Although car and truck differentials play a major role in transferring heavy torque loads from your engine to your wheels, they are often overlooked or neglected when it comes to periodic lubrication fluid changes. As a result, the gears in that big bulge in the middle of your rear wheel axle can wear prematurely and start to whine, with hefty rebuild costs as a result.
Differential fluid should be replaced every 30K-60K miles or sooner, depending on your vehicle and use. No special tools or skills are needed and it only takes up to one hour to do the job. Anyone can do it!
You’ll save a lot of money doing it yourself and you’ll be sure it’s done right using the best fluid.
Check out the differential fluids we recommend:
Best For Sports Cars
Best For Heavy-Duty Vehicles
Why Should I Change My Vehicle’s Differential Fluid?
You should change your differential fluid in time because it will lose its lubrication properties and gear friction will increase. This is a downward spiral resulting in gear deterioration, causing loss of horsepower, increasing fuel consumption, a whining noise and eventually failure.
Because of poor lubrication the differential gears will generate more friction heat and the lubricant will start to overheat and cook. When the differential fluid overheats, it will deteriorate even faster as a result.
Old differential fluid is also packed with metal particles and shavings. These are tiny gear shavings from normal wear, coloring the fluid a dark brown or black color. If they build up and keep recirculating, they will speed up the differential’s aging process dramatically, grinding away between the differential’s gears and bearings.
How Do I Know When To Change My Differential Fluid?
Check your vehicle’s manual. Most differentials need a fluid change every 30K-60K miles. If your vehicle is used for towing heavy loads or has a hard life, it’s good practice to change your diff fluid more often.
You can check the state it’s in by simply removing the filler plug and checking the fluid color:
- If it’s dark brown or black, it needs to be changed.
- If it’s black and it smells burnt, it’s way overdue and your differential has already overheated.
Although it’s not an exact science, the differential fluid color will give you a good indication. Fresh differential fluid is light brown and semi-translucent. Old, contaminated end-of-life fluid is dark and murky because of all the free-floating metal particles.
Which Differential Fluid Should I Use?
We strongly recommend high quality GL5 synthetic gear oil for all types of differentials.
GL4 vs GL5
GL5 is formulated with special additives and double sulfur/phosphorus content compared to GL4, to be able to withstand even the toughest loads.
The higher the American Petroleum Institute (API) GL specifications value, the higher the extreme pressure (EP) it can handle, with GL5 being the highest end of the scale.
Knowing a differential has to cope with thousands or often even tens of thousands of foot-pounds of torque, GL5 is the only way to go.
Synthetic vs Conventional Differential Fluid
It’s equally important to use quality synthetic differential fluid instead of the cheaper conventional oil derivatives. It is scientifically proven that synthetic oils outlive and outperform classic petroleum-based ones big-time. That’s not our opinion, but a rock-solid fact!
Full-synthetic oils are chemically designed and tweaked with specific needs in mind and blended with special additives for superior performance. They are more stable and longer-lasting than conventional oils, can stand higher pressure and working temperatures and provide better lubrication, with less drag.
Nope, GL5 synthetic differential fluid won’t harm or “eat” your diff’s internals…
We know, you can find all kinds of urban legends on the internet…
Just for argument’s sake: Why do new cars leave the factory with their diffs filled with synthetic oil, and not with much cheaper old-school petroleum-based gear oil? Because car manufacturers like to waste money on more expensive, less performant lubricants and like to pay for warranty claims? Don’t think so…
If more expensive synthetic differential fluid wasn’t the better choice, manufacturers wouldn’t bother and just fill their diffs with low-cost conventional oil, wouldn’t they?
How Much Differential Fluid Do You Need?
That depends on your car. To be sure how much differential fluid you need, check your car’s manual.
How We Did Our Review
For this review we dove deep in all manufacturer specifications and spent hours comparing and assessing customer reviews to see what people think about different products in different situations.
We also looked at what professionals have to say: differential rebuilders, workshops,…
We only recommended car differential fluids that did an excellent job for the vast majority of car enthusiasts and professionals alike and filtered out unreliable sources. Armed with a critical eye and with our own experience under our belt, we connected the dots and selected the best products for each specific category.
Check out our favorite car differential fluids:
Best Differential Fluids
- Type: Full-Synthetic GL5
- Recommended for: All vehicles and trucks
- Content: 1 Quart (945 ml)
We chose this full-synthetic gear oil for our “Best Overall” because it is so widely applicable for all cars and trucks with open, limited-slip and locking differentials. You can use it in your manual gearbox too.
Customers say it’s the best differential fluid ever. They claim this best-seller quiets down whiny rear ends and even solves rear axle acceleration shudder issues with SUV’s.
This High-Performance gear oil already contains Synerlec limited-slip friction modifier, so it’s an all-in-one solution. There’s no need for additives.
Max-Gear is non-corrosive to both ferrous and nonferrous metals and separates rapidly from water. It combines the highest quality synthetic oils and is specified for use as an API GL-5 or GL-4 fluid.
This gear oil is well worth its money and yes, it’s purple…No really, it is!
We used Max-Gear 75W-90 for our upcoming “How To Change Differential Fluids” video and loved the difference it made. At a constant speed of about 50 mph, there used to be a low-pitch noise, like a very silent background hum coming from the rear diff. You wouldn’t have noticed if you didn’t pay attention, but now it’s completely gone. The drivetrain runs noticeably smoother too.
- Widely applicable, suited for all vehicles
- No need for additives
- Works great for manual gearboxes too
- Not the cheapest out there
- Type: Full-Synthetic GL5
- Recommended for: All passenger vehicles and light trucks
- Content: 1 Quart x 6 = sixpack (945 ml x 6)
In our “Best Budget” selection, Mobil 1 Gear Lube came out on top.
In fact, it was an easy decision: there’s no other full-synthetic gear oil out there that offers so much value for such a low price: also great in cold conditions, meets or exceeds the highest level of performance requirements and protects against thermal and oxidative degradation, wear and corrosion.
Customers praise Mobil 1’s quality and budget-friendliness. They say that this diff oil lubricates reliably even in Alaskan winter conditions, contrary to other cheaper products they’ve tried. Many customers say they’ve used nothing but Mobil 1 Gear Lube for all their cars with nothing but great results.
- Great value (especially the six-pack)
- For cold climates too
- Not for Heavy-Duty or towing applications
If you’re looking for a gear oil that offers maximum lubrication and protection with minimal HP loss, this gear lube really delivers! It’s thermally stable and has high longevity.
Lucas Synthetic Racing Gear Oil is highly recommended for high performance transmissions and differentials. Lucas’ special anti-wear and lubricity agents control wear, drag and heat.
This specialized lubricant outperforms any ordinary gear oil in both race cars and any heavy-duty application. Even on the hottest track day, you can rest assured: this professional gear oil won’t let you down!
Even the most demanding customers love this product:
At the Arca/Remax Stock Car Series, a driver reported 15% temperature reduction when using this diff oil compared to other oils, which is a huge deal!
The crew chief and lead mechanic of a professional TransAm team states he noticed extended life and less wear when using Lucas Gear Oil.
Teams using this light-weight friction-free gear oil have already won in IRL, NASCAR, Pro Stock Car, Pro Stock Bikes and more.
- Optimized for High-Performance vehicles
- Thermally very stable
- Transfers maximum engine power to the ground with minimal drag and friction
- Premium price for a premium product
The best differential gear oil for Heavy-Duty SUV’s, pickups, trucks, semi’s and heavy construction machinery is Lucas Heavy Duty Gear Oil. It outperforms in all demanding, high torque situations. This heavy lubricant protects from premature gear wear and overheating.
Using Lucas Heavy-Duty gear oil you can expect longer oil life, lower oil temperatures, longer component life, fewer seal leaks, and less power usage because of its advanced additives and stabilizers. Because of its outstanding lubrication under the most demanding loads, longer rebuild intervals can be achieved.
Customers say their heavy equipment and pickups really benefit from this premium oil. They claim it works miracles to silence old, worn whining diffs too.
- Makes heavily stressed gears run cooler and last longer
- Silences diff whine
- Longer rebuild intervals
- Premium pricing
- Not suited for extreme cold climates
Comparison Table Of The 4 Best Differential Fluids
|Best Overall||Royal Purple||Max Gear 75W-90 High Performance Synthetic Automotive Gear Oil|
|Best Budget||Mobil 1||Full Synthetic Gear Lubricant 75W-90|
|Best For Sports Cars||Lucas Oil||L9 Synthetic Racing Gear Oil|
|Best For Heavy-Duty Vehicles||Lucas Oil||SAE 85W-140 Heavy Duty Gear Oil|
Most people only start paying attention to their differential when it starts making weird noises or starts to whine. By then unfortunately, the damage is already done. Yet, regular differential fluid changes can prevent a costly rebuild and are easy to do. Don’t wait until it’s too late!
Because differentials operate under high loads, they deserve the best gear oil to make them perform better and last longer:
The title “Best Overall” goes to Royal Purple Max-GEAR because it is so versatile and performs to the highest standards in all situations. Customers say it’s the best gear oil ever!
If you think those high-profile products are overpriced and you’re looking for gear oil that performs well without breaking the bank, you should try our “Best Budget”: Mobil 1 Synthetic Gear Lube LS. You won’t be disappointed. This full-synthetic lube does what it says on the bottle and performs very well in extreme cold. It’s tried, trusted and approved by a loyal following.
If you’re a real gear head (pun intended) and want nothing but the best for your high performance race car, only Lucas Synthetic Racing Gear Oil will do. This Pro-League gear oil is made to resist high speeds and extreme power in the most challenging conditions.
For Heavy-Duty SUV’s, pickups, trucks, semi’s and heavy construction machinery, we highly recommend Lucas Heavy Duty Gear Oil.
This heavy gear oil is king when it comes to handling demanding, high torque situations. This lubricant can save you a lot of money in rebuild costs with its extreme pressure load resistance.
Now that you’ve got the right lube for your gear, you’re ready to hit the road!
What Are Car Differential fluids Made Of?
Differential fluid or gear oil is made of a blend of oils and additives. Premium differential fluid is made of full-synthetic oil with specially designed additives to make the oil more stable, run cooler, withstand higher temperatures and last longer. These properties reduce differential gear wear and make the gears run smoother and quieter.
How Often Should I Change My Differential Fluid
Differential fluid should be replaced every 30K-60K miles or sooner, depending on your vehicle and use. Check your vehicle’s manual for the correct intervals and correct viscosity, quantity and type of gear oil. If no specific information is available, always use GL5 differential fluid or gear oil. This is the highest quality lubricant available for differentials.