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Common Causes of Rear Differential Noise, troubleshooting, and how fix it

Do you hear a loud clunk when you shift gears? Does your car make an unpleasant whining noise in the back? If so, then it is likely that there is something wrong with your rear differential. The rear differential takes power from the engine and splits it to both of your drive wheels. This means that if one wheel starts spinning faster than the other, then this will cause a clunking or grinding sound coming from underneath your vehicle.

There are many reasons this could happen, including worn-out mechanical components in the differential or damage caused by driving over an obstacle like a pothole or curb too fast. To fix these problems, mechanics would need to diagnose the problem using specialized tools such as an oscilloscope and magnetic particle.

This blog post will cover some of the most common causes for rear differential noise, how to fix them, and what you should do if it doesn’t stop. If you’re unsure about what might be wrong with your car’s rear differential or just want more information on how it works, take a look at our “common causes of rear differential noise, troubleshooting, and how to fix it” blog post!

Causes of rear differential noise

  • Insufficient differential fluid
  • An overload when towing
  • Bad pinion gear bearing
  • Failing wheel bearing

How the rear differential works

The engine’s power is transferred to the rear differential through the driveshaft and transmission. Therefore, the engine power is delivered to the car’s drive wheels via the differential.

Your car’s rear differential is developed to be reliable and tough.

However, it is a complicated assembly comprised of bearings, gears, and assemblies. Therefore, it may be challenging to diagnose when a problem arises unless a professional properly look at it. However, there are some sounds you may listen to. They include:

  • A howl when you drive straight- when you hear a howl or whine noise when decelerating, there might be a loose ring pinion gear. The problem might be similar when you accelerate and hear a whine howl sound.
  • Rumble or clunking when hitting a corner- this suggests that there is a problem with the spider or side gears. It may also be a leak in the lubrication fluid or a broken gear.
  • A clunking sound after a few yards is often the result of broken gear and pinion gears.

Diagnosing rear differential noise

Various situations can create rear differential noise. If you experience a howling sound when shifting gears, this might be a sign that they are wearing out. Furthermore, when driving and you notice that the howling noise is recurring only when you decelerate, the pinion bearing is loose and needs tightening. Under different speeds, howling might indicate that the gears are out of alignment or are worn out.

Furthermore, if the rear differential sound only happens when you accelerate the vehicle, then it is likely that the gears are worn out due to lubrication failure or overloading. If they produce any howling sound, it is best to check the preload and ensure that the teeth are in-line.

When you are driving over 20mph, and you experience whirring and rumbling sounds, the carrier bearings might be having an issue. The rear differential noise may vary at various turns for cars with a C-Clip axle shaft.

However, if the pinion gears are worn, they can produce whirring noises at the same speed or while decelerating or accelerating. Pinion bearings can produce a whirring noise because they turn faster than carrier assemblies. Hence, if you experience this sound, the pinion bearings are the most likely problem.

If you experience regular clunking every few feet, you may have broken ring and pinion gears.

Old bearings produce howling noises when they are not supporting the gears properly. On the other hand, a rumbling noise when turning results from a bad wheel bearing. Additionally, banging and clunking sounds can be caused by broken spider gears or inadequate positraction lubrication.

Look out for those sounds when diagnosing the problem.

How to fix rear differential noise

If you are mechanically inclined, then quieting rear differential noise is easy. However, you will require some tools to perform these fixes.

Here are simple steps on fixing a noisy differential:

  • Prepare the vehicle: You can do this by placing the car on a jack stand and having a wide catch pan, which will drain the fluid.
  • Replenish the differential fluid: The owner’s manual may come in handy when determining how often the fluid needs changing. If you discover that it is past time, then it is time to drain the fluid and replenish it with a fresh supply. With this tip, you will fix the rear end noise.
  • Replace the seal: After draining the oil fluid and discovering small metal pieces, you must replace the seal. You can do this by entirely removing the cover plate and observing it for any defects.
    If your vehicle has an overly loud whining noise, replacing the seal is the only option. Once it is replaced, the noise will disappear.
    In addition, if you have a differential leak, the seal also needs replacing. You can look out for any brown fluid on the ground.
  • Test the car: In many cases, replacing the differential fluid or the seal will quiet the differential. After doing these two procedures, take the vehicle for a drive test and discover if the noise has subsided. If there is no noise, then you have solved the problem. However, if the noise is persistent, it might be time to visit an auto repair shop or contact a professional mechanic. There might be a problem with the other differential parts.
  • Replace any broken parts: If you have any broken pinion shaft or ring gear, bearings, or seals, it is best to replace them. You can buy second-hand parts from and efficiently solve the wheel bearing noise.
  • Tidy the housing: The rear differential gasket is filled with dust and dirt on many occasions. Therefore, it may produce strange noises.Use a brake cleaner and clean rug to clean the rear differentials.
  • Lubricate the axle shafts: Lubricating the rear axle and the steering axle with gear oil ensures that the gears rotate smoothly.

Frequently asked questions

1. What noise does a bad rear differential make?

Some typical rear differential noises are:

  • Whining sounds are most common
  • Howl during acceleration
  • Rumble sounds when speed exceeds 20 mph

2. How do I know if my rear differential is bad?

A noisy rear differential is always a bad sign. It develops a series of strange noises like humming, whirring, growling, or whining, which may require some repairs.

3. How do you fix a rear differential noise?

You can fix it by:

  • Replacing the fluid
  • Replacing the seal
  • Replacing any broken spider gears and other inner differential parts
  • Lubricating the axle.
  • Engine and metal treatment

4. Can a rear differential be repaired?

Yes, it can be repaired. Any mechanic at a local garage will charge somewhere between $200 to $400.

It is always advisable to have a trained mechanic look at the rear differential side gears to ascertain that your car is performing optimally. The problem might also lie with the bad wheel bearings. However, on the upside, the differential noises help you troubleshoot precisely where the problem is coming from. In rare cases, however, the car might have other problems, and it is not the differential that is faulty. As a precaution, vehicle owners should ensure their cars have enough fluid to remain on the safe side.

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