A broken axle can be an extremely frustrating problem for any driver to deal with. You think of things wearing down on your car like your oil filter, or your tires wearing thin, but you don't ever think that the axle that holds your wheels in place is going to break on you. And, to be honest, it is pretty rare for your axle to suffer so much damage that you need to have it replaced. As far as durable parts of your car go, you should be able to expect that the axle will last the life of your vehicle. However, accidents and unexpected things do happen and that could very well lead to your axle being so badly damaged that you're going to need to swap it out with a new one.
Just so you know right off the bat, the cost of getting your axle replaced in most vehicles is going to average somewhere between $500 and about $950. There is some wiggle room here especially because the front axle replacement and the rear axle replacement are different jobs that require different work. A front axle will be a cheaper repair job than a rear axle and will be towards the lower end of that scale, likely between $500 and $600. A rear axle can get up between $800 and $1,000 to repair.
Since getting the new axle is such an unusual repair job for a driver to have, you can be forgiven if you don't really know that much about what goes into it and how much it costs. Let's take a look at how a mechanic will handle a broken axle, the signs and symptoms that you have a problem with your axle , and what could have happened that caused it to break on you in the first place.
Can You Repair an Axle or Do You Have to Replace It?
When we talk about vehicle repairs, we will often use the word repair even when we are referring to a replacement. In this case it is good to distinguish between the two because you definitely want to replace a damaged axle rather than repair it. Of course, it's possible to attempt an axle repair but it's not really the kind of thing that you want to be doing.
Most damaged axles have got a bend in them somewhere. The metal should be straight, but for whatever reason you sustained enough damage to bend the axle which causes your wheels to no longer be properly aligned. The only way you could straighten this out again would be to remove it and put it in some kind of vice to bend it back into place or even use a torch to try to weld it so that it can be straightened out again. However, once the metal has been weakened enough to bend, it will never be strong enough again to do the job it's supposed to do. Just think of anytime you bent a piece of thick wire, or even the handle of a spoon. You can bend it back again, but it will never really be as strong as it was because on a molecular level it has been significantly weakened. That spot will be extremely susceptible to future damage.
Rather than stick with an unsafe axle, your only solution here is to replace your damaged axle with a brand new one.
What Are the Signs of a Bad Axle?
If your axle has been damaged but hasn't completely broken on you there are some clear signs that you'll experience that let you know that you're having a problem. You definitely don't want to ignore these for very long as the problem will continue to get worse and put you and other drivers on the road in danger as a result.
Knocking Sounds: There are a number of things that can go wrong in your car that will produce a knocking sound, but if you hear a specific knocking and clunking sound that has a rhythm to it, and specifically the rhythm of the motion of your tires as they rotate, this could be a sign that your axle has sustained some damage. In some cases you may notice this sound more prominently when you're in reverse, and it may be hard to pinpoint it coming from a specific place in your vehicle, but if you're hearing that rhythmic thumping sound you can bet it's not a good sign.
Sounds When Turning: In addition to the sounds that you might hear just when driving, you might also notice a sound that only pops up when you're turning the car. This popping sort of clicking sound is caused by loose joints hitting together when you turn.
Vibrations: In general, when you drive your car the ride should be pretty smooth. However, when you sustain some axle damage then you'll notice some more serious shaking and vibration than you're used to. Vibrations will come through the steering wheel into your hands while you're driving, and you may also feel a shaking in your feet or in the seat as well if it's bad enough.
Difficult Driving: Because a bend in your axle is going to throw off the alignment of your tires the driving you do is going to become significantly harder. Maintaining a straight line will be exceedingly difficult because the bend has thrown the two wheels on either end of the bad axle into misalignment. Your car will continue to drift in one direction or another and however you compensate it will simply drift off in a different direction as a result. You'll notice some extensive wobbling as well and it will be difficult to determine how to maintain a straight path as a result.
If you're experiencing this kind of uneven driving, you want to have a friend to take a look at your vehicle while you're driving at low speed to determine where exactly the problem is coming from because, when you're behind the wheel of the car, it's very difficult to determine which wheel in particular is giving you the most problems. However, from the outside it will be very apparent which one is bent in the wrong direction.
Can You Drive a Car with a Broken Axle?
It is absolutely unsafe to try to drive your car with a broken axle. It may be possible to go a short distance on it, but you definitely won't be going very far or for very long. It will actually be surprising if you could travel at all on a broken axle, but depending on the severity of the damage you might be noticing some severe wobbling, grinding noises, and your car pulling dangerously in one direction or the other. If you continue to try to drive on it, you run the risk of getting into an accident and making the damage to your vehicle even worse. In short, just don't do it.
What Can Cause an Axle to Break?
As we said, a damaged axle is pretty unusual in the grand scheme of car repairs. There are a few ways that your axle could sustain enough damage that would require having it replaced, and not all of them are as obvious as you might think.
Accident Damage: One of the more obvious causes for a problem with your axle stems from accident damage. If you've been struck by another vehicle, your axle may have sustained damage that you weren't aware of at the time of the accident.
Potholes and Speed Bumps: One of the more common causes for damage to an axle is road hazards like potholes and speed bumps that you will hit before you realize how dangerous they are and there is very little you can do to handle the problem after the fact. In particular, a water-filled pothole on a rainy day can look innocent enough until your tire hits it and sinks entirely if it's deep enough. That can throw your car off balance enough that your axle will actually hit the road with the entire weight of your car on top of it. The same thing can happen with improperly formed speed bumps, or if you happen to run up over the curb at some point in time. It's also possible that you can hit some trash on the road and cause the same reaction depending on what it was you ran over.
Manufacturing Errors: This is the one thing that few drivers think of that could lead to a problem with the axle and that is it was simply bad when it was installed in your car in the first place. Even though this is a rare circumstance, it has happened in the past. In 2019 Ford recalled about 30,000 F-250 and F-350 trucks because of a defect in the rear axle shaft that could result in an accident. They blamed this on improper material handling during the cooling process of actually manufacturing the axles by the supplier.
Back in 2007, GM had to issue a similar recall for a quarter of a million Saturn, Pontiac and Cadillac models that had a problem with a rear axle seal that could cause a leak leading to a loss of control and crashing.
The problem is that the axle is meant to be a very straight piece of metal that has to be heat treated so it will be rigid and strong. If the heat treating process isn't done correctly when the axle is manufactured the metal can have weak spots in it that can be subject to bending and breaking under far less pressure than they should be able to handle normally.
If there is a problem with the axle in the vehicle that you're driving and the manufacturer is aware of it and issues a recall you will be notified about the problem and it should be fixed without any charge to you. However, sometimes it does take a number of reports from dissatisfied drivers who have had to endure these kinds of failures before a recall will be issued, so if it happens in the new model you may not realize there's a problem until it's too late. Unfortunately, there's just no way to predict or diagnose a manufacturing defect in an axle until after the axle has failed on you.
How Long Does It Take to Repair an Axle?
Your car has two axles, so we'll assume that only one of them needs to be replaced. The entire repair job will probably only take between 30 minutes and two hours depending on whether or not you need any additional repair work done besides the axle itself. This is for the actual time the mechanic spends doing the job, and they may need to take your car in for a whole day if they're busy, however. Keep in mind there's also going to be some time to diagnose the problem that's going to go into this as well, to check out your CV joints and brake pads, calipers, and all that as well to make sure there isn't widespread damage in addition to the accident.
The Bottom Line
A broken axle is one of those things that you can never really predict, and most drivers never really expect. The only way to proceed to keep your car axle safe and secure is to be a cautious driver and make sure you're avoiding any road dangers you see in front of you including debris and noticeable potholes as best as you can. Since most axle damage is the result of accidents, either colliding with other vehicles or by hitting these random hazards on the road, being a defensive driver is your best bet. Beyond that this is going to likely be out of your control because, as we said, there's no way to predict a manufacturing mistake and you can't predict the behaviour of other drivers who may end up colliding with you and causing an accident that is going to damage your axle either. Just be aware of your surroundings, be a cautious driver, and if you do have any actual damage get it fixed as quickly as you can to avoid further accidents.