The Final Drive: Exploring Differentials, Transfer Cases, and Shafts

The final drive is an essential component of a vehicle’s drivetrain that transfers power from the transmission to the wheels. It consists of different elements such as differentials, transfer cases, and shafts. Let’s delve into each of these components:


Differentials play a crucial role in the final drive by allowing the wheels to rotate at different speeds while receiving power from the engine. They distribute torque between the wheels, enabling smooth turns and traction control. There are different types of differentials available:

1)   Open Differential:

An open differential is the most basic and common type. It allows the wheels to rotate at different speeds, providing smoother turns and better maneuverability. However, it may result in power loss if one wheel loses traction.

2)   Locked Differential:

Locked differentials ensure that both wheels receive equal torque, regardless of traction conditions. When engaged, they lock both wheels together, ensuring power distribution to both sides. Locked differentials are further classified based on the locking mechanism:

  • Mechanically Locked: Mechanically locked differentials use physical mechanisms, such as gears or locking pins, to lock the differential. They provide maximum traction but may result in limited maneuverability on uneven surfaces.
  • Hydraulically Locked: Hydraulically locked differentials use hydraulic pressure to engage and lock the differential. They offer improved traction and are often found in off-road vehicles and heavy-duty applications.
  • Electro-Hydraulically Locked: Electro-hydraulically locked differentials use electronic control systems to engage and disengage the locking mechanism. This allows for on-demand locking, providing enhanced traction when needed.
  • Electronically Locked: Electronically locked differentials utilize electronic control systems to engage and disengage the locking mechanism. They offer precise control over power distribution and are commonly found in modern vehicles equipped with advanced traction control systems.

Transfer Case:

The transfer case is a component primarily found in four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles. It distributes power from the transmission to both the front and rear axles, allowing for varying levels of power distribution between the two. The transfer case enables the selection of different drive modes, such as 2WD, 4WD high, and 4WD low, depending on the driving conditions.


Shafts are the final components of the driveline system, responsible for transmitting power from the transmission or transfer case to the wheels. There are two main types of shafts:

1)   Propeller / Tail Shaft:

The propeller or tail shaft is a long, rotating shaft that connects the transmission or transfer case to the rear axle. It transmits power to the rear wheels in rear-wheel drive vehicles.

2)   Drive Shaft / Half Axles:

The drive shaft, also known as a prop shaft, connects the transmission or transfer case to the front axle in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles. In rear-wheel drive vehicles, it connects the transmission to the rear differential. Half axles, also called drive axles or half shafts, are found in front-wheel drive and some all-wheel drive vehicles. They connect the differential to the front wheels.

These shafts transfer rotational power to the wheels, allowing the vehicle to move forward or backward. They must be properly balanced to ensure smooth operation and minimize vibrations.

In conclusion, the final drive system, comprising differentials, transfer cases, and shafts, is crucial for transmitting power from the transmission to the wheels. Differentials allow for varying wheel speeds and traction control, while transfer cases distribute power to multiple axles. Shafts connect the transmission or transfer case to the wheels, enabling forward or backward movement. The choice of final drive components depends on factors such as vehicle type, driving conditions, and desired performance characteristics.