When the axles in your car no longer function, your car no longer functions. Axles are the recipient of the power produced by the engine and the torque from your transmission. That's converted into the motion that rotates the axles and makes your car move. As you can imagine, if you don't have a functioning axle, then you don't have moving tires, and then you're parked rather than driving. So how can you tell if it's the axle specifically that's giving your car troubles?
Signs of a Broken Axle
As with most car issues, there are degrees of damage that your axles can endure. This can range from minor warping and cracks to a complete break. There are some telltale signs to look out for it to let you know that your axles are off.
There are a lot of things that can cause your car to have unusual vibrations. If you want to nail down an axle issue you need to pay close attention to exactly what kind of vibrations were talking about.
If you have an axle issue you'll be feeling an unusual rumble and vibration focused around a particular wheel. This will be especially true when you're accelerating or taking a corner. It will feel like that corner of your car is having a noticeable issue. The shaking and wobbling could be fairly significant depending on the extent of the damage.
The problem with axle damage is that it will definitely increase as time goes on. No axle ever managed to fix itself. If it's not fully broken, the longer you drive on a damaged axle The more stress you put on the metal. In time it will snap completely. Your warning sign for this is that vibration and rumbling sensation you feel. It will increase every time you drive.
Damaged axles will produce a noticeable noise when you try to get your car moving. The power being transferred from your engine through to the axles requires everything to be working in precise order for the car to get moving. When the axle is damaged the engine will be struggling to get that moving properly and you may hear some grinding or clunking sounds as your engine attempts to get the axle moving properly.
That clanking and clunking sound generally means your transmission is unable to get the axle moving properly so the metal is kind of banging uselessly in there. If you're outside of the car as someone else tries to start it, you may be able to pinpoint the precise location the sound comes from. That can help you properly diagnose exactly where the axle is damaged.
If you noticed a suspicious oil leak there's a chance that could indicate you have axle damage. This kind of leak won't come from under the engine where a typical oil leak comes from, rather down the inside of one of your tires where the damage has taken place.
Leaking grease is a sign that there's damage to the axle boot. That doesn't necessarily mean that the axle itself is completely damaged, but it could indicate a problem in the future. If your axle boot is not properly lubricated it has the potential of drying out or getting clogged with dirt and other debris and that can end up wearing the axle to the point that it breaks.
Lack of Mobility
This seems a little too obvious, but the most clear sign that your axles have failed completely is that you simply can't move your car. If your axle is broken there's just no way that your car will be able to move at all. It's essentially like trying to run on a broken leg.
If this is the circumstance you're dealing with then when you start the car and try to put it into gear your engine will rev as you normally expect but literally nothing else will happen. There will be no motion at all in your car. That is essentially the sign of a catastrophic axle failure. It has broken completely, likely near the universal joint, and you're going to have to get the whole vehicle taken into the shop for repair.
What Can Cause Axle Damage?
Because the axles are located under your car it's generally not that easy to damage them. That doesn't mean that they are invulnerable, of course. There are a handful of things you need to watch it for it over to keep your access working properly.
Potholes cause a lot of trouble for drivers on the road and the damage they can do to your axle is one of the most serious issues. If you hit a pothole at the wrong angle and if it's deep enough then one of your axles could make contact with the road under you with the entire weight of your vehicle on top of it. That can result in a serious bend or even a broken axle out right on the spot.
Accident damage can result in bending or warping of your axles as well. A lot of times this is the kind of damage you don't notice at first after an accident because you're more concerned with the more obvious damage. If another vehicle were to sideswipe you or hit you at the right angle the force of that collision can definitely cause a serious warp in an axle.
Sometimes axles fail just because they were poorly made. If the axle was not heat treated properly to handle the correct amount of stress, or if the design of the axle shaft is not the correct length then it may end up suffering excess stress during things like turns. This can result in warps and breaks over time.
CV Joint Failure
The CV joint, or constant velocity joint, connects the drive shaft to the transmission and the wheels. Because these are transferring the torque to your wheels there's a lot of stress that the CV joints are under on a regular basis. The CV joint is covered by a boot that is supposed to keep it well lubricated and protected from foreign matter and debris. If the boot cracks then the grease could leak out, the debris can get in, and it will eventually wear down and fail, potentially destroying your axle.
Is it Safe to Drive on a Bad Axle?
Even though you can sometimes drive with axle damage, it's never a good idea to do so. A bench axle may still be able to move the wheels of your car, but the structure has already been weekend. It will continue to warp and then the longer you put stress on it.
There's a lot of danger to continue to operate a car when the axle has sustained damage. Aside from the financial risk, driving on a bad axle could mean a more expensive repair bill down the road if it breaks completely. The safety concern is also something that should be at the forefront of your mind.
If your axle fails completely while in the midst of driving you could easily lose control of your vehicle. This isn't the same as losing control on a slippery road where you might be able to steer out of it again. Your ability to steer will be gone completely at this point and you'll be at the mercy of the terrain around you. This could cause serious damage to your vehicle and also injury and loss of life. It's just not worth letting a broken axle go without being repaired as soon as possible.
If your car axle is bent more than a quarter of an inch it will likely be impossible to drive on it at all. This will require a tow to get it anyway because it is too far out of alignment. It doesn't seem like much but that just goes to show how precise everything in a vehicle needs to be for it to function properly.
Severe bends in your axle can cause a chain reaction of problems if they're let go for too long. Not only will the axle itself fail but you're looking at damage to the CV joint and potentially your entire powertrain. A moderately expensive repair could become something that cost you thousands of dollars.
The Cost of Repairing a Broken Axle
A broken axle is a repair that can have quite a range of cost associated with it. This is one of those repairs that very much can change from one make of vehicle to another. The range can be anywhere from as low as $200 to as high as $1,000 when you factor in parts and labour.
The average cost of repairing an axle is around $575. In addition to the potential differences related to their make and model of your vehicle, you also need to take him to consideration where it is that you live. Repairs on one side of the country may not be the same price as they are on another side of the country. It all depends on how things work around your town. And as you know even within your town you're probably going to get a wide range of estimates from different mechanics. As with any repair job, shop around first to get an idea of what everyone's charging.
Repair or Replacement?
When we talk about repairing an axle we mean replacing it with a new one. Whenever possible it's usually more cost effective to repair rather than replace parts on a vehicle, but that's not the case with a broken axle. Even a bent axle should not be literally repaired. You want to get it replaced with a new axle that is completely functional. There's no real way to work a bend out of a damaged axle in a way that would leave it as strong as it was when it was brand new. Even if you could hammer the dents out, the metal would be too weak and subject to breaking again very easily.
Can I Replace My Own Car Axle?
While any car repair can be done in a DIY fashion, replacing the axle is a little more advanced than something like changing your oil. This is the kind of job you should only do if you're very comfortable with car repairs and have a lot of tools readily available. If you're not sure if you have the skill and ability to replace your own axle, it's probably not worth trying just to be safe. Leave this one to a professional and get your car to a mechanic to have them look over the situation and repair it for you.
If you feel like you may be up to the task of repairing your own car axle, there are a lot of guides online that can walk you step-by-step through the process. There are also some very helpful YouTube videos made by professional mechanics that will actually walk you through the process so you can see what needs to be done. Just remember that this requires actually getting your car up on jacks and you being underneath it and potentially getting extremely messy in the process. It's an involved repair that will take a lot of time and effort to get done properly.
Remember that a damaged car axle may very well cost you more than just money if it goes for too long. This is a serious safety concern that can result in damage to property and injuries to yourself and other drivers on the road. It's never worth risking your own safety for the sake of putting off a repair that you're trying to avoid. Especially with something as bad as a damaged axle which will continue to get worse the longer you let it slide.
The moment you notice something is wrong with your axle, do yourself a favour and get it to a mechanic as soon as you can. It will give you peace of mind and will also end up saving you money in the long run.