Diagnosing and Fixing Noisy Automotive Transfer Cases

The automotive transfer case is an essential component in four-wheel-drive and some all-wheel-drive vehicles. It diverts power from the transmission to both the front and rear axles. However, when it starts to make excessive noise, it's often a sign of underlying issues. Understanding why a transfer case might be noisy and knowing the steps to rectify the problem can save you from expensive repairs in the future.

Common Reasons for a Noisy Transfer Case

  1. Worn out or damaged bearings: Over time, the bearings inside the transfer case can wear out or get damaged, leading to a loud grinding noise.
  2. Low or old transfer case fluid: The fluid helps lubricate the moving parts inside the case. If it's low or has lost its efficacy, you may hear whining or humming sounds.
  3. Gear problems: Damaged or misaligned gears can produce a clattering or grinding sound.
  4. Chain stretch or slack: The chain inside the transfer case can stretch over time, leading to a slapping noise.

Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing a Noisy Transfer Case

1. Safety First

Before you begin any work on your vehicle, ensure it's on a level surface and that you've engaged the parking brake. Always wear protective gloves and safety glasses.

2. Check the Transfer Case Fluid

  1. Locate the transfer case drain and fill plugs.
  2. Using a wrench, remove the fill plug.
  3. Check the fluid level. If it's low, add the recommended fluid until it reaches the bottom of the fill hole.
  4. If the fluid appears dirty or has a burnt smell, it's time to replace it. Drain the old fluid by removing the drain plug and then refill with fresh fluid.
  5. Replace and tighten both plugs.

3. Inspect the External Components

Look for any visible damage, loose mounting bolts, or linkage problems. Tighten any loose components and replace damaged parts as necessary.

4. Listen Carefully

Start the vehicle and try to determine the exact source of the noise. This will help you identify if it's a bearing issue, gear problem, or a chain issue.

5. Address Bearing Issues

  1. If you suspect the bearings are the cause, you'll need to remove the transfer case from the vehicle.
  2. Open the case and inspect the bearings for any signs of wear or damage.
  3. Replace any worn-out or damaged bearings.
  4. Reassemble the transfer case and reinstall it in the vehicle.

6. Tackle Gear Problems

  1. If you've identified a gear problem, again, remove the transfer case.
  2. Inspect the gears carefully for any signs of wear, misalignment, or damage.
  3. Replace any problematic gears and ensure they're correctly aligned during reassembly.
  4. Reassemble the transfer case and reinstall it.

7. Address Chain Issues

  1. If the noise seems to originate from the chain, inspect it for slack or stretching.
  2. Replace the chain if it's stretched or shows signs of wear.
  3. Ensure the new chain is correctly tensioned during reassembly.

8. Final Testing

Once you've addressed the suspected issues, it's essential to test the vehicle. Drive it under various conditions to ensure the noise is gone and that there are no new issues.


A noisy transfer case is not just an annoyance; it's a sign of potential problems. By addressing these issues promptly, you can ensure a smooth and reliable drive while preventing more significant, costlier problems down the road.

Article published