A lunchbox can have more than one meaning to off-roaders who like to hit the trails for the day in their favorite off-road, rock-climbing truck. Sure, you’ll want to pack your lunch when you head out, but what about adding a lunchbox locker to your truck? These differentials are great on the trail and pretty cost-effective, too. You’ll want to understand the pros and cons of using one before you make the investment, though. While a lunchbox can work out for most off-roaders, some may find it to be an inconvenience for use in any truck that’s also a daily driver.
What’s A Lunchbox Locker Anyway?
Despite the cute name, a lunchbox locker is actually a pretty useful upgrade on many off-road trucks. Also called a pocket locker or a drop-in locker, it’s an automatic locking differential that can slip into the existing stock differential case without removing the entire part. The drop-in parts can be installed without replacing the ring and pinion gears or the carrier. This makes installation much faster and simpler, as well as less expensive. It’s also an upgrade that many truck owners can do in their own garages.
What’s In That Lunchbox?
Before looking at the pros and cons of using a lunchbox, it’s important to understand what it does and how it differs from other differentials. Most vehicles come with an open differential that reduces slip by allowing the wheels on each axle to rotate separately. Many stock off-road or 4-wheel drive vehicles come with a limited slip differential or an on-command differential, both of which sort of bridges the gap between an open differential and a locking one in terms of slip and function.
A locking differential is one that locks so that both wheels turn together, creating more traction. In the case of a lunchbox locker, the differential locks automatically as soon as torque is applied to the wheels. This is desirable when you’re on the trails because the differential works all by itself.
Does Your Truck Need A Lunchbox Locker?
That depends on how you actually use your off-road truck. Although drop-in lockers do release and allow a certain degree of variation in wheel spin, they are not as open as an OEM limited slip or on-command differential. Lockers definitely affect the ride, especially cornering, and can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the tires as a result.
There is also a definite locking and unlocking motion when the differential activates, which may not be so desirable in a daily driver. Lunchboxes may be a heavy-duty differential option, but they are only as strong as their carriers. When strength for optimal off-roading is needed, a better choice is switching out the entire differential to a more heavy-duty option.
On the brighter side, drop-ins are affordable and for many people, they’re a great upgrade on an off-road truck that sees limited street time. They may not be the strongest or the best option like completely switching out the differential, but lunchboxes offer the benefit of improved traction easily and affordably. Any off-road truck owner who likes to tinker can install it pretty easily, as can most auto mechanic shops. Because they aren’t totally locked, they still offer a degree of flexibility on the trail, activating when needed and switching off when not.
So, does your off-road truck need a lunchbox locker? They can be a great upgrade for those starting to venture into the rougher terrain. You’ll want to think hard before putting one into your daily driver, though, unless you’re willing to accept the fact that you’ll likely go through tires quicker, and your ride might not be as nice. For those deciding to go with the locker, there are a number of great options out there to add to your off road upgrade list, along with that taller suspension and those heavy duty bumpers.