front end or a rear-end differential. 

In terms of comparison then we can in a way say that the center diff lock is better for off-road use but it also comes with several problems. 

The first one is that you cannot have a center lock diff in a 2WD vehicle. 

Secondly, having a center diff lock will heavenly impact your vehicle since you will not be able to use your vehicle in 2WD mode. 

This is a huge problem especially if you are going to be driving off-road. 

To answer the question, conclusively, is that if you are solely planning to use your vehicle mostly for off-road use then a rear differential or a front differential will do. 

We have already highlighted that between the two the rear differential is most likely going to work best for you. 

The center lock differential is in a way the superior option though. The main reason for this is that besides being actively putting all four wheels in motion and giving you maximum traction, you are assured that the vehicle will work quite well for off-road driving. 

Is the Answer the Same for All Vehicles?

Well for the most part, the best type of lock system for off-road driving is the center differential lock. This is only true though for AWD and 4WD vehicles as 2WD vehicles cannot use this type of differential locking system.  

If the vehicle is a 4WD Or AWD vehicle, you are going to need to go with a center diff lock system to make your off-road adventures seamless and quite interesting.  

We have already written a list of vehicles that come with a center diff lock system as part of the factory creation and we are definite you will find a favorite on the list if you decide to purchase a truck that comes with a preinstalled center diff lock system. 


Off-road driving is very difficult especially if you have very little driving experience. This means that your vehicle has to be top-notch. 

If your center diff lock system does not get you out of a tight spot as you drive, then you had no business being there in the first place this means that there is a need to keep the adventure safe. The last thing you would want is to end up in an accident.

Be safe and enjoy off-roading!

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