When we think of going fast in our rides, the first thing that comes to mind is a motor loaded with a laundry-list of mods. But without an efficient drivetrain transferring power from the engine to the wheels, even a snarling 1000 hp motor isn’t going anywhere. As a matter of fact, it takes the flawless performance of multiple mechanical systems for your ride to get from point A to point B. In this article, we highlight the unseen, yet vital differential parts under the floorboards that set your ride into motion.
How the Transmission Works with the Drivetrain
Even the biggest, baddest motor needs a helping hand to get its wheels moving. The transmission provides the extra leverage needed for acceleration by using gears to magnify the engine’s twisting force, also known as “torque”. With more torque on hand, your ride is able to take advantage of its potential horsepower, lower in the RPM range, for speedy starts and easier towing. As engine revs and load increases, the transmission changes gears to keep the motor within its most efficient RPM range.
How the Differential and Drivetrain Work Together
Like the transmission, your ride’s differential multiplies engine torque but also accomplishes several additional tasks. Primarily, a ring and pinion gear transfers engine power from the driveshaft, turns it 90 degrees and sends it through the axles to the wheels. Around corners, a drivetrain differential uses a trick in order to transfer engine power evenly to both drive wheels. When you take a curve in your ride, “Spider gears” contained within the differential assembly allow the outside wheel to travel farther, increasing traction and reducing tire wear. Your ride’s differential is easily tunable too. All you have to do is install a ring & pinion gear set with a custom gear ratio of your choice. This is perfect for lowering your drag car’s quarter-mile times or to regain your rig’s acceleration after bolting on monster tires.
Here’s a perfect guide to re-gear your rig after bolting on massive mudders. Gear Ratio Calculator.
Time-tested and tough-as-nails, rear-wheel drive is commonly found on pickup trucks, muscle cars, exotics and race cars. A transmission is bolted to the back of the motor and transmits engine power through a driveshaft and to a rear differential. This drive style provides room for larger, stronger axles and is perfect for high-horsepower rides. But, the extra weight of the driveshaft and differential reduces fuel mileage.
Front-wheel drive on the other hand, is found on compacts, small SUVs, minivans and many commuter cars. Unlike rear-wheel drive, this style weighs less and as a result, increases MPGs. A front wheel drive system uses a transmission and differential assembly known as a “transaxle”, which is bolted to the engine. From there, drive axles with constant velocity (CV) joints transmit engine power to the front wheels only. As a matter of fact, this setup is a favorite of many car manufacturers as it only takes a few minutes to install the entire powertrain assembly on the factory floor, boosting production rates.