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Jerry Bransford 12-26-2004 08:31 PM

4x4 & & getting torque to all 4 wheels answers
Since questions about the frequently misunderstood subject of 4x4 and how torque is delivered to the wheels is a common one, I thought I'd make this a "Sticky". :)

All four tires are driven equally by the 4x4 system and all four pull equally if they all have equal traction. If all four wheels have equally good traction, then all four will pull equally well. So even if your Jeep does not have a locker or limited slip differential, each of the four wheels will receive approximately 25% each of the torque from the engine, when traction is equal under each of the four tires.

A standard open differential always (always!) splits the torque 50:50 between both sides. The problem is that when one tire starts spinning due to poor traction, that reduces the amount of torque seen by either side by an exactly equal amount. So if one side starts slipping, the other side's power (torque) is reduced by an equal amount which usually means insufficient power to keep you moving.

The engine can develop no more torque than the tire with the least amount of traction can accept before spinning.

So the short answer is 'yes', all four tires pull in 4wd. But the moment one side starts slipping, neither side gets enough power to keep you moving even if the non-slipping side still has traction.

Why does the power (torque) get reduced to both sides and not just the side that is slipping? Again, because the differential always (!) splits whatever torque it receives 50:50 to both sides. Why does the amount of torque get reduced at all? Because the engine only develops torque when it is working into resistance. Run an engine with a torque meter connected and watch what happens to the amount of torque produced as resistance to the engine is varied. When the engine is working into zero resistance and just running free, it produces nearly zero torque. Apply a braking force to the engine and the amount of torque will increase in direct proportion to the amount of resistance the engine is working into. The more braking force applied to the engine's output shaft, the more torque the engine produces.

So because the engine only produces torque when working into resistance, a spinning tire reduces the amount of power (torque) the engine produces because the engine is working into less resistance caused by the spinning tire. This works the same way with 2wd and 4wd, it's just that with 4wd, you have more of a chance that at least one of the two axles will have enough traction to allow the engine to produce enough torque to keep you moving. Which is why you get stuck in the first place... when one side is spinning, there is insufficent power being delivered to the other side to get or keep you moving.

And all of this is why a limited slip differential (LSD) can help since it helps to "couple" (via a clutch or a gear-based device) the resistance the side with good traction is seeing to the other side with poor traction, increasing the amount of resistance seen by the engine... thereby increasing the amount of torque delivered to both sides. Which is why the simple technique of stepping on the brakes a little when a tire is spinning can often get you unstuck... because it too increases the resistance the engine is working into which increases the amount of torque that is delivered to the wheels. Or if a rear tire is spinning constantly, pulling the parking brake up a couple clicks can often help by acting as a poor-man's limited slip differential. Pulling the parking brake up a few clicks when you already have a limited slip differential will help improve its operation. A key drawback to a LSD whether it be clutch or gear based is that when one tire is spinning up in the air, it doesn't help create enough torque for the other tire still on the ground to keep you moving. Without you helping it by stepping on the brakes or pulling the parking brake handle up if it's a rear tire that is spinning, a LSD doesn't do much for you. On flat terrain they help a lot, but on uneven terrain when both tires can't always be on the ground, a LSD is not very helpful. That's a situation where a locker reigns supreme over a LSD.

What does a locker do? It mechanically locks the left and right wheels together so when one turns, they must both turn at the same speed. This arrangement prevents one side from spinning uselessly while the other side does nothing. Automatic lockers are always locked but they unlock automatically to allow the outside wheel in a turn to 'ratchet' faster as the outside tire must do through the turn. Once the turn is completed, the locker re-locks both sides together. A manual locker is one that doesn't lock the left and right sides together until it is actuated either via a push-button or lever. An ARB Air Locker is air-pressure actuated, others like the Detroit Electrac are electrically actuated. The Ox Locker is actuated via a lever and cable. Manual lockers have an advantage for on-road driving in that when unlocked, they act like an "open" axle... i.e. one without a locker or limited slip differential... which means it drives like an unlocked vehicle until the locker is activated via the push-button or lever.

Part-Time and Full-Time 4x4 systems...

A part-time 4x4 system called Commandtrac is in all Wranglers together with low-end Cherokees and Liberties. A part-time 4x4 system locks the front and rear driveshafts together inside the transfer case so they drive the front and rear axles together in lock step. Because they are locked together, the front and rear tires must rotate at the exact same rpms. However, the front tires must rotate faster than the rear tires during any turn so a part-time system fights that... which makes a part-time system inappropriate on a paved road because the high level of traction on a paved road prevents the tires from slipping which would otherwise allow the front and rear tires to grudgingly rotate at different rpms. Offroad this is not a problem since the poor traction of an offroad trail allows the tires to slip as needed. But when they try to slip/rotate at different rpms on a high-traction surface, the entire drivetrain is stressed which is bad for it. This problem is called "wind-up".

In reality however, the front and rear axles really don't even turn exactly the same RPMs when you're in 4wd so you still get "wind-up" if you drove in 4wd on the street even if you drove in a perfectly straight line. Why? Because 1) you can't drive in a perfectly straight line and 2) the front and rear axle ratios are usually .01 different from each other. Like a 3.73 and 3.74, 4.10/4.11, etc.. Why the .01 ratio difference between the front and rear axles? Because the front and rear axles usually have different ring gear diameters which makes it nearly impossible for the gear manufacturers to economically make the front and rear axle ratios exactly the same. And no, they are not made .01 different on purpose to make the front or rear pull more when in 4wd, that is an old wive's tale.

Finally, a full-time 4x4 system like Selectrac is available on Grand Cherokees, Cherokees and Libertys couples the front and rear axles together, but they are not mechanically locked together like they are with a part-time 4wd system. The front-to-rear axle coupling can be done via either a differential like the Selectrac system uses (just just like what is in the center of an "open" axle) or a fluid (viscous) coupler. The benefit to a full-time 4wd system is that because the front and rear axles are not mechanically locked together, the front and rear tires/axles can rotate at different rpms from each other. This allows a vehicle with a full-time 4wd system to drive in 4wd "full time" on a paved road without problem since there is no 'wind-up' problem to harm the drivetrain. You cannot get a full-time 4x4 system in a Wrangler from the factory.

Hope this helps! :)

RedRubiconLJ 12-26-2004 10:29 PM

;) :rtft: ;)

cwlongshot 12-27-2004 10:04 PM

Great post Jerry!!

I have a question, what happens when my left front tire is turned 13 degrees N by NE, toward a 27 degree incline on a slippery slope. OH yea, its a Tuesday and I am alone in the woods so no one can hear me..... :D :rolleyes: :D :D

I know...I know...I can hear you now......shut up...just shut up and go away! :rofl:


yogi 12-28-2004 12:44 PM

lock It!!!!!!!!!


ChewyXJ 01-10-2005 05:08 PM

Great explanation. I'm going to show this sticky to some friends that I've had touble explaining what spider gears and lockers do. Thanks

RideRed04 01-12-2005 01:57 PM

Now hang on..If both wheels are always getting 50% torque, and you can't change that, why can you grab one tire on a jacked up vehicle and the other keeps spinning...try to stop that one and one person is going for a ride. One wheel gets between 0 and 100%, but the ratio between the two always adds up to 100%. With a locker, each wheel gets 100% torque when it's locked in. I'll get some info if this needs a better explaination then I can provide off the top of my head.

edit: this is all assuming a locked center diff (not full time 4x4)

CETROV 01-14-2005 08:51 AM

Questions answered- use this for equipment pictures- like which rear end do I have.
We can add to this as we go - there are lots of questions about which rear end do I have - what does this or that look like. Use this to post what different units in question look like.

This is a Dana 44 rear end

and this is a Dana 35

Dana 44 cover

Jerry Bransford 02-09-2005 12:19 AM


Originally Posted by RideRed04
Now hang on..If both wheels are always getting 50% torque, and you can't change that, why can you grab one tire on a jacked up vehicle and the other side keeps spinning...try to stop that one and one person is going for a ride. One wheel gets between 0 and 100%, but the ratio between the two always adds up to 100%.

No, it's true that both sides do truly get 50%.

If one side is spinning, it has no resistance against it which is what the engine will see so the engine is producing very little torque... so now the other side is spinning but it is spinning with very little torque. Now if you are holding one side but the other is spinning, it is the one now presenting very little resistance to the engine, so the side you are holding gets very little torque. Now if you and a friend grab BOTH sides at the same time, then the engine is seeing a lot more resistance so both rear tires will suddenly see an increase in torque... which is why both of you, not just one, will be going for a ride.

Go to which is page 6 of a great explanation of how differentials really work. Starting at page one is a great way to really get it explained in an easy to follow explanation.

Here's an excerpt from page six of How Stuff Works: "The open differential always applies the same amount of torque to each wheel. There are two factors that determine how much torque can be applied to the wheels: equipment and traction. In dry conditions, when there is plenty of traction, the amount of torque applied to the wheels is limited by the engine and gearing; in a low traction situation, such as when driving on ice, the amount of torque is limited to the greatest amount that will not cause a wheel to slip under those conditions. "

There is plenty of information there that will more clearly explain what I have been saying and why each wheel truly gets 50% of the torque, not some variable number that adds up to 100%.

saintsgoalie13 02-24-2005 07:47 PM

that is one thing i love about jeeps they have the best 4x4 out of any vehicle i have ever driven. they are so fun

CETROV 04-09-2005 08:38 PM

Lockers -

These are the ones I have used - anyone else - add to the list.

ARB - air powered lockers - need a compressor, switches, solenoids - AWESOME
Pros - able to turn them on and off as needed - no adverse on road effects.
Cons - may leak, get a air line broken or snagged if not secured -

Dectroit Electrac Lockers - Has a big solenoid off the back that is prone to breaking if you are into the rock thing. I ran one of those- no two of those - I ran into lots of problems and would not recommend getting one.
Cons - mine didn't work very well at all- Customer service is the worst!!!!

Lock rite - A lunch box locker - Easy to install - works great -
Pros - easy to use - automatic

Cons - you know it is there when on the road - makes noise, binds pulls to the side on acceleration and deacceleration- excessive tire wear (rear installed).

wellslaw 04-24-2005 10:52 AM

Ok; with the above said. If you had a stocker Wrangler X that sees mostly mud and sand (no rock climbing); would you recommend an LSD front and rear or lockers on both?

What is the best bang for the buck on each system?


warsw 04-30-2005 07:47 PM

Jerry, I have always understood how an open differential works but, this is the best explanation I have ever heard as to why. Thanks for the post.

rtingdds 05-19-2005 12:28 AM

Wow, You are good!

BlaineWasHere 05-19-2005 01:10 AM

Can I test you on my WJ's qudradrive?

It has a PC not a VC and LSD's front and back. Jeep claims it can trasfer the power to any of the wheels it wants... Now I have seen this... a WJ on a steep rock incline at moab is losing momentum and eventaully comes to stailmate with the incline. Then you see the power shifting from one wheel to the next untill it finds the best combonation of power and the Jeep continues up the rock... HUH? how'd that happen???

KShea 06-09-2005 09:16 AM

That is a loaded question Wellslaw

Best Bang for the buck locker wise

In my case a Detroit would have been the best from jump street
I could have saved the 400$ I spent on the Powertrax No-Slip
And used it towards my Super 35 That I ended up getting

There is no one upgrade that will improve your Jeep offroad more then a locker
Except 2 lockers

I run a selectable up front and a tried and true full carrier Detroit out back.

Best bang for the Money locker wise
The best locker you can afford :thumbsup:

If the best you can afford is a Lockright in the rear :thumbsup:

Keep tire size down
32's or less

Or if your like me and you have to have 36's
Build your axles 1 time to meet the need
2 lockers
4340 shafts :cool:

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