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What is a Drive Shaft?

drive shaft repair autobutler
The wheel end of the drive shaft is visible

A drive shaft connects the transmission to the wheel and thus drives the wheel - hence the name. There is a drive shaft for each wheel connected to the engine.

On front-wheel drive cars, naturally, there is a driveshaft on each front wheel, and the same goes for the rear wheels on rear-wheel drive cars. Therefore, there are drive shafts connected to all four wheels on a four-wheel drive car.

How does a drive shaft work?

A drive shaft consists of a number of parts, but the most vital are the axle shafts in the middle, which are made of flexible metal. The shaft must be able to flex sideways and up and down while transmitting the driving force from the car’s acceleration; so it needs to be very durable.

On each side of the shaft is a drive shaft joint, both of which are covered by a drive shaft boot. At both ends are short threads. The spare part is generally a flexible and strong link between the car's central parts and the wheels.

The drive shaft joint is sometimes referred to as a constant velocity (or CV) joint. As mentioned, this part is covered by a ribbed rubber boot. When conducting an MOT, this part is examined under the category “drive shaft joint constant velocity boot” and the mechanic notes to what degree it has deteriorated. You can only partially pass the MOT if the CV joint boot is worn down or torn. If this is the case, the constant velocity joint itself is exposed to dirt and water and may result in the entire drive shaft being replaced. A more affordable repair would be to simply change the drive shaft boot before it’s too worn.

On the gearbox side, the driveshaft is mounted on what’s called the differential gear. It sits on the side of the gearbox on front-wheel drive cars, and on rear-wheel drive it sits down by the rear wheels separate from the gearbox.

On the wheel side, the drive shaft enters through the wheel hub, where it is attached. Encircling the drive shaft is the wheel bearing, which rotates with the drive shaft when the car is driving.

What are the signs of a bad drive shaft?

After many years of driving, a drive shaft joint can become worn. Read on to see if your car has a drive shaft problem.

What does a defective drive shaft noise sound like? Among other things, you can hear drive shaft noise when turning, or you might hear loud knocking sounds when accelerating hard.

You might also experience play in the drive shaft, which is often indicated by delayed movements or vibrations and a general effect on your driving, which becomes uneven or abrupt when accelerating.

But what causes drive shaft failure? Aggressive driving that strains the axle shafts, or engine or tyre modifications that mean higher torque, worn drive shaft joints, or a lack of oil in the differential gear.

Drive shaft repair or replacement

A new spare part is never cheap, and the price of a new driveshaft can lie between £200 and £300. Therefore, adding labour hours, it may be a relatively expensive repair, so you should always ask for quotes from Autobutler's partnering garages.

If you want to replace the drive shaft yourself, there is of course a lot of money to be saved if you have the right tools and the skills to do so. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to change the drive shaft:

  • Lift the car off the ground with a car jack so you have access to the underside and the steering.
  • Remove the wheel by unscrewing the bolts.
  • Remove the hub nut to release the drive shaft from the hub.
  • Partially unmount the ball joint so that it is still on the suspension arm.
  • Partially unmount the tie rod so that it is still on the steering rack.
  • If the drive shaft is fixed in the differential gear by the gearbox, you must make sure to drain the oil from the differential gear before unscrewing the drive shaft. However, this depends on which car you are dealing with, but usually applies to normal, front-wheel drive cars.
  • Either you can now unmount the drive shaft, or you have to remove it from the differential gear.
  • Then install the new drive shaft in the same way as the old one was mounted and reassemble the parts, finishing with the wheel.

If you are not a DIY mechanic, you can ask for a quote on the replacement here at Autobutler and compare prices from garages near you. It saves our customers between 20 and 40%!

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