Diagnosing Differential & Driveline Noises

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A howling differential is one of the worst sounds any car guy (or girl) can hear. And once you’ve heard a clunk, howl, whine, or vibration, you’ll want to diagnose it.

It’s possible that the sounds you’re hearing are not differential-related. They could be caused by other driveline or axle components.

This quick guide will help you match those alarming sounds to the vehicle component that’s making them.


Typical Symptoms & Possible Causes

Noises, vibrations and other irregular driving characteristics are often caused by a problem with your differential or driveline.

Symptom Howling when decelerating (gears were previously quiet)
Cause Loose pinion bearing preload
Symptom  Howling with whirring or a rumble when accelerating (gears previously quiet)
Cause  Worn out rear pinion bearing or worn out gear set
Symptom  Howling when accelerating over a shorter speed range (gears previously quiet)
Cause  Worn gear set caused by bad lubrication or overloading
Symptom  Howling after installing a gear set
Cause  Faulty installation or faulty gears
Symptom  Low rumble at any speed over 30 km/h
Cause  Worn carrier bearings
Symptom  Whirring sounds when accelerating or decelerating at around 15 km/h
Cause  Worn pinion bearings
Symptom  Hard banging or clunking sounds when turning, backing up, or rapidly decelerating, with the sounds getting worse in warmer weather
Cause  Positraction chatter caused by improper lubrication, worn clutches, worn spider gears, or improper assembly
Symptom  Hard banging, crunching, or popping sounds when turning
Cause  Very worn or even broken spider gears
Symptom  Banging or clicking every couple of feet when accelerating or decelerating
Cause  Broken pinion gear teeth
Symptom  Banging or clicking every couple of feet when accelerating or decelerating, but never both
Cause  Heavy chip on pinion gear tooth
Symptom  Banging or clicking every eight to ten feet when accelerating or decelerating
Cause  Broken ring gear teeth
Symptom  Banging or clicking every eight to ten feet when accelerating or decelerating, but never both
Cause  Heavy chip on ring gear tooth
Symptom  Clicking sounds when decelerating from 30 km/h to a complete stop
Cause  Worn carrier case-side gear bores
Symptom  Rumbling or clicks that sound worse when making a hard turn
Cause  Bad wheel bearings
Symptom  Squeaking or grinding driveline
Cause  Worn or damaged U-joints
Symptom  Clunks when pressing down on the throttle pedal during takeoff
Cause  Worn U-joints, spider gears, axle splines, excessive gear backlash, or loose or worn yoke splines
Symptom  Clunking noises heard upon takeoff from a complete stop
Cause  Worn slip yoke splines
Symptom  Steady vibration which increases as you gain more speed
Cause  Worn U-joint or misbalanced driveshaft
Symptom  Cyclic vibrations with high intensity at a specific speed range, and during deceleration
Cause  Lower-than-needed pinion angle (not parallel with front yoke on driveshaft)

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