96 Ford Explorer - Clunk the sign of dying Diff?

So here I am, a poor college student who uses his dad’s aging 96 ford explorer eddie bauer edition (V8 5.0L) to get to and from the local supermarket and back once per week, with occasional 150 - mile trips home.

And a few weeks ago, I start to hear a series of clunks when I accelerate out of a stop. The clunks only occur in low gear, when accelerating sharply. They occur more rapidly and loudly if I accelerate harder. They sound and feel like they are coming from the front of the car.

I take it in to a very reputable mechanic ( Capitol Mechanics) and the next day Mike himself calls me and tells me that he thinks it may be the differential. He says the Transfer Case didn’t have any metal shavings in the oil, so the differential was a likely culprit. However, it would take 5 hours of labor just to remove the differential, and 8 hours to replace it.

Now, I can’t so easily cough up $1,000 for a used differential. But on the other hand I do tend to trust a mechanic who commands so much trust when he speaks to me and is highly rated on this site. Can anyone else think of any other likely possibilities? Or of a way for a student like myself to make this happen in a way less painful to my already waning checking account?

Get him to say “for sure its the differential”

I have a suggestion other than the diff: how about a worn out universal joint? They’re known to clunk when accelerating from dead stops if they’re going out. It’s a far less expensive problem than an entire differential, and worth examining.

I can pay for 5 hours of labor to drop the differential in order to find out. That would be labor included in the replacement of the diff.

I can think of other possibilities. Worn CV joints would be more plausible than a bad differential IMHO. An example of one side.


I don’t know what book time is on this job but 13 hours total sounds a bit much.

I should have rephrased. The replacement of the differential would take 8 hours total. If I ONLY wanted to remove the differential to inspect it, it would take 5 hours. They dont add.

However, both suggestions about the CV joint are really good. I’ll probably ask him if he has inspected them at all. Thank you.

Doesnt diff clunk come from excessive backlash? this can be measured with the diff in the car.He could do a gear contact pattern test with the diff in the car.I am concluding that we are talking about the rear diff. (or is there even a front diff)

I’m a bit skeptical about the diagnosis, the explanation, and why it takes 5 hours to remove a simple cover with a dozen bolts.