Poor man's 4X4, limited slip differential

I’ve heard about ‘special’ differentials that provide wonderful traction. Almost as good as having a 4X4. So I’ve done some looking about on the internet. What bothered me right away was how some limited slip diff’s have clutches that may need replaced. Then I found some kind of torque sensor thingy, that is a strange arrangement of all gears and may last forever. (yeah, right). Well, I’d love to get something like this in my '04 Ford E-150 van. (it can be trouble in mud and snow) Does anybody have experience with this type of differential ? and How should I approach doing this in my van?
Or, even if I should do it…
Thanks for any type of discussion, Gympiegoo

That van is at the top of the list of vehicles that cannot handle ice and snow. Several hundred pounds of bagged sand just ahead of the rear wheel wells can raise the truck’s winter abilities from impossible to very difficult. But, of course, the van has room for warm clothes, some canned food and a sleeping bag to wait it out for the rescue team. Detroit Locker differentials are a great improvement over the peg leg OE rear end but nothing will make an Econoline adequate to ice and snow. And, BTW. I have owned several and driven them more than 1 million miles. Luckily ice and snow are rare in my neighborhood.

In my experiences, there are no cheap ways out if you want something reliable that actually functions as it should. Otherwise, a salvage yard might have a factory one in stock from a wreck. That’s where I’d go first.

Otherwise, I’d go to reputable manufacturers of after market differentials that have been in the business for years. Nothing lasts forever. The abs activated faux par limited slip used in today’s cars and trucks come as close as possible but at the expense of brake pads and true functionality. PS, Rod is right…add weight and lot’s of it. I have found that with lot’s of added weight and limited slips, they are really pretty good in snow…glare ice can be a different matter.

You need to get very educated about what TYPE of rear axle is under your van now…Does it have a removable “pumpkin” which can be removed from the front of the housing and replaced with a limited slip unit or does it have a cover on the back allowing access to the differential gears which are built into the housing…Also, does your E-150 share axles with the F-150 P/U trucks and will they interchange…A salvage yard that specializes in Ford Trucks can answer these questions. So can a good Ford truck internet forum…

I am interested specifically in the “Torsen” differential. It appears to be a unique design with no clutches and all gears. Does anybody have direct experience with this “all gears” differential system ?
My rear is a solid axle with a cover.
Thanks, gympiegoo

While Torsen is a good make you don’t need to worry about clutches, most ls diffs have them and don’t wear out. However no diff will make your van good on snow.

The weight bias and geometry of the Econoline vans causes them to handle poorly. They under steer even on wet pavement but on ice they are nearly uncontrollable. And if the front ever grabs with the wheels turned hard the rear can come sailing past you due to the lack of weight/traction. Locker rear ends can help get the van moving but will do nothing for the miserable handling.

My experience with limited slip is that it is vary good for getting you moving, but it reduces the safe speed you can travel at. Limited slip seems to make a vehicle want to swap ends at a lower speed than a conventional differential. But I never got stuck with the limited slip.

I might be tempted to look into an ARB Air locker Locking Differential.
You engage it only when needed to get you moving. You then aren’t “stuck” with a limited slip and it’s possible disadvantages.

@Rod Knox, I wished I had talked to you back in the mid '80’s when I was driving an E-150 with cheap bias-ply tires and towing a 10KW generator to airports calibrating FAA radar test equipment.

Got caught in a snow storm near Buffalo NY.
Driving down the interstate ~10MPH.
Wind blew me off the road, nose first into the ditch.
Tow truck nearly couldn’t get traction to pull me out.
Didn’t hurt anything but my pride.
What a day!

Have you considered winter tires?

My 4x4 has limited slip…It helps…but it’s NOT a substitute when you need 4wd.

“Poor Mans Limited Slip”…Weld the spider gears to the carrier…The result is a locked axle…Posi-Traction to the max. A little tedious going around corners…

separating control of the left and right emergency brakes will give the driver control over a spinning wheel. It’s a red neck posi-traction.

The newer versions of abs controled limited slip are nearly as good now as the mechanical. Not as good as a manual locker, but perhaps safer on snow and ice. With a 4wheel drive so equipped, all four wheels get reasonable power. It’s maintenance free, except for the brake pads and many trucks and suv s with either awd or 4 wd are now standard with it.

Separate brake pedals “Rod” ? Sounds like a tractor to me. On cars without a limited slip, starting off on ice or with one wheel stuck in snow, you can get some help with the other wheel just riding the brake slightly as you give it the gas.

Twin parking brake controls were in a kit offered in J.C.Whitney, etc. I have seen them installed on dune buggies and other such toys including a few deer camp trucks.

Yeah I put about 500K on my full sized Olds with a posi traction rear end. The only problem I had with it was that an additive needed to be added to the rear end once in a while to stop the chatter. Yes it had very good traction in snow, however, it could be a little tricky on ice and could have the tendency to spin out. I’ll let a physics major explain it. I’m all front wheel drive now and that has been the best for winter driving. With good tires and FWD, never had a problem.

Like Bing, I had a GM car with P0sitraction (1988 Caprice). With good winter tires, this car plowed through just about everything. After a record snow storm a number of years ago I made it into work on time while several of my Jeep owning colleagues went back to bed.

As pointed out, the limited slip differential is not smart enough at speed to accurately provide the exact amount of traction to the drivewheels. I fishtailed one time when driving on dry pavement in the winter and hit an unexpected patch of ice.

If you have Positraction don’t ever use the Cruise Control on anything by dry pavement. You could be in real trouble swapping ends. All owner’s manuals address this issue, but few owners read and heed it.

However, I believe that Positraction with the new traction control setup would be almost as good as AWD but at much lower cost.

Agree that GM recommends you change the axle fluid every 12,500 miles, but I would just check and add more additive. Mine needed an extra amount to stop the chatter. Consumer Reports recommended against Positraction, since it could get bonehead drivers into trouble.

When I was a kid, my father had a Chrysler Cordoba. He yanked a limited slip rear axle out of a similar car in a junkyard, brought it home, and went about rebuilding it with intentions of installing it in his Cordoba. Neither my mother nor any of us kids understood why, he just said he would show us next winter why he wanted to do this. The first snowstorm we got totaled 16 inches, and he got in that car and drove it straight out of the driveway without shoveling a single scoop.

On another note, I once had a Ford F-150. The second day I had it, we got a light rainfall and I found myself wondering if the truck had limited slip. I got into the throttle a bit going around a turn, and it swapped ends before I had a chance to do anything about it. I guess that was a yes.