The Dangers Behind Open Differential Drifting

With drifting becoming more and more common in highschool-aged kids, they start to try and drift their cars. Almost all of these cars, if they’re even RWD, will have an open differential. I know my Chrysler Crossfire did, and that didn’t end well. With the rise of people trying to drift cars without the proper equipment, just how much more dangerous is it?


Drifting with an open differential is extremely dangerous. Attempting to drift with one will lead to one of three outcomes: One tire breaks traction, both tires break traction, or one tire breaks loose, and the second loses grip after. All three of these situations are extremely dangerous, and should be avoided if possible.


Depending on a multitude of factors, each one of these three situations are very possible, and all pose an immediate threat to you, your car, and those around you. The risks of drifting with an open differential are monumental compared to the rewards. If you’re absolutely positive that you want to drive your open-differential vehicle, here are some tips on how to avoid hurting others.



1) How To Initiate A Drift More Reliably


There is no truly “reliable” way to start a drift with an open differential. A clutch dump would just get one tire spinning, ripping the E-brake wouldn’t help with the open diff either. My preferred way of getting a car sideways is the “Scandinavian Flick”, also known as Kansei Dorifto!? . All memes aside, this is a method used in rally to get your car to swing wide enough to make sharp turns. This same principle applies to drifting, helping you swing the rear end around without significant jarring on the drivetrain.


The process itself is much easier than it sounds, sort of like double-clutch downshifting. The numbered graphic (provided by Wikipedia) goes with the following steps:


  1. Enter the corner slowly. You can take it faster once you’ve practiced more.
  2. Start to ease up on the gas, and be ready to turn left
  3. Turn left, and apply the brakes. The rear should step out to the right
  4. Flick the wheel to the right
  5. Apply throttle, this should bring the rear around to the left
  6. Balance the car using both the brakes and the gas
  7. Start using more gas, aim your wheels towards the exit of the corner
  8. Off the brakes, full gas
  9. Car should be back to straight, continue as normal


Why Does The Car Act This Way?


  1. As you enter the corner, your weight is somewhat centered on the car
  2. We start to slow down using the engine, we don’t want the weight to shift yet
  3. As we apply the brakes and turn, the weight shifts to the front of the car, and off the rear wheels. They lose grip, but keep their momentum, and kicks the rear end out
  4. Starting your car moving towards the apex of the turn
  5. The rear wheels start to spin, and pushing your car forward, brings the rear end out the other way
  6. Keeping your car sideways through the corner
  7. Now you’re at the apex of the corner, you can start applying some gas
  8. You’re aiming your car for the exit now, not the apex, you can floor it
  9. Back end snaps back in line, and you’re on your way


How Is This Useful With An Open Differential?


One of the biggest problems while trying to slide with an open differential is that one wheel isn’t pushing, and the other has very little grip, so the car doesn’t have the power to keep pushing through the corner. With the Scandinavian Flick, though, your momentum is carried as much as possible through the turn, allowing your wheels to keep spinning as you’re going through the corner. This also, like I said before, puts as little stress on your drivetrain as possible, dealing the least amount of damage.



2) Dangers Of One Wheel Peels

When you try to clutch-kick a car with an open differential, all that torque you just created goes to one wheel. That one wheel breaks loose, and you look like a fool pulling a “One-Wheel Peel”. If you’re trying to drift, and end up doing a one-wheel peel, you may end up countersteering when you don’t need to. Your car suddenly snaps towards the outside of the turn, and you’re eating a ditch. If you manage to keep it out of that ditch, then you’ve still only got one wheel’s worth of grip on the road in the back. If you hit another slippery patch, and that other wheel lets loose, you’re borked.


Also, if you’re in the middle of a one-wheel peel, and there’s an obstacle in the road, you have no chance of stopping. That wheel is going to keep on spinning until the cows come home, and you’re along for the ride. Either way you look at it, you and those around you could get seriously hurt if you try something like this.



3) Dangers of “Successfully” Drifting With An Open Differential


If you successfully get your open differential car sideways, then congrats! You’re still highly prone to crashing! Yippee. While you’re mid-corner, one of those wheels has a very high chance of deciding “Nah, f*** this” and stopping. Just. Stopping. There’s no warning, the wheel will just stop turning, because there’s nothing making both wheels turn together. You got lucky to get the wheels to turn together in the first place.


So, when (not if) that wheel stops, what’s gonna happen? Well, you’ll feel a little jumping as that wheel tries to grip, and then when it does, the car is gonna whip the other way and start to skid out, with you doing your epic one-wheel peel now. If you’re in a super large, empty parking lot, this isn’t too big of an issue.


However, if you’re in traffic or there’s anything around to hit, you can bet your bum you’ll hit it.”If something can go wrong, it will go wrong”. Hitting another car can cause damage to both cars involved, but even worse, could hurt the occupants. If you’re ruled at fault in court (you can bet you will be), you’ll be paying those huge hospital bills. One wrong move, and you could have just thrown the rest of your life away.



4) Dangers Of Going From 1-Wheel Peel To 2-Wheel


I’ll be up-front with this, because it may save your life one day. This is how I crashed my Chrysler Crossfire. I was taking a sweeping S-bend, and tried to slide around the second bit. One wheel was going, and couldn’t get the other going. I was turned to exit the corner straight, until the second wheel let loose.


See, things moving really fast can get really hot. And when things get hot, especially metal, they get sticky. When the differential’s gears get sticky, they try to stop turning. Once they stop turning, you effectively have a straight axle. Now, I had that one-wheel peel going pretty fast through the second turn, and my diff got a little too hot, and locked. So now both wheels are spinning about 60mph, while my car is moving about 40mph.


That doesn’t sound too bad, until you figure that this was on a snowy S-bend, where there was little room to recover. I countersteered once, and wasn’t quick enough when the tail whipped back. The tail got too far out, and I wasn’t able to stop the rear wheels. I kept trying to countersteer, and when I caught it, it was too late. I hit the curb doing about 30, with my wheels doing about 50 still.



  • Bent rim
  • Broken subframe
  • Broken lower control arm
  • Bent tie rod
  • Broken upper control arm
  • Bent a-arm
  • Minor Concussion (I had no helmet on, and bashed my head against the window, thank god that didn’t break)


I was lucky, only breaking this much in that crash. This repair took about a week, and maybe $600. These numbers may not seem like much, but that was forever and expensive for a 16-year-old. You can bet I learned my lesson about driving carelessly with an open diff, I haven’t driven a car without a limited slip or better to this day.


I say this from experience: Please, don’t try to drift with an open differential. You might get a moment of fun, but if you aren’t careful, or are just unlucky, that’ll lead to more than just a moment of pain.


As a drift enthusiast, if I've owned the car, you can bet it's been sideways! Honda S2000, Chrysler Crossfire, 1987 Porsche (only once, *never again*), and my babies, my 1995 Notch-top SR 240SX and 1991 Red-top SR 240SX. I've had a ton of fun, and I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences, tips, and recommendations with you all!

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