CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Differential is going bad. Can I convert awd to fwd?

The differential in my 2004 Pontiac Vibe (same as a Toyota Matrix) is going bad .

Can I just disconnect the rear wheels from it and convert the car to front wheel drive? And save the cost of having to get a new differential put in?

You can remove the driveshaft on a Saturn vue, Chevy Equinox, Pontiac torrent with no issues. Folks complain that the rear ends sometimes bind on dry pavement and the issue is a failed clutch pack. Some say the diff is noisy during AWD operation which may or may not be the same problem. If your diff makes noise with the driveshaft removed than you may have other internal issues that removing the driveshaft does not ifx.

You would have to pull the driveshaft to the rear differential to disconnect AWD. To keep the differential from still turning and possibly making noise, blowing up, ect, you would need to remove the rear CV axle shafts as well. Unplug the electromagnetic clutch for the rear diff. That should toss an error to the AWD system so it will know the system is broken. You will get a warning light or message that will never go out.

1 Like

How do you know it won’t be okay to just let it fail, and hope the result will be simply the loss of rear drive?

'Cause the differential will continue to turn unless they remove the axles and driveshaft. That’s how the system is laid out.

The clutch to engage the rear diff is IN the diff and the diff is always turning with the rear wheels. If any of the diff bearings are failing, as they likely are, if it isn’t disconnected, the diff will continue to destroy itself.

1 Like

Does your Vibe use rear wheel drive when in 2wd mode? If so, you may find here’s a problem w front wheel drive only, due to that configuration never having the suspension and braking systems designed for or tested. Even if front wheel drive is the default 2wd mode, I think you’d be better just to have the rear differential repaired or replaced. There’s usually shops in most urban/suburban areas that specialize in differentials and driveshafts, so phone some of them up and get some quotes. Might not be as expensive as you think, especially if they can get a used differential from a wrecking yard and just swap that in. I concur w/the advice above that if you go the front wheel drive only route you’ll have some work to do on the rear differential anyway, otherwise it will eventually fail in a manner you don’t really want to happen. Possibly unsafe.

Aw, how refreshing, we have a dreamer.

This looks like an excellent reason to repair the system or replace it with a surplus unit.

3 Likes

Thanks everyone, I’m hearing a difinitive answer: we need to replace the bad differential.

Thanks for making that clear!

1 Like

what is your failure mode? noise on dry pavement or when wheels are slipping and making the rear “work”? is it quiet during most driving?

So not really possible to just lose the rear-drive portion and end up with the wheels turning freely?
I was thinking of some of the crude trailers I’ve seen made from the back half of an old pickup, with the differential still intact.

They are functional only because the differential is functional despite not being connected to a driveshaft.

1 Like

Which diff is going bad? Center or rear? How do you know?

have you tried to find a used diff assy? or is that process out of your comfort zone? many people prefer to not turn a wrench. thats ok

I wouldn’t say “lose” but disconnected.

If it is disconnected from the driveshaft, the wheels will still turn just like old trailers made from half a truck. If the diff itself is failing, you don’t WANT it to turn, you want it totally disconnected from the wheels. This isn’t a solid axle, it is an independent diff and suspension system. That gives you the option of removing the half shafts or CV shafts or axle shafts - whatever is in your vocabulary - so the inners of the diff don’t turn and continue to tear stuff up internally.