If you are relatively new to Jeeps or off-roading in general, you may be wondering what lockers on a Jeep are. In this post, we are going to explore this subject and, hopefully, bring you to a better understanding of what they are and how they work.
In short, A Jeep locker is a mechanism is designed to keep your vehicle’s driven wheels from spinning. Locked in place, they provide maximum traction for your Jeep and can even help it pull itself out of a slippery situation. a locker works by utilizing a set of gears to allow one wheel on the axle to spin independently of the other three wheels. This means when one wheel is off its traction limit, it can spin freely until it is once again able to grip the surface it is driving on.
When you need to improve traction on a slick surface, like ice or snow, a Jeep locking system can be the solution.
To give you a better idea of what they are, let’s talk about why they are necessary in the first place. When you are driving on and off-road, you will have different requirements for how your Jeep performs.
On the road, you will need better handling and steering, especially around corners. On the track though, you will require better traction to navigate difficult situations. In order to navigate either scenario well, your differential needs to be configured in the right way.
Your differential of dif, for short, is responsible for how your wheels perform in various situations. For, example when you are turning left, the right or outside front wheel spins faster while the left side wheel spins at a slower rate.
In this same scenario, the differential mechanism assigns more traction to one wheel and less to the other if you have a standard or open differential.
In short, the wheels spin independently of each other. This configuration usually leads to getting stuck when you are in difficult terrain. If you are stuck between rocks, for example and one wheel is in the air, an open differential will cause the wheel in the air to spin while the one which is stuck remains stationary. A locker or diff lock makes it such that you lock the differential making the wheels move together at the same time.
In such a case, you get the same traction on both wheels at the same time. Diff locks are usually configured to lock either the front or rear wheels independently or at the same time.
Types of Lockers
There are different types of lockers on the market and the one you choose to go with will depend on your specific needs, preferences, or current Jeep configuration. Let’s look at these in more detail.
1. Open Differential
This type of deferential is great for on-road but not so good for off-road performance. The wheels are configured to allow the wheels on different sides to spin at different rates.
It’s great for handling especially when hitting turns. When it comes to off-road capability though, you will struggle. What tends to happen is that traction goes to the tire which needs it less in situations where you are stuck.
To tell whether your Jeep has an open differential, you can lift it on some Jacks then turn one wheel. If the opposite wheel spins in a different direction, you have an open differential.
A spool is the complete opposite of the open differential. It’s basically one shaft from one wheel to the other meaning that your wheels have no autonomy. They move in the same direction at the same speed.
This setup makes it great for off-road traction but makes it handle terribly. Its usually installed on strictly off-road vehicles or for drifting. If you have a daily driver, it’s not recommended to have a spool installed as it’s a handling nightmare on the road.
3. Automatic Lockers
As the name suggests, automatic lockers transition automatically between locked and open differential. Ideally, it’s supposed to operate as an open differential on the streets and then lock in off-road conditions. Unfortunately, it can sometimes have a mind of its own and not perform to script.
4. Lunchbox Lockers
A lunchbox locker is the cheapest option and involves just changing out the spider gears in a regular open differential. The problem is that it’s really noisy and tends to ratchet a lot, especially in corners.
Besides that, it’s a pretty solid locker that will give you great performance on and off-road. The fact that it’s cost-effective makes it a favorite of many. If you are looking for something that is really long-term (2 to 3 decades) you are better served to save and buying a proper locker.
5. Limited Slip Differential
A limited-slip differential is a cross between a locked differential in that it limits the spin effect on the tire with less traction. It brings some degree of diff lock while also allowing the tires to rotate at different speeds.
This works great when you are driving in the snow where one wheel can be on a surface with good traction while the other is on snow or ice. On the streets, you will get the performance of an open differential while off-road, you will get close to the performance of a spool but not quite at that level.
Limited slip differentials do have challenges when you run bigger tires. They can get overwhelmed and operate as an open differential in off-road conditions. Most recommend that you run 31″ tires or smaller as anything bigger may overwhelm it in off-road conditions. That’s the major trade-off with this type but it’s pretty close when it comes to offering the best of both worlds.
6. Selectable Lockers
These use airlock systems predominantly. You get to choose when to put it in and out of the lock. They provide great traction and maneuverability when required. You will need a 12V power source as well as a Co2 tank to make this work.
How do I know if my Jeep has a locker?
The easiest way is to look at your owner’s manual. This feature can be found in the specifications section regarding the axles. The owner’s manual will give you a clear and concise overview of what your vehicle includes and doesn’t include. Another way to check if your Jeep has a locker look underneath the vehicle.
Which Jeeps come with lockers?
- Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: Jeep Rubicon both front and Rear Lockers comes as a standard feature.
- Jeep Wrangler X: Lockers don’t come as standard on Wrangler X but do come as an optional upgrade.
Conclusion on Jeep Lockers
As far as performance goes, they may just be the most reliable on the market. Obviously, a lot will depend on who you ask when it comes to which the best option is.
Robert Anderson is a world class motorhead who rebuilt his first carb at age 10, his first engine at age 15, and completed his first full hotrod build when he was just 18! Previously, he has ran a part warehouse, delivered pizzas, and managed the service department for a $20 million/year revenue dealership. Robert knows cars like few others and he is passionate about sharing his knowledge.