Limited Slip Differential  |  Discussion forums Glossary of motoring terms


Limited slip differential is a modified or derived type of differential gear arrangement that allows for some difference in rotational velocity of the output shafts, but does not allow the difference in speed to increase beyond a preset amount. In an automobile, such limited slip differentials are sometimes used in place of a standard differential, where they convey certain dynamic advantages, at the expense of greater complexity.

The main advantage of a limited slip differential is found by considering the case of a standard (or "open") differential where one wheel has no contact with the ground at all. In such a case, the contacting wheel will remain stationary, and the non-contacting wheel will rotate at twice its intended velocity the torque transmitted will be zero and the vehicle will remain stationary. In everyday use on typical roads, such a situation is very unlikely, and so a normal differential suffices. For more demanding use however, such as driving off-road, or for high performance vehicles, such a state of affairs is undesirable, and the LSD can be employed to deal with it. By limiting the velocity difference between a pair of driven wheels, useful torque can be transmitted as long as there is some friction available on at least one of the wheels.


Two main types of LSD are commonly used on passenger cars torque sensitive (geared or clutch-based) and speed sensitive (viscous/pump and clutch pack). The latter is gaining ground especially in modern all-wheel drive vehicles, and generally requires less maintenance than the mechanical type.


The use of the word mechanical implies that the limited slip differential is engaged by interaction between two (or more) mechanical parts. This category includes clutch and helical limited slip differentials. For road racing, many prefer a helical limited slip differential, because it does not lock the two output shafts to spin at the same rate, but rather biases torque to the wheel with more grip by up to 80%.

Clutch Type - Driveshaft Torque Activated

The clutch type LSD responds to driveshaft torque. The more driveshaft input torque present, the harder the clutches are pressed together, and thus the more closely the drive wheels are coupled to each other. With no / little input torque (trailing throttle / gearbox in neutral / main clutch depressed) the drive wheels are still coupled somewhat as the clutches are always in contact to some degree, producing friction. The amount of preload (hence static coupling) on the clutches is determined by the general condition (wear) of the clutches and by how tightly they are shimmed.

Broadly speaking, there are three input torque states - load, no load, & over run. Under load, as previously stated, the coupling is proportional to the input torque. With no load, the coupling is reduced to the static coupling. The behavior on over run (particularly sudden throttle release) determines whether the LSD is 1 way, 1.5 way, or 2 way. If there is no additional coupling on over run, the LSD is 1 way. This is a safer LSD, as soon as the driver lifts the throttle, the LSD unlocks and behaves somewhat like a conventional open diff. This is also the best for FWD cars, as it allows the car to turn in on throttle release, instead of ploughing forward.

If the LSD increases coupling in the same way regardless of whether the input torque is forwards or reverse, it is a 2 way diff. Some drifters prefer this type as the LSD behaves the same regardless of their erratic throttle input, and lets them keep the wheels spinning all the way through a corner. An inexperienced driver can easily spin the car when using a 2 way LSD if they lift the throttle suddenly, expecting the car to settle like a conventional open diff.

If the LSD behaves somewhere in between these two extremes, it is a 1.5 way diff, which is a compromise between sportiness and safety. Generally a 1.5 way creates a stronger lock under acceleration than deceleration.

Clutch LSDs are noisy, clunky and expensive, which makes them unlikely to be installed by the factory on a passenger car these days. However their response speed and coupling strength is the best of the commonly available LSDs. They are also the only commonly available LSD able to stand up to extreme motorsport abuse.

The clutch type has a stack of thin clutch discs, half of which are coupled to one of the drive shafts, the other half of which are coupled to the spider gear carrier. The clutch stacks may be present on both drive shafts, or on only one. If on only one, the remaining drive shaft is linked to the clutched drive shaft through the spider gears. If the clutched drive shaft cannot move relative to the spider carrier, then the other drive shaft also cannot move, thus they are locked.

The spider gears mount on the pinion cross shaft which rests in angled cutouts forming cammed ramps. The cammed ramps are not necessarily symmetrical. If the ramps are symmetrical, the LSD is 2 way. If they are saw toothed (i.e. one side of the ramp is vertical), the LSD is 1 way. If both sides are sloped, but are assymmetric, the LSD is 1.5 way.

As the input torque of the driveshaft tries to turn the diff centre, internal pressure rings (adjoining the clutch stack) are forced sideways by the pinion cross shaft trying to climb the ramp, which compresses the clutch stack. The more the clutch stack is compressed, the more coupled the wheels are. The mating of the vertical ramp (80o-85o in practice to avoid chipping) surfaces in a 1 way LSD on over run produces no cam effect and no corresponding clutch stack compression.

The break-in of clutch LSDs is quite critical. Manufacturers give detailed instructions on how to break the diff in. If these are not followed, the LSD may be permanently harmed, in that it may engage and disengage erratically, due to irregularities on and damage to the clutch surfaces. Essentially the LSD must be worked hard to remove manufacturing imperfections, then the now metal-laden oil changed immediately following.

Servicing consists of changing the oil after hard sessions, also to remove metal particles, and eventually replacing the clutches, or the centre. In any case the oil should be changed regularly (as opposed to the open diff, where the oil could be left unchanged for several hundred thousand kilometers).

Torsen Diff: Geared, torque-sensitive mechanical limited slip differentials utilize worm gears to "sense" torque on one shaft. The most famous version is the Torsen differential invented by Vernon Gleasman in 1958, then sold to Gleason Corporation, who started marketing it in 1982. Geared LSDs are less prone to wear than the clutch type, but some have found their torque distribution characteristics to be less than ideal.

Speed Sensitive

Viscous: The viscous type is generally simpler, and relies on the properties of a dilatant fluid - that is, one which thickens when subject to shear. Silicone-based oils are often used. Here, a chamber (a sort of cylindrical toroid) of fluid filled with a stack of perforated discs rotates with the normal motion of the output shafts. The inside surface of the chamber is coupled to one of the driveshafts, and the outside coupled to the diff carrier. Half of the discs are connected to the inner, the other half to the outer, they alternate inner/outer in the stack. Differential motion forces the interlocked (though not touching) discs to move through the fluid against each other. The greater the relative speed of the discs, the more resistance the fluid will put up to oppose this motion. In contrast to the mechanical type, the limiting action is much softer and more proportional to the slip, so for the average driver is easier to cope with. Viscous LSDs are less efficient than mechanical types, that is, they "lose" some power. They do not stand up well to abuse, particularly any sustained load which overheats the silicone results in sudden permanent loss of the LSD effect. They do have the virtue of failing gracefully, reverting to semi-open diff behavior, without the graunching of metal particles / fragmented clutches. Typically a visco-differential that has covered 60,000 miles or more will be functioning largely as an open differential. The silicone oil is factory sealed in a separate chamber from the gear oil surrounding the rest of the diff. This is not serviceable and when the diff's behavior deteriorates, the VLSD centre is replaced.

Gerotor Pump: This works by hydraulically compressing a clutch pack. The gerotor pump uses the housing to drive the outer side of the pump and one axle shaft to drive the other. When there is differential wheel rotation, the pump pressurizes its working fluid into the clutch pack area. This provides a clamp load for frictional resistance to transfer torque to the higher traction wheel. The pump based systems have a lower and upper limits on applied pressure, and internal damping to avoid hysteresis. The newest gerotor pump bases system has computer regulated output for more versatility and no oscillation.

Above text originally from  This text is available under GPL.

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