Air Lockers: Everything You Need to Know

As an off-roading enthusiast, you’re no doubt constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance your vehicle’s capabilities. One popular truck or Jeep modification you’ve probably heard about, or even made in your 4×4 is the use of air lockers. These advanced differential systems lead to increased control over the vehicle, improved traction and go a long way towards boosting off-road performance.

What are Air Lockers?

Air lockers or air-operated differential lockers are devices that are designed to provide maximum drive to all wheels of a 4×4. They are the strongest locking differentials on the market.

4WD vehicles come equipped with front and rear differentials. These distribute power/ drive to either the left or right wheels on each axle, rotating the wheels and tires and moving the vehicle. Without the assistance of locking differentials, the 4WD can only send power to a maximum of 2 wheels at any time.

Air lockers are locking differentials paired with a source of compressed air and are activated using an electronic switch. They lock both the left and right wheels of an axle together, preventing them from spinning independently and ensuring equal distribution of power and torque across the axle.

They’re typically installed on the front and rear differentials of off-roading vehicles and their engagement is manually controlled. Off-roaders can choose to switch to locked differentials when driving over surfaces with low traction like muddy bogs, or uneven, rugged or steep terrain where the tires don’t have a firm grip.

How do Air Lockers Work?

Air lockers work slightly differently from other differentials by relying on a pneumatic mechanism. An onboard air compressor or a separate air source provides the compressed air that is used to engage or disengage the lockers.

Normally air locking differentials are in an open state, allowing the wheels to spin independently. When the driver encounters challenging terrain, they can push the button that activates the lockers.  This locks up the two wheels on the same axle, ensuring that they both turn at the same speed regardless of the terrain and traction. This prevents the wheels from slipping while providing maximum traction to get over obstacles and giving the driver greater control over the rig.

Once the difficult terrain is behind, the off-roader can disengage the air lockers, returning the differentials to an open state for better maneuverability and turning when driving on regular roads.

When using air lockers, it’s recommended to engage the rear ones first and if the rig is still struggling, take the foot off the accelerator before engaging the front air lockers as well. If you engage either air locker when you’re pressing hard on the accelerator with the wheels spinning at different speeds, “crash locking” will happen. This can cause damage to the lockers, internal gears and other parts of the drivetrain.

What to Consider Before Installing Air Lockers


Air lockers can be expensive to install especially when you factor in the cost of additional equipment such as a separate air source or onboard air compressor. However, the benefits of having them justify the expense.


For proper functioning and durability, air lockers have to be properly installed. This is one thing that should be handled by professionals who are familiar with the specific 4×4 model and locker type.


Like other mechanical components, air lockers require regular maintenance to ensure their performance and enhance their durability. As part of the regular professional service and maintenance, lockers should be checked for air leaks and the air compressor monitored, if present.

Skill and experience

While air lockers can greatly enhance off-roading capabilities, they require a certain level of skill and experience to use effectively. Inexperienced and novice off-roaders should first put in practice and familiarize themselves with proper off-roading techniques before attempting challenging trails that require the use of air lockers.

The benefits of Air Lockers

Air lockers have a host of benefits for avid off-roaders including:

  • Improved traction
  • Better off-roading performance
  • Better vehicle control
  • Reduced tire wear
  • Improved durability and reliability

We Can Upgrade Your Rig

Whether you want some air lockers installed or need other mods and upgrades for your custom truck or Jeep, Dixie 4 Wheel Drive is up to the task. We’ve been in the off-roading business for decades and are proud to have worked on several custom builds during that time. Our expertise, attention to detail and customer-oriented approach have made us into a nationally renowned off-road superstore. Contact us to work on your dream build or to restore your 4×4 to its former glory. We’re always happy to help!

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