5 Symptoms of a Bad Drive Shaft (and Replacement Cost)

The twisting force produced by the engine is called torque. The job of the drive shaft is to transmit this torque to the wheels of the vehicle.

Most vehicles are front-wheel drive, so the torque would be transmitted to the two front wheels with what’s called a half-shaft. But other vehicles have what’s called a drive shaft.

Would you be able to tell if there was something wrong with your drive shaft? Here’s how a drive shaft works and some common signs that would indicate a problem with this component.

What is a Drive Shaft?

A drive shaft (also called a propeller shaft) is essentially a long rod that is designed to transmit torque from the output shaft of the transmission to the rear differential in a rear wheel drive, four wheel drive, or all wheel drive vehicle.

A drive shaft will often have internal splines on the end that connects to the transmission and a universal joint (U-joint) on the end that connects to the differential.

In the case of a four wheel drive or all wheel drive vehicle, you may find that it actually has two separate drive shafts: one for transmitting power to the front and another to transmit power to the back.

This will depend on the manufacturer’s implementation of the four wheel drive or all wheel drive system.

Common Bad Drive Shaft Symptoms

Since drive shafts rotate quickly, they’re able to move the rear wheels of your vehicle. The only way they can keep rotating quickly is if they remain weighted down and balanced exactly right.

When the drive shaft begins to have malfunctioning issues, then your driving ability will be impaired. More specifically, there are 5 common symptoms you can recognize that will let you know there is a problem with the drive shaft or slip yoke.

1) Vibrations

If you’re driving the vehicle and you feel a lot of harsh vibrations coming from under it, then your drive shaft may be in trouble. This is usually the first symptom that people recognize when there is a drive shaft problem.

The vibrations are likely due to worn out bushings of the drive shaft. These bushings are what normally keep the drive shaft from vibrating in the first place.

If the problem is not fixed soon, the vibration will get more severe. It will get so bad that your passengers will be able to feel it too. The worst part is that other drivetrain components can also be affected and damaged.

Note that vibrations that increase with speed may mean your tires need to be balanced. This should be done regularly. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.

2) Clunking Noise

car shuts off while driving

When you accelerate your vehicle, do you hear a clunking noise? How about when you put the vehicle into reverse, or even into drive?

If you hear clunking noises in any of these cases, then it could mean your drive shaft has an issue and should be promptly inspected. Often, this is a common symptom of a bad slip yoke.

3) Squeaking Noise

noise while driving

If you’re driving and you hear a squeaking noise that is consistently coming from underneath your vehicle, then it is a sign that your drive shaft could be faulty. It could possibly be out of balance or some other part of it could be worn out.

4) Universal Joint Movement

bad universal joint

If the U-joint of your drive shaft rotates too fast or fails to rotate, then it’s a problem with your drive shaft. The cap seals of the bearings could have rust on them. Either that or the u-joint itself is not stable.

You’ll need to have your drive shaft replaced because you can’t drive your vehicle in this condition.

5) Turning Problems

steering wheel off center

If you try to make a turn with your vehicle and the wheels don’t turn immediately or they hesitate, then you have an issue with your drive shaft. The tires will have a lot of resistance which you’ll be able to feel as you try to make a turn.

Obviously, this is a serious issue and it needs to be looked at right away.

If your steering wheel is simply difficult to turn, you may need to take a look at the power steering pump.

Can You Drive With a Bad Drive Shaft?

all wheel drive AWD Subaru

While it is usually possible to drive with a bad drive shaft, it’s usually not very wise to do it for long. If part of the drive shaft were to snap, you’ll lose power to that axle in the best case scenario. The drive shaft may fall and get wedged between the ground and your vehicle, restricting forward movement.

On some four wheel drive or all wheel drive vehicles, disconnecting one axle like this may stress the center differential or transfer case. This could cause premature wear or even failure of the center differential.

Before Subaru started mainly using CVT transmissions, they used a viscous coupling center differential. This type of differential is very sensitive to prolonged speed differences between the front and rear axles.

If the drive shaft were to disconnect on one side while it’s still spinning quickly, there is a good chance it will do massive damage to the underside of your vehicle. Remember that if one end is still connected to the vehicle, the drive shaft will continue spinning for a moment and take out anything in its path. This could be handbrake cables, brake lines, fuel lines, and even parts of the wiring harness.

Drive Shaft Replacement Cost

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drive shaft replacement cost

If you’re just replacing a half-shaft for your front wheel drive car, then it will cost anywhere from $470 to $940. You can expect the parts cost to be anywhere from $320 to $750, while the labor costs are only around $150 to $190.

If you have a rear wheel or four wheel drive vehicle which has a long drive shaft to power the rear wheels, then expect to pay somewhere in the range of $600 to $2,000. Keep that in mind that the type of vehicle plays a major role in both the price of parts and labor.

8 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Bad Drive Shaft (and Replacement Cost)”

  1. I thought it was interesting when you mentioned that a clunking sound that occurs when a vehicle is accelerating is a sign that there might be a problem with the driveshaft. I’m not an expert on vehicles, but I would guess that driveshafts are found on larger trucks. It seems that it would be important to have heavy-duty vehicles serviced by professionally trained technicians.

    Reply
  2. My fiords steering wheel starts to shatter and vibrate really bad when driving it gets worse when going around big corners it only started when I got new front tyres is it possible they have done something wrong or could it be the drive shaft.

    Reply
    • Make sure your lug nuts are tight. It is very dangerous if your lug nuts are coming loose. I would not drive it anymore until you figure out where that vibration is coming from.

      Reply
  3. I have a 2012 Dodge ram when I drive up to 70 miles and over my truck shakes badcould that be the Could my dry shaft need replaced.

    Reply
    • There are a lot of things that could cause a 70 mph vibration. I’d have the driveshaft inspected if you’re concerned, but also check the alignment and wheel balance.

      Reply
  4. I have a Jeep 1994 YJ wrangler 2.5. I have a Adams shaft for the front and now I would like to replace the rear driveshaft. Do I have to use a Adams or can I use another brand?

    Reply

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