You may think that your Jeep Wrangler transfers power to all four wheels equally when it is in four-wheel drive.
However, that isn’t actually the case. In order to corner over rough terrain, the power is dispersed unequally. However, this can work against you when you get stuck in the mud.
For us off-roaders and jeep enthusiasts, this is a likely scenario, as gut-wrenching as it may be. However, there are ways to ensure that your tires are all getting equal power when you need them to. Introducing: jeep lockers.
Jeep lockers (formally known as locking differentials) lock your axels and send power to both tires on each axel equally. They are used when you need to drive straight in four-wheel drive to get your jeep unstuck from mud or other soft terrains.
If you want to know more about how jeep lockers work, how to use them properly, and more, you have come to the right place. Keep on reading for a comprehensive guide on Jeep lockers and when to use them.
What Is A Jeep Locker?
A Jeep locker is a device that locks the axel of your vehicle so that power is dispersed evenly between both wheels of the axel. Lockers can be used on the front axel of your Jeep Wrangler or on the front and rear axles simultaneously.
Essentially, a locker is designed to give you equal traction with both tires so you don’t have the incorrect wheel spinning when you are getting through dicey terrain.
This works well in many situations where you may be accidentally stuck or purposefully going climbing with your Jeep, but we will discuss more of the when below.
Lockers are differentials that change how the power is disbursed between the tires on the axel. They come with some Jeep Wranglers, and they can also be installed aftermarket if need be.
Lockers are pinion bearing journals housed in a metal case that engage with the throttle or with the push of a button, depending on the type of locker you purchase.
How Does a Jeep Locker Work?
A Jeep Locker usually will stay engaged until an action with a certain amount of force (like taking a corner) forces it to disengage, allowing the tires on a single axel to have different power levels dispersed between them.
This is important for safely taking turns, and is why turning in a modern vehicle is easy to do.
Some lockers work with the push of a button so that you can receive traction on-demand.
This can be useful as well when you are in a slippery situation and also have to make a turn, which can often happen when rock climbing with a Jeep Wrangler.
When Should I Use a Jeep Locker?
Jeep Lockers really come in handy when going straight and getting out of tough situations such as mud, sand, or uneven terrain when rock climbing or off-roading. What can happen when you are rock climbing is the wrong wheel gets more power, leaving you stuck and often at a dangerous angle.
If you plan on doing any off-roading, you should have Jeep lockers installed. If you install lockers where you can control them from inside the vehicle, then you use them in situations as described above.
If you have automatic Jeep lockers installed, then you would turn them on before certain parts of the trail or when you are stuck.
Are There Different Types of Jeep Lockers?
Yes, as we have alluded to, there are some lockers that can be controlled on-demand as well as many lockers that automatically engage with the throttle and disengaged when certain driving actions are performed such as making a turn.
There are a few different Jeep lockers that you can purchase with differing prices and results. These variations of Jeep lockers are broken into these categories:
A spool actually connects both axels to the ring gear. Full spools replace the ring carrier assembly with one singular piece.
There are also mini spools that only replace the spider gears in the carrier your Jeep Wrangler came with. Spools cannot be controlled by the driver at will. Spools will also likely be the most inexpensive option that you come across.
However, it is important to be aware that they could be more expensive over time. Because this puts the vehicle in evenly dispersed power all the time, you will need to expect to replace your tires more often.
Furthermore, this can make hard turns rather loud and difficult as well as make your Jeep Wrangler very dangerous in icy and wet conditions.
An automatic locker is just that: automatic. It does not require any input from the driver to function, but also cannot be turned on and off at will.
Automatic lockers unlock to allow one wheel to turn faster than the other during turns and other situations.
Automatic lockers can sometimes be options to replace your Jeep Wranglers carrier entirely, and other times they are replacing the side gears within the carrier your vehicle came with.
Automatic lockers are great at giving you really good traction, but there are some things to be aware of before using them.
While the tire wear with an automatic locker won’t be as dramatic as it would be with a spool installed, it will wear out your tires faster than the factory setup.
Cheaper automatic lockers can even occasionally lock up mid-turn and cause you to jerk and cause an accident at worst, or make a really loud chirp noise with your tires at best.
Your turning radius will also increase no matter what you do, as the lockers do not engage until you are in the turn.
Automatic lockers have similar issues when it comes to icy and wet conditions that spools do.
However, if your Jeep Wrangler is specifically for off-roading and you don’t plan on taking it out on icy and wet highways, automatic lockers will really elevate your ability to go on difficult terrain.
When you have selectable lockers on your vehicle, you don’t have to worry about having your lockers engage during icy conditions or while making a turn.
That is because you simply select whether you want them engaged or disengaged from the comfort of your own vehicle. This also helps greatly decrease tire wear.
While some Jeep Wrangler trims come with selectable lockers already installed, there are a few options for after-market selectable lockers.
Some selectable lockers activate via air, some with electricity, and others are controlled with a cable. When you have a selectable locker, you are greatly reducing strain put on your drivetrain by automatic lockers and spools.
After-market selectable lockers will always place the entire carrier on your Jeep Wrangler. This is actually a good thing, as they will be much more durable as a singular package installed on your vehicle rather than individual parts.
However, this does not mean they are necessarily more reliable than say, automatic lockers.
If a selectable locker is installed incorrectly, they may not work. If you are stuck in a potentially dangerous situation or the middle of nowhere, this could be a really terrible situation for you and your passengers.
They are also going to be the most expensive option initially. But remember, they could save you money in the long run by putting less wear and tear on your tires and drivetrain.
What About Limited Slips and Traction Control?
A limited-slip differential is the middle-ground between an open differential and a locking differential in that they operate much more smoothly. They will get you better and safer performance in weather situations like snow and ice or terrains like sand.
There are clutch-type limited slips as well as gear-driven ones. The clutch-type limited slips will require a special fluid as to not wear out, so be sure to factor that in as well.
There are also traction control systems in the market that can be much better than an open differential. They will not have the performance that a locker will have, but they are better than nothing.
For highly technical terrain, both limited slips and traction control systems aren’t going to have the performance that a locker will.
The vehicle will actually have to be slipping in order to activate either of these options. When you are rock climbing with your Jeep Wrangler, you don’t want it to slip in the first place.
Does my Jeep Wrangler Have Lockers?
While certain trims of Jeep Wranglers have selectable lockers, not all Jeep Wranglers do, even if your Jeep has four-wheel drive.
If you want a new or used Jeep Wrangler that comes with Jeep-installed selectable lockers, the best way to go is to get a Rubicon.
Rubicons come with both front and rear selectable lockers standard.
Some other models might be custom-built to include them, so if you are buying a custom or used Jeep Wrangler you may be able to have selectable lockers as well. Other options for 2019 Jeep Wranglers include:
- MOAB – Antispin Rear Differential Included
- Available / Sport and Sport S – Trac-Lok Limited Slip Differential Included
- Sahara – Trac-Lok Limited Slip Differential Included
- Selec-Trac Optional
- All Models Optional
- Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case with 4:1 low-range ratio
- Tru-Lock Locking Rear and Front Differential
Now that we have gone over the options for newer 2019 Jeep Wranglers fresh off the assembly line, let’s discuss how to discern if your used Jeep Wrangler had Jeep lockers installed before you purchased it.
If you go under your Jeep Wrangler and look at the pumpkin, there should be a single tube coming out of it. This is the vent tube. If you see a second line coming out of it, then you should have a selectable locker.
To see if you have automatic lockers, you will have to open up the differential and take a look, as these do not require any kind of cable.
If you are afraid of doing this yourself, a mechanic or Jeep dealership should be able to help you discern what you do and do not have installed on your vehicle.
What Are The Benefits Of Selectable Lockers Versus Automatic Lockers?
There are many pros and cons to both selectable and automatic lockers. We do not suggest a spool for the reasons listed above, mainly the damage it does to your tires and drivetrain.
When looking at selectable lockers versus automatic lockers, however, one option may be better for some than for others.
|Automatic||Always ready whenever you need it |
Simple and fast installation
Lower installation and parts cost
| On-road handling negatively impacted|
Adds resistance on sharp turns
Tires can skip when cornering
Makes a clicking sound
Does not perform well in snow and ice
Always engaged when the throttle is engaged
|Selectable|| Acts like an open differential when not engaged|
Precise control over when it is activated or not
Does not affect on-road handling as it can be disengaged
|Can cause damage to differential if you do not disengage before on-road handling|
After-market versions have complicated and expensive installation
Has more components that can fail or break
Has to be manually activated
In order to decide which kind of Jeep locker is best for your Wrangler, you will really need to determine how often you will be using it and what kind of terrain you will be using it for.
It will also be helpful to be honest with yourself and the kind of driver you are. If you are forgetful, then a selectable locker may not be the best option for you as you could do a lot of damage to your vehicle.
If you are planning on doing some serious and technical rock climbing, then an automatic locker might be a bad choice as you are likely to let off the throttle at some point.
If you are planning on using your vehicle on the road as well, you should be honest with what is going to make your drive enjoyable or not.
For instance, the clicking noise an automatic locker makes could be really bothersome for a lot of people. If you don’t think you would mind any of that, then an automatic locker could be a perfectly good choice for you.
My Jeep Has an Open Differential, What Is That?
An open differential is the standard differential on a vehicle that controls the amount of power being dispersed between the two tires on a singular axel.
If you Jeep comes standard with an open differential, and you bought it new with no upgrades made, then you do not have any kind of locker on your Jeep.
If you aren’t planning on taking your Jeep in difficult terrain or out in the middle of nowhere, this will likely be totally fine.
You do not need a locker for regular driving, or even off-roading unless you get stuck or are planning on purposefully tackling difficult terrain.
Remember, plenty of vehicles that don’t even have four-wheel drive get out of the mud with a little bit of human ingenuity. Your Jeep Wrangler is already more equipped to deal with those situations much more so than the average vehicle.
Installing lockers is by no means necessary for the average driver, even the average Wrangler driver. However, they are helpful for certain hobbies and terrains.
Do I Need a Jeep Locker For Overlanding?
For the uninitiated, Overlanding is a term used to describe adventure travel centered around self-reliance and journeying out to remote locations.
Overlanding is done by using off-highway capable vehicles, so you will see many Jeep Wranglers being used by dedicated overlanders.
Because overlanders focus primarily on the journey itself and the exploration of rarely seen places, it is expected that they could get in some dicey terrain and situations as many of these destinations are quite literally uncharted territory.
In that regard, you may wonder if a Jeep Wrangler destined for Overlanding would need Jeep lockers.
While overlanders like to refer to a Jeep Wrangler or other off-road vehicle with lockers as being capable of “billy goat mode,” not all Overlanding vehicles need lockers.
Even for those who are dedicated to adventure in remote locales, having a locker is not a necessity.
What is recommended however is, to be honest with what you will be asking your vehicle to do and how to make it safer.
If you are dedicated to using your vehicle to climb up steep and unstable rocky terrain, then you will want to buy a Rubicon or have a selectable locker installed on your Jeep Wrangler.
If driving through sand is your thing, then you will want to have a rear locker installed, and an automatic locker will do just fine in that regard.
However, if you only are worried about getting stuck on occasion, and it may not even happen, i.e. it isn’t an intended part of your journey, then being well-versed in digging and winching your way out of situations.
This will be much more affordable as well as not putting any unneeded strain on your tires and drivetrain.
What Can I Expect To Pay For a Jeep Locker?
You should be able to find a quality automatic Jeep locker online for as little as $500.
However, the costs will vary greatly depending on the quality of the locker you are looking to buy, and if the installation will be complicated or not if you aren’t planning to self-install.
Another thing to remember when it comes to automatic lockers is that you will need one for each axel if you want both axels to lock. This may not be necessary, but it is something to keep in mind.
For selectable lockers, you should be able to find decent ones starting at $1,000.
However, please be advised these are much more complicated to install yourself, and having them installed will be much more expensive than having your automatic lockers installed.
The price of labor can vary heavily from location to location, but you should be prepared to spend at least $1,000.
You can often find the best prices for Jeep lockers on Amazon and eBay, but it is worth using Google Shopping to look at prices on other retail sites as well.
You can also look for various online coupon codes for these sites and see if you can score a better deal than you would have been able to on Amazon or eBay. When it comes to saving money, research is your best friend.
It is also recommended to monitor prices for a while before buying in order to get the best price. Retailers will drop their prices before they get new inventory, so these prices will fluctuate.
If you only check prices on a singular day, you don’t have a full view of the actual range of prices as the markets change.
How Do I Install a Jeep Locker?
If you want to take a crack at installing a Jeep locker on your Jeep Wrangler by yourself, you can buy install kits online as well.
This will save you time and money tracking down all the individual tools you need, even if you own some of the tools already.
Once you have the proper equipment, it is recommended to watch a few installation videos on youtube.
Better yet, you should watch videos for your specific locker and even your Jeep trim and year if you can find it.
There can be variations and nuances between these things, and its best to mitigate that when possible.
The less than 30 steps for installing a Jeep locker are as follows:
- Prop your car up on blocks or by another method
- Remove your tires, brakes, rotors, and axels
- Drain the oil
- Remove the carrier
- Check seals and clean the housing to prepare
- Install your bearings and shims
- Note: if your kit does not include bearings and shims, you will need to buy these separately
- Check your pattern according to your service manual
- Torque the bearing caps to 45 ft-lbs
- Install axels, rotors, brakes, and tires
- Differentiate between the short fitting and long fitting on the cable
- Install the short fitting into the cover and be sure to screw the cable rod in first and then the fitting
- Leave 2-3 threads out of the piston that slides into the cover before running cable through the outside of the spring and shock
- Now, take the cable and run it between the upper and lower control arms behind the brake line and over the skid plate
- Run the cable far away from the exhaust
- You should run it behind the lines if possible
- Keeping the cable behind the lines and away from the exhaust, thread it through the grommet hole
- Remove the grommet
- Drill the grommet with a 13/32 drill bit and cut from the center hole outward
- Now, install the cover on the differential by sliding the fork onto the locking ring
- Install the differential cover bolts that were supplied
- Torque to 30 ft-lbs before using gasket or sealant
- Assemble the shifter and thread the piston into the rod that is at the end of the cable
- Leave a ⅝” gap and use medium strength Loc-Tite
- Place the spring on the piston and into the swivel fitting on your shifter
- Thread the swivel fitting until it touches the shift rod
- Now, to ensure it is all in place, shift several times to lock and unlock the Jeep lockers
- Check the shift on the unlock position and ensure it is still touching
- If it isn’t, adjust accordingly
- Once set properly, tighten the screws on the swivel fitting
- Tighten the lock nut
- Install your shifter
Please be reminded that this process can have many factors that could change the step-by-step instructions and it is best to watch a video to get a visual idea of what you need to do.
We have supplied these instructions to give you a good idea if this is the kind of work you can or cannot handle while you make pricing decisions for yourself.
Doing it may save you a lot of money, but remember if it damages your vehicle or causes injury to yourself, you will be spending extra than if you paid a car mechanic to install it for you.
Which Lockers Should I Buy?
While you need to decide what type of Jeep locker, automatic or selectable, you need for your intended purposes, and also if you need a front locker, a rear locker, or both, we have some suggestions to get you started.
Yukon Grizzly Lockers can provide power to both tires while still allowing some differential power when turning. These are a great option for people who were worried about the issues with turning maneuverability with an automatic locker.
ARB Air Lockers are selectable lockers that give you the traction-on-demand you crave. You will be able to turn these on and off simply by flipping a switch. While these will be expensive to install, they are a great option.
OX Lockers have the cool feature of being able to use either a mechanical cable or air to switch from off to on.