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How does the Center diff lock work and How to use it properly?

A center diff lock is a mechanism that shares power equally between the front and rear axle of a vehicle. It does this by regulating the power from the engine and dividing it between the two axles.  

If you have a vehicle, then one thing that you might not have given some thought to has to be the differential and the whole system that aids in its functionality. 

For instance, have you ever thought of how some vehicles can easily drive through rough and rocky terrains? If you have not, we are going to be looking at a segment of your vehicle that contributes to your vehicle’s complete drive.  

If you have never heard about the differential and its main function, you are in luck because we are going to be delving deep into that in this article and more. 


What is A Differential?

Before we delve deep into what center diff locks do and how they work it is important to take a brief look at what differential does. 

A differential is a car component  that allows for the distribution of power to different wheels on a vehicle. For vehicles to be able to turn, the wheels on a vehicle should turn at different speeds. 

The differential is the key component in ensuring that the power diverted to different wheels on a vehicle allows the vehicle wheels to turn at different speeds. 

The differential is made up of a set of gears and the number of gears tends to vary from one type of differential to the next. These gears are ultimately responsible for transferring power from the engine to the wheels in the correct proportion.

The differential also acts when the car is driving on somewhat off-road terrain. There it needs a distribution of power to enable the vehicle to maneuver,by  the loss of traction that comes with the difficult terrain. Because of different terrains and driving needs, there are different types of differentials available on the market. 

Depending on the vehicle, you have and what you require from the vehicle you can select the perfect differential for yourself. 

What is a Center Diff Lock?

A center differential lock is a differential that has the same outputs as a normal differential, the only difference is the location and how it brings about the distribution of power in a vehicle during driving and most importantly making a turn.  

If you have an AWD or a 4WD chances are you have a center differential system. The center differential lock system divides torque and rotational speed between the rear wheels and the front wheels. You can read more about 4WD vs AWD through my previous guide.

(That means you can’t see a center diff lock in 2WD vehicles.)

This is why it is usually located in the center of the drivetrain to ensure that it keeps a balance between the power needs at both ends of the vehicle. 

There are a lot of mechanical components as well as principles that exist in the center differential lock system. 

The Working Principle of Diff Lock?

When driving, a car needs all the traction it can get. All the wheels on the vehicle need to be powered appropriately with different power metrics depending on whether the drive is a straight drive or a turn is being taken. 

The center diff lock helps in controlling the power output to the wheels. The working mechanism of the center diff lock involves reading throttle inputs and steering angles before acting. 

At a minimal steering angle, that is when the car is going straight, the center differential is locked to ensure that the power is distributed appropriately to both the front and rear of the vehicle that is equal distribution.

When a driver approaches a corner, the steering angle changes and so does the throttle input. These readings result in the central differential opening up. 

This allows for the wheels of the cars to turn at different speeds and essentially allows the car to be able to take a turn. Without this, the vehicle will not be able to take a turn. 

Once the turn has been taken and the steering angle is minimized the central differential begins locking up again.

When to Use a Center Diff Lock? (off-road or wide tar) and Why?

We have highlighted the working principle of the center diff lock and as complex and effective as it is, you are probably wondering when best can you use a vehicle equipped with a differential system. 

Well, let us look at the several advantages that come with using the system on both off-road and tarmac adventures, to see just how effective it is on either and where the system is best suited.

Center Diff Lock for on-road Driving 

One thing about center diff locks is that they increase vehicle traction. This means that the driving wheels of the vehicle get much more power efficiently if it is equipped with a center differential lock compared to a normal differential system.

When it comes to on-road driving, chances are you will not need the extra traction. On-road driving provides some pretty great conditions for your vehicle even if it is not equipped with a center diff lock.  

If you are planning to do a lot of on-road driving, then there is no need to use a center differential lock system.

There are however some instances, where a center diff lock will be quite necessary even if you are undertaking your normal day-to-day on-road driving.  

Conditions like snow and ice make it quite essential to put a center differential locking system to use. 

Ice and snow make normal driving quite difficult and having extra traction will make the experience a bit more bearable. 

With more torque going to the wheels and power going to areas where it is most needed, this means that you can easily maneuver through the snow, this is based on the principle of different rotation speeds, for different wheels as well as different torque.

Unless you are planning to drive on some heavy snow or an ice road, you are not going to need a center differential lock system if you are driving on road. 

There are cheaper and more suited differential mechanisms for on-road use that we are going to be talking about in this series.

Center Diff Lock for off-road Driving

Now, this is what the center diff lock lives for. The center diff lock system is made for off-road driving. We have already made it clear in the article that a center diff lock allows power from the engine to be distributed evenly to both the rear and front axle. 

This means regardless of the position of your vehicle, you are going to have one wheel in the front moving and another wheel in the rear moving. 

This allows for easier handling of the vehicle and allows you to easily get around steep terrains. When going through the terrain, that is both dirty and steep, you need a drive from other ends of your vehicle. 

This will allow your vehicle to drive with more power and this allow you to easily handle it with relative ease

Slippery and muddy surfaces are also perfect conditions for the center diff locking system. 

The center diff locking system allows for a power split between the rear and the front driveshafts. 

We have already highlighted that this gives more drive and certainly better handling to your vehicle. 

The best instances, where a center diff lock system is not the only best fit but also in effect essential is when you are driving off-road. 

This also involves when you are driving on muddy and gravel roads. If you are planning to go off-roading, then a center diff lock system should be to enable you to enjoy the amazing off-road adventure.  

Before going to the next part of this guide, if you are interested in knowing the difference between hub locks and diff locks you can check my previous guide on hub-locks vs diff locks.

Which Car Models Work Best With Center Diff Locks?

At present most trucks and SUVs with an AWD or 4WD system come with a center diff lock system.  The reason for this is most of these vehicles are made and designed to maneuver and drive on off-road terrain.

 As a result, there is a need to ensure that these vehicles come pre-installed with a center diff lock system. Here are some of the best vehicles that you can purchase that come with a center differential lock system. 

If you know that you have a merchant for off-road adventures, then you should certainly be looking at getting a vehicle that is part of this list. 

Ford F-150

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Now as expected, the first on our list is the Ford F- 150. The Ford F-150 is a marvel and for those that do not know it comes fully equipped with a center differential locking system.  

The F-150 is the undisputed king of the off-road. The vehicle has everything you would want for a pick up and the center differential locking system is pretty much a bonus. 

If you are planning to take off-road trips, the F-150 is a game changer. This means one thing you will not have to worry about is the terrain or even being stuck in mud or snow. This beast of a vehicle will easily maneuver out of snow, ice, or mud. All thanks to the center diff lock system and the all powerful engine.  

Toyota Land Cruiser 

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Toyota is one of the biggest names when it comes to off-road adventures and especially the Land cruiser series.

The latest offering in this impeccable series comes with a differential locking system that is modern but just as efficient and powerful as the traditional, center differential lock system. 

The vehicle already comes with full 4WD, in essence, the center diff locking system is just somewhat, the icing on this amazing cake. 

The differential system on the Toyota Land Cruiser is electronic and it is aided in function with Active Traction Control as well as the Vehicle Stability Control.  

All these features make the off-road experience not only bearable but also exciting. If there is a vehicle that can give you an amazing off-road experience with a touch of Luxury, it is certainly the Toyota Land Cruiser. 

The downside to this vehicle though, might be the high price but in our opinion for the service it delivers, then it is certainly worth every penny you will spend on it. 

Jeep Wrangler 

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It cannot be a list of off-road vehicles if we do not include a Jeep Wrangler. There are numerous adverts with a Jeep Wrangler effortlessly climbing rocks. 

The rock crawling capabilities of the Jeep Wrangler can be attributed to the center diff lock system on the vehicle. 

The Jeep Wrangler comes with a standard 4 wheel drive and thanks to the center differential locking system, power can evenly be shared amongst the axles. 

This means that there will not be a loss of traction and rock crawling will be as seamless as ever. If we were to pick the perfect vehicle with a center differential lock system, we would pick the Jeep Wrangler. 

How Fast Can You Drive With Center Diff Locks?

Center diff locks will make it easy for you to drive out of muddy, icy, or snowy situations one thing that they will not give you is speed. 

If you have engaged the differential lock system, then you need to avoid not only high speeds but also even fairly moderate speeds.  

The recommended speed if you have your center diff locks engaged is 25 Mph. You can go beyond this speed but it is not recommended. 

Your vehicle may struggle to make turns and this can lead to some terrible accidents. If you want to pick up your speed, it is a good idea to first disengage the center diff lock. 


Having a center diff lock enhances your off road experience and essentially makes your truck or SUV a super off-roader.

 One thing that is important though is to understand that although you are going to get more traction as well as more torque with a center diff lock, it is not a license to over speed. 

In fact, anything above 25 Mph with a center diff lock activated is dangerous.

Enjoy your off road experience and stay safe!

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