Hey there, I’m Robby – your friendly neighborhood mechanic with over 20 years of experience keeping vehicles running smoothly. If you’re noticing some concerning noises or vibrations from your ride, your CV axles may be trying to tell you something. The CV axle is that hard working component connecting your wheels to the transmission, delivering power to get you moving.
I’ve seen my fair share of CV axle issues over the years and learned all the tell-tale signs of when one starts to go bad. In this article, I’ll draw from my expertise as a certified mechanic to provide a detailed guide on diagnosing bad CV axle symptoms.
You’ll learn exactly what to listen and feel for so you can identify potential CV axle problems right away. I’ll also cover how to get them fixed properly, average repair costs, and tips to extend the life of your CV axles. Equipped with this advice, you’ll know how to avoid getting left stranded by failing CV joints and shafts. So let’s pop our hoods and dive right in!
What is a CV Axle?
First, let’s cover some CV axle basics. The CV axle, also known as the drive axle or half shaft, consists of the inner and outer CV joints connected by a shaft. The inner CV joint connects to the transmission, while the outer CV joint connects to the wheel hub.
The CV axle allows the wheels to receive power from the engine at a constant speed, regardless of the steering angle. This is why it’s called a constant velocity axle. CV axles are commonly found on front-wheel drive vehicles but can also be found on all-wheel drive and some rear-wheel drive vehicles.
Encasing each CV joint is a rubber boot filled with grease, which lubricates the joint and keeps contaminants out. Problems typically start when the rubber boot tears, allowing grease to leak out and dirt to get in. Once contaminants reach the joint, it accelerates wear and damage.
Signs of a Failing CV Boot
Before diving into symptoms of a bad CV axle, it’s important to understand signs of a failing CV boot. Here are a few visual indicators that the rubber boot is compromised:
- Grease splattered on the underside of the vehicle
- Visible tears or cracks in the rubber boot
- Excess dirt buildup around the boot
Catching a torn CV boot early allows you to replace just the boot, before total joint failure occurs. Now let’s look at symptoms associated with a damaged CV axle itself.
4 Symptoms of a Bad CV Axle
If you’re noticing any of these symptoms, it could indicate an issue with your CV axle:
Clicking or Popping When Turning
One of the classic signs of a worn outer CV joint is a clicking or popping noise when turning the vehicle. As the joint starts to fail, it loses its tightness allowing play and noise in the joint. The clicking or popping tends to occur when making sharp, low-speed turns as the joint binds up. This audible symptom localizes to the side with the faulty outer joint.
Vibration When Accelerating
Excessive vibration when accelerating can indicate an inner CV joint problem. Since the inner joint connects to the transmission, worn bearings can allow vibration and play to transfer through the drivetrain when applying power. The vibration may intensify as vehicle speed increases. Bad motor or transmission mounts can also cause similar vibration symptoms.
Clunking When Accelerating or Decelerating
A clunking or knocking noise during acceleration or deceleration can also signal CV axle issues. Worn inner joints are usually the culprit, allowing the shaft to move freely in and out instead of smoothly transferring power. The clunking is more noticeable when abruptly changing between acceleration and deceleration.
Loss of Power to One Wheel
Finally, a severely damaged CV joint can result in a loss of power to one wheel. If the inner joint completely fails, the axle shaft will rotate but not effectively transfer torque. You’ll notice one wheel spinning much slower than the others or not at all, impacting driving and control.
When to Replace a Bad CV Axle
Once you diagnose a bad CV axle, replacement is required. Driving on a damaged CV axle can be dangerous and lead to loss of vehicle control. The longer you wait, the more likely additional parts like wheel bearings will get ruined too.
Here are some good rules of thumb on CV axle replacement:
- Replace it immediately if you notice loss of power to one wheel
- Get it replaced as soon as possible if you notice clicking when turning or vibrations
- Consider replacing both axles at once to prevent future issues
- Use only OE or high-quality aftermarket CV axles for proper fit and longevity
And when in doubt, consult a professional technician to inspect your CV axles and advise if replacement is needed.
Preventing CV Axle Damage
While CV axles will wear out over time, you can take steps to maximize their lifespan:
- Inspect CV boots periodically for damage
- Address small boot tears immediately before joint damage occurs
- Maintain proper inflation – low tire pressure strains the CV joints
- Avoid potholes and curbs which can impact the axle
- Carry loads within the vehicle’s capacity to reduce load strain
- Change differential fluid at recommended intervals to maintain lubrication
By closely monitoring your CV axle boots and being cautious of road hazards, you can help your CV axles go the distance.
Signs of a Bad Wheel Bearing vs Bad CV Joint
Since bad wheel bearings and CV joints can both cause vibrations and noise, how do you tell which one is the culprit? Here are the key differences:
- Wheel bearing noises are usually louder and increase with vehicle speed. CV joint clicks are more prominent during lower speed turns.
- Wheel bearing noise or vibration is constant while driving. CV joint pops are intermittent and only occur when turning.
- Wheel bearing issues are localized to the affected wheel area. CV joints cause drivetrain vibration that transfers through the steering wheel.
Get a professional diagnosis to determine for sure whether your issue stems from a bad wheel bearing or CV joint. We have experience pinpointing the problem accurately.
When to See a Mechanic
If you don’t have the tools or know-how to diagnose and replace a bad CV axle yourself, it’s smart to utilize a professional mechanic. For this, we recommend having a mobile mechanic come to you, and carry out these repairs. If you are unsure as to where to start, you can also get online advice from mechanics, through our partnership JustAnswer. They can assess your symptoms, advise if replacement is needed, and provide a quote for repairs. Don’t wait to get those CV axle issues checked out.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the function of the CV axle and recognize common symptoms of CV joint or axle shaft failure. Catching problems early allows for minor repairs but a severely damaged component will require replacement. If you notice any unusual noises, vibration or loss of acceleration, have your vehicle inspected right away. Your mechanic can then pinpoint the issue and recommend the appropriate solution to keep your drive smooth and safe.
Bad CV Axle Symptoms Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my CV axle shaft is bad?
Common signs your CV axle shaft needs replacement include vibrations when accelerating, clicking noises when turning, grease leaks from the boots, excessive play or wobbling of the shaft, and issues with steering control and response. A very damaged joint can even pop out under acceleration.
What happens when a CV axle goes bad?
Driving on a severely damaged CV axle can lead to loss of control or the axle snapping while driving. Other risks include wear to the differential, transmission issues, increased tire wear, and decreased fuel economy. Have any suspected CV axle problems checked and repaired promptly.
What are the signs of a bad axle?
Symptoms that indicate a bad or failing axle include: loud clicking or popping noises, vibrations at high speeds, grease leaking from boots, excessive shaft play when moving wheel, car pulling to one side, grinding when turning, and uneven tire wear.
What is a classic symptom of a front drive axle going bad?
A classic symptom of front axle failure is clicks or snapping noises when turning the steering wheel. This occurs because the CV joints connect the spinning axle shafts to the steering knuckles. Bad joints will click loudly during tight turns.
Can I drive if my CV axle is bad?
It's not recommended to continue driving on a known bad or damaged CV axle. The vibrations, loss of control, and risk of the axle snapping make driving unsafe. Have the vehicle towed to a repair shop for CV axle replacement or repair as soon as possible.