Chevy Pickups 101: What’s the Differential?

What an axle ratio means and why picking the right one is important

2012 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

 

Technologies like advanced turbodiesel V-8 engines or hydroformed steel frames have advanced the Chevrolet Silverado to unprecedented levels of capability for fullsize pickups. In just the decade since the 2003 model debuted, maximum towing capacity for a Silverado HD has risen 43 percent, from 16,100 pounds to an industry-leading 23,100 pounds.

Getting that towing force from the engine to each rear wheel is the task of a set of gears located in the center of the truck’s rear axle known as the differential. The ratio of the sizes of those gears is represented by the diameter of the gear that drives the wheels in relation to the gear from the driveshaft. So, a 3.08:1 ratio indicates the drive gear has 3.08 times as many teeth as the gear on the driveshaft.

Using different diameter gears within the differential affects both towing ability and fuel efficiency. Since pickup owners have varying needs and preferences, Chevrolet addresses different requirements by offering various rear axle gear ratios.

“A numerically lower axle ratio keeps engine speeds lower for better fuel economy, while higher ratios generally yield higher towing capacities and quicker launches from a stop,” said Robert Crotty of Crotty Chevrolet Buick in Corry, PA.

2013 Chevrolet Silverado HD Crew Cab

Four different ratios are available across the Silverado 1500 ½-ton pickup lineup: from 3.08:1 to 3.73:1. Available ratios vary by cab type, engine and drive type. Silverado HD, including ¾-ton and 1-ton models, uses rear axle ratios of 3.73:1 and 4.10:1.

Each ratio is decided after months and years of testing factors such as acceleration from a stop; performance on a grade; transmission behavior; fuel economy; towing, and thermal management. Keeping engine speeds down allows a vehicle’s cooling to be more effective.

How much of a difference does the choice of axle make? A 2013 Silverado 2500HD with a 6.0L V-8 and four-wheel drive can tow a maximum of 9,900 pounds with a 3.73:1 ratio or 14,400 pounds with a 4.10:1 ratio. Crotty  estimates the fuel economy difference at highway speeds would be around 0.2-0.3 mpg between those two ratios, though reduced engine noise is also a benefit of maintaining lower engine speeds with the more-efficient ratio.

Crotty recommends customers consider their everyday needs. “The higher the combined weight of a truck and trailer, the harder the vehicle needs to work. If a customer is going to tow a small boat just a few times a year, a Silverado 1500 with a lower ratio would capably handle the occasional towing duty while delivering better efficiency the other 95 percent of the time. But for someone towing construction equipment every day, I would definitely recommend an HD pickup with a 4.10 axle and external engine and transmission oil coolers.”

 

%d bloggers like this: