Toyota Tacoma Locking Rear Differential (How to Use It)

The Tacoma's electronically locking rear differential is an essential tool in an off-roader's arsenal.

Key Points:

  • A locking differential forces the wheels to turn at the same speed.
  • Helpful in situations where a wheel is partially or fully lifted off the ground
  • For 2024, it is available on TRD Off-Road, TRD PreRunner, Trailhunter, and TRD Pro grades.

If you plan to take your Tacoma off-road, you want to understand how the locking rear differential works. The Toyota Tacoma locking rear differential could get you out of a stuck situation, so you want to know how to use it.

We show you the basics of the locking rear diff on the Tacoma. We also explain how and when to use it and reveal which trim levels include the equipment.

What Is It?

The locking rear differential is helpful when more traction is needed, especially while off-road. This equipment is handy if one of the rear wheels starts spinning, such as when the truck is in a ditch or on a slippery surface.

When engaged, the locking rear diff mechanically locks the rear axle, forcing the wheels to rotate at the same speed. The wheels no longer spin freely but must rotate at the same rate, so torque is applied to each tire on the rear axle. This action reduces the chance of losing traction. 

(2023 Tacoma Owner’s Manual)

How It Works

In normal driving situations, the rear axle on the Tacoma is open. This simply means that both wheels are free to spin at whatever rate is necessary. They don’t need to spin together. 

When traction is lost, or the path becomes slippery, the locking rear differential locks both wheels on the axle together as if it were a common shaft. Both wheels spin simultaneously, no matter what level of traction is available to the wheels individually.

Older model Tacoma trucks have a locking rear differential that utilizes vacuum lockers. These operate from the vacuum pressure created by the engine. 

Late model Tacomas use an E-locker to lock the axle. With this system, an electromagnetic mechanism is used to lock the wheels together. Available torque is sent equally to both wheels. 

(Motor Trend)

How to Use It

It only takes a few seconds to engage the locking rear differential on your Tacoma. Here are some simple steps to follow.

On 2WD Tacoma with locking rear differential

  1. Stop the vehicle
  2. Press the Rear Differential Lock Switch to turn it on or off. The button shows four wheels, with the rear axle locked.
  3. The indicator light will blink. Once the indicator light stops blinking, the system is locked and ready. 

On 4WD Tacoma with locking rear differential and automatic transmission

  1. Stop your vehicle
  2. Move the gear shifter to Neutral
  3. Switch to 4L 
  4. Press the Rear Differential Lock Switch to turn it on or off
  5. The indicator light will blink. Once the indicator light stops blinking, the system is locked and ready.

If 4L doesn’t work, you must stop the truck completely and press the rear differential lock switch. Once the switch is activated, gently press the accelerator pedal. Once the vehicle starts moving, unlock the differential lock by pushing the button again. 

On 4WD Tacoma with locking rear differential and manual transmission

  1. Stop your vehicle or reduce speeds to under 2 mph 
  2. Depress the clutch pedal 
  3. Switch to 4L 
  4. If this doesn’t work, stop the wheels, depress the clutch pedal, and turn on the rear differential lock switch. 
  5. Slowly release the clutch pedal
  6. Once the vehicle starts moving, you unlock the rear differential lock by pushing the switch again. 

Here are a few pointers and tips to consider while using the locking rear differential.

  • The system disengages automatically when the engine switch is at the LOCK position or turned off.
  • The system disengages automatically on a 4WD Tacoma when the front-wheel drive control is set to 2WD or 4H.
  • Don’t forget to turn off the locking rear differential once the truck starts moving. You should never travel more than 5 mph with the system locked.
  • Do not engage the wheels until the truck is completely stopped. If you engage it while moving, the truck could travel in an unintended direction, leading to damage or an accident. 

(2023 Tacoma Owner’s Manual)

When to Use It

When would be a good time to use the Tacoma locking rear differential? Here are some scenarios where it would be helpful to have the locking rear diff activated.

  • Stuck in a ditch
  • One wheel is lifted off the ground
  • Off-road on slippery surfaces, such as dirt, gravel, snow, or mud

As an example, here’s a ditch that our content director, Jonathan, encountered while off-roading in Telluride Colorado.

Because of the angle at which he’s driving over the ditch, there isn’t much weight on the right rear wheel (circled below). Notice the large gap between the wheel and the fender.

toyota tacoma driving through a ditch

This was causing the wheel to slip and spin faster than the left rear wheel because it didn’t have enough traction. Enabling the rear differential lock allowed both wheels to spin at the same speed, which made it easy to get over this ditch.

It’s important to remember that the locking rear differential is not for regular everyday driving. It should never be used when driving more than 5 mph. 

(2023 Tacoma Owner’s Manual)

Which Tacomas Have This Feature?

Toyota has offered a locking rear differential on select Tacoma trim levels since 1996. Over the years, the trims it has been included in have changed. For a specific model year, you want to do some research before deciding which Tacoma to buy.

On 2024 Toyota Tacoma models, the locking rear differential is included with these trim levels:

  • TRD Off-Road
  • TRD PreRunner
  • TRD Pro
  • Trailhunter

The locking rear differential is not included with the TRD Sport models. 


Frequently Asked Questions

No, this system is not designed to be used over 5 mph. You could damage the transmission on your truck by using it on the roads. 

Use the system as it was intended. Read the owner’s manual to understand all of the dos and don’ts. You should also keep up with all of the regular maintenance, making sure the parts remain lubricated by changing the differential oil. 

No, these systems both offer additional traction, but the LSD sends torque to the wheel that’s slipping to regain traction. The locking rear differential delivers power to both rear wheels equally. 

Related Content

Keeping You Out of the Ditches

If you love having adventures with your Tacoma, the locking rear differential can be a trusted friend. Toyota has engineered this diff to ensure you don’t get the truck stuck.

Whether you are sitting in a ditch or have found your way into some mud, this system is easy to activate, so you can return to enjoying your time off-road. Give it a try and see how simple it is to use. 

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One Comment

  1. graydon britton says:

    Thanks for the article. very useful