When it comes to versatility, Jeeps are excellent vehicles for those who love to venture off the beaten path. They easily transition from an everyday driver to off-road machines that can handle the roughest of terrains.
Jeep axle lockers, also called locking differentials, are installable devices that significantly enhance your Jeep’s traction. They do this by ensuring the tires receive the same amount of power, even if one is off the ground. These lockers are only helpful when off-roading. When used on the highway, a locker would likely do more harm than good.
Whether you’re unsure what a Jeep locker is or you’re trying to determine the best type of locker for your Jeep, you will find the answers to all of your questions below. We will provide a detailed look at what a jeep locker is, the different types, and when they should and shouldn’t be used.
What is a Jeep Locker Explained
A Jeep axle locker, sometimes called a locking differential, is a device that sits in the center of the differential housing. They do this by locking both wheels of an axle together to provide better traction.
This works by sending equal power to both wheels rather than more power to the one receiving the least resistance.
Does My Jeep Wrangler Have Lockers?
Certain Jeep Wranglers do have factory lockers, while others do not. The Rubicon is the only Jeep Wrangler that comes factory with front and rear axle lockers.
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is designed to thrive in on and off-road conditions. This Wrangler can easily handle uneven and rocky terrain thanks to the Tru-Lock differentials on the front and rear axles. These lockers are electronically enabled and disabled by pushing the button inside the Jeep.
Those that do not come with stock lockers often come with the brake locking differential, which has similar benefits. While this doesn’t work exactly the same way that lockers do, it can offer the additional traction needed to pull through situations where one of the Jeep’s tires is not getting traction.
The brake locking differential balances the power between the two axles when you apply pressure to the brakes. Unfortunately, this isn’t as effective as lockers, especially in extremely rocky or steep environments.
Luckily, it is possible to add aftermarket lockers to Wranglers and other types of Jeeps that do not come with factory lockers to give them the same advantage.
What Do Lockers Do on a Jeep?
Jeep lockers lock the axles together to ensure the tires spin at the same force in order to improve traction.
They allow for steady power distribution across both tires on that axle. This improves the Jeep’s traction and makes it easier to avoid getting stuck when riding terrains such as rock walls, muddy grounds, and mountainous areas.
For example, if you’re in a situation where one of the tires isn’t entirely on the ground, both tires will spin at the same force rather than the lifted wheel receiving more power.
However, there are downsides to lockers when used when they aren’t needed. So, it’s best to know when you should use them.
When Should I Use a Jeep Locker?
If you have, or plan to have, lockers on your Jeep, it’s crucial that you’re aware of when they should be used and when they shouldn’t be. When lockers are used at the wrong times, it can be unsafe and potentially cause damage to the Jeep.
Jeep lockers are made for off-roading but shouldn’t be on at all times. The best way to avoid risking damage is only to enable the lockers when needed. It’s best to allow them to right before you hit the place you expect to lose traction.
They should never be enabled for regular highway driving. Aside from potential damage, lockers can make steering difficult. This is mainly because when turning, the inside tires are likely to rotate faster than the outside tires. Additionally, this can sometimes cause one of the tires to lock.
However, depending on the type of locker you have, you may not have to enable and disable them manually.
Different Types of Jeep Lockers?
There are several different types of Jeep lockers. Each type functions in a unique way and falls within a different price range. The most common types are spools, automatic, and selectable lockers.
Some of these lockers engage and disengage automatically with specific actions such as acceleration or turning. Other must be manually engaged and disengaged as needed.
There are two options for spool axle locks- full spool and mini spool lockers. A full spool replaces the ring gear housing altogether with one piece. On the other hand, a mini spool sits inside the center of this housing rather than replacing it.
These two types of spools offer the same results. The main differences between them are their size and cost. Adding full spools to your Jeep will cost between $250 and $350, while the mini spools will only be between $50 and $100.
While this type is one of the least expensive, they have several disadvantages.
For example, you cannot engage and disengage these lockers as needed.
This means that the axles will always be locked, which makes them an undesirable option for a Jeep that you may also want to use on the highway. In addition, this causes the tires to wear more quickly, which could quickly become expensive.
Another issue with spool lockers is that they make the vehicle a bit more challenging to turn, which can make driving it less enjoyable. This can also be rather unsafe if you’re driving on the highway, so this option is best for Jeeps that are only used for off-roading.
Automatic lockers are another type that may only be ideal for vehicles that are used for off-road riding. This is because you cannot manually disable them, which could create several of the same safety issues that come with the spool lockers.
For example, these lockers generally engage when you accelerate and disengage during a turn. However, they can cause one of the wheels to lock during a turn, which could easily cause an accident.
Many who have added automatic lockers to their Jeep have also noticed that they can be noisy when the vehicle is moving.
This option is also more expensive than spools. The price can vary based on many factors. The total cost for adding automatic lockers to your jeep can range from $400 to $900.
However, they can be a convenient option for off-road Jeeps because they engage and disengage on their own without input from the driver. This makes gaining extra traction effortless. In addition, they are very effective in providing better traction in off-road environments.
Overall, selectable lockers are the best option if you want to use your jeep on and off-road.
Selectable lockers give the driver complete control over when the lock is engaged. This eliminates almost all of the safety concerns for those who also want to drive on the highway.
These lockers will only engage when you manually engage them, meaning they won’t automatically engage while you’re driving on slippery roads or while you’re turning. Furthermore, selectable lockers do not add as much wear to the tires since they’re not continuously engaged.
You can choose from several types of selectable lockers. The main difference is the method used to activate them. For example, you can choose from air, cable, or electricity-activated lockers. While there are slight differences in these options, they all work in a very similar way.
Electric lockers are the most recommended because they tend to be the most reliable. This type is also very easy to use, as you only need to press a button to engage the lock.
The only significant downside to selectable lockers is that are among the most expensive options. These lockers can cost up to $1300, depending on the type you choose and other factors.
However, when considering the adverse effects on the vehicle that you can avoid with these options, they save money in the long run.
Selectable Lockers Versus Automatic Lockers?
Of the locker options available, spools are not as sought after because of the excessive tire and drivetrain wear they cause. The most popular types of lockers are selectable and automatic lockers.
When comparing the two, there are pros and cons to each that you should weigh when deciding which option will work best. The most important thing you should consider is whether the Jeep will be used on the highway or only for off-road fun.
Selectable lockers are the best option for those who plan to drive their vehicle on the highway regularly. Otherwise, you can compare the two to see which best fits your needs.
- Engage and disengage as needed
- Minimal extra wear to tires and drive train
- Little to no safety risks when driving on the highway
- Higher price than automatic lockers
- No need to remember to manually engage when needed
- Lower upfront cost than selectable lockers
- May cause a good bit of wear to the drivetrain and tires
- Could cause the wheel to lock up in turns
- Not safe when driving on wet or icy roads
If neither option meets your needs, you may find what you’re looking for in a limited-slip differential locker or traction control system.
How About Limited Slips and Traction Control?
If you want better traction without compromising your open differential with a locker, a limited-slip differential could be what you’re looking for. A limited-slip differential gives more torque to the tire with more traction to help stabilize the vehicle.
These differentials are best for those that often drive on icy roads. However, this isn’t a great option for off-roading, as it doesn’t allow the tires full power. This means if you get stuck, you may not have the power needed to push forward.
In addition to this differential, various traction control systems can help improve traction.
Unfortunately, neither of these options will provide the same level of stability that lockers offer for off-road conditions. For the most part, these options enhance traction when traveling on the highway, as they only activate when the vehicle is actively slipping.
If your Jeep is used off-road, your best option is to install a locker.
How Do I Install a Jeep Locker?
Once you decide on the right Jeep locker, you can easily install it by following the steps below. These steps may vary based on the type of locker you’re installing.
How to install a Jeep locker:
- Use a jack, lift, or blocks to raise your Jeep off the ground enough to remove the tires.
- Before installing the locker, you must remove the tires, brakes, rotors, and axles. You’ll also need to remove the differential drain plug and drain the fluid completely.
- Next, cleaning the housing thoroughly is essential to ensure a successful installation.
- Now, you can begin installing the locker based on which type of locker you are installing. This will consist of breaking down the housing to accommodate the new pieces that will be added.
- Install the bearings and shims. The bearings need to be torqued to 45lbs.
- Reinstall the axle shafts, brakes, and rotors.
- Install the differential cover. The differential cover bolts should be torqued to 25lbs.
- Refill the differential fluid to proper levels.
- Reinstall the wheels and tires.
Once you’ve installed the locker, you should test it to ensure everything is working correctly. If it doesn’t, check to ensure everything is assembled correctly.
Best Lockers to Buy for Your Jeep
Several lockers are highly recommended among Jeep owners if you’re unsure which one you should buy for your Jeep.
Among these, the top three most recommended include the:
- Gear Spartan Locker
- Yukon Gear & Axle Grizzly Locker
- Eaton 912A569 Detroit Truetrac
However, keep in mind that the locker that will work best for you will depend on how much control you need to have over the locker.
If you need the ability to disengage when needed, make sure you choose a type of selectable locker.
Do I Need a Jeep Locker For Overlanding?
Jeep lockers are not a requirement for Overlanding. However, Overlanding without a locker can make it much more challenging. This is because many of the conditions you will run into while Overlanding will require a higher level of traction to cross.
When considering the remoteness of the locations you may be exploring, getting stuck could be a more significant issue than in average off-roading situations. So, it’s best to ensure your Jeep can handle the worst.
What Can I Expect To Pay For a Jeep Locker?
The price you can expect to pay for a Jeep locker will vary based on many factors, including the model of your Jeep and the type of locker you purchase.
On average, automatic lockers cost between $400-$900. However, if you want to purchase a selectable locker, you can expect to spend anywhere from $800 to $1300.
What is Open Differential
An open differential allows car wheels to rotate independently from the other to prevent instability. It also helps to prevent tire wear, so you do not need to replace the tires as frequently.
This is the most common differential for cars that travel mainly on the highway. However, this differential is not ideal for vehicles driven off-road on a regular basis. An open differential does not provide the level of stability needed for these conditions.
Adding a Jeep locker can be highly beneficial for those who frequently venture onto rough terrains in their jeep.
This is because lockers can significantly improve the traction and stability of your jeep. With this improved stability, you’ll be able to spend more time exploring and less time stuck due to a lack of traction.
As long as you choose a locker that is adaptable to the roles your Jeep fulfills and doesn’t cause more damage than you want, it can make your off-roading experiences much more enjoyable.
I’m William Guzenski, ASE certified master automobile technician & automotive expert. I love to attend race events and car shows throughout the country. I also loves to travel 40-foot motorhome, exploring abandoned mines and ghost towns. I’m currently building another car for Bonneville Salt Flats and will be campaigning a drag car at several events.