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Top 3 Drive Shaft Problems and How To Identify It Yourself

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Drive shaft giving you problems and driving you crazy?

Don’t worry, we are here to help you find out if you have a drive shaft problem – once and for all!

Drive shaft are usually found between the gearbox and front wheels. With the constant twisting and harsh road conditions, drive shaft problems are common for vehicle with mileage above 120,000 kilometres. A worn drive shaft will manifests itself in the following symptoms:

  • Spoiled or torn drive shaft cover
  • Clicking noise
  • Vibration

If your car is having any of these symptoms, you should consider getting your drive shaft inspected and repaired.

What is drive shaft?

Comparison between universal joint shaft and constant velocity shaft.
Universal joint shaft (left) are longer and connects from the front of the car to the rear; Constant velocity shaft (right) are shorter and connects from the car transmission to the tyres.


Original image by Panoha under CC BY-SA 3.0, and adapted by D S Auto.


First and foremost, there seem to be some conflicting ideas about what is a “drive shaft”. We’d like to clarify that.

According to Wikipedia, drive shaft is a mechanical component for transmitting torque and rotation. It’s a perfectly accurate definition but the only problem is that it is very broad definition. If you Google the word “drive shaft”, you will see a lot of different pictures of (i) propeller shaft or (ii) Cardan shaft or even (iii) universal joint shaft. All of which are collectively known as drive shaft by international standard.

But these are NOT the drive shaft that we will be talking about today.

I’ll explain why.

In Malaysia, we have our own local lingo. The universal joint shaft is what we Malaysian would call a “long shaft” because of the length of the shaft. On the other hand, we refer to what is known as “half shaft” internationally as “drive shaft” instead.

This is not a discussion of who’s right or wrong, but to establish a common set of definition so that we will be on the same page when we talk about “drive shaft” in the following section.

This is Perodua Myvi drive shaft set, showcasing both the drive shafts from the side view.
This is Perodua Myvi drive shaft set, showcasing both the drive shafts from the side view.

In short, the picture above is what we will be talking about today.

Broadly speaking, you will be able to find at least two drive shaft for your car. Depending on your car model, you can find the drive shafts next to your front wheels or rear wheels or even both (which makes it 4 drive shafts). If you climb under your car, you will see that one end of the drive shaft goes into the car transmission, while the other end goes into one of your tyre.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get right into it.

How does it work?

The constant velocity joint of a drive shaft can be seen attached to the car wheels.
Drive shaft is located next to your car wheels.

So, how does it work and why do we need it? Drive shafts serve two purpose:

  • Improves the range of motion of your car wheels. 
    Imagine that if your car wheels are connected to the transmission by a rigid metal instead of a drive shaft. When your wheels go over a bump, the wheels will shifts upward but not the transmission. With enough force, it will snap the rigid metal in half. That’s precisely why we have drive shaft. It improves flexibility and gives the car wheels a greater range of motion to work with.
  • Transfers rotational energy from the transmission to the wheels. 
    When you crank your engine, the engine combusts the petrol-air mixture. The heat energy gets converted into kinetic energy which pushes the car engine pistons up and down. Subsequently, the car transmission then harvests this engine power and converts them into rotational energy through a differential. When the differential rotates, it passes the rotation through the drive shaft and then to your car wheels. Finally, as your car wheels start to roll, your car moves forward.

As you can see, drive shaft is a very important part of your car. If you remove it, your car won’t move! That’s why we call it… drive-shaft, because it’s a flexible shaft that drives the wheel.

“Drive shaft, drives you forward”

What is the top 3 drive shaft problems?

Mechanical parts, especially moving ones are prone to wear and tear. Drive shaft is no different. We have compiled and isolated the top 3 drive shaft problems and we are hoping to share it with you today.

1. Spoiled or torn drive shaft cover

A picture of a broken drive shaft cover. You can see a tear on the boot and the grease splashes onto the car wheels.
Check your drive shaft for a broken constant velocity boot. Getting it changed immediately can save you money.

A drive shaft cover / constant velocity boot is this black color rubber-like material on your drive shafts. It’s main purpose is to keep contaminants away, and the lubricating grease inside the constant velocity joint.

A torn cover can be detected very easily if you know where to look. All you need to do is put on some dirty clothes, crawl under the car and locate your drive shaft. You will notice a visible crack or a puncture at the drive shaft cover. Most of the time, this will be accompanied by grease splashes around your car tyre.

If you have a spoiled cover, we recommend that you get it changed immediately. Forget about groceries, forget about your laundry, you can do your dishes later but don’t wait on the repair.

Here’s why we’re making such a big deal out of this.

Fact is that the drive shaft cover is the only line of defense for your drive shaft. It keeps the lubricating grease in, and the moisture and dirt out.

For drive shafts and any moving parts really, it is always important to have lubricating grease. It cushions and reduces metal-to-metal contact within the constant velocity joint. Think of them like airbags. The ball bearings inside of your drive shaft is better off hitting a soft material rather than banging straight-on to the metal wall. Without the lubricating grease, the metal will start collide against each other and wear out significantly faster.

To make matter worst, when the constant velocity boot is torn, it opens up opportunity for moisture and dirt to get into your drive shaft. When moisture get in contact with metal, it will start to form rusts and eat into your metal. Needless to say that it ruins the structural integrity of your drive shaft. Dirt and sand on the other hand, will grind against the metal part of your drive shaft and wear out your drive shaft way faster than it should. It’s like having sandpaper inside the constant velocity joint, definite a big no-no.

We hope we don’t sound bias because we do repair drive shaft. But, we hope that you see the reasoning and the value of detecting and repairing it earlier. Depending on how early you get it repair, it can mean huge savings on your car maintenance bill.

If the drive shaft is still in pristine condition, other than the fact that the cover broke, you can simply put in new grease, and replace the cover. It’s a simple repair and will cost you way lesser than replacing the entire unit. This is the single most important and cost-effective way of maintaining it.

Although I do have to say that it is easier said than done because when you have a spoiled or torn drive shaft cover, it often go unnoticed. Why? Because a torn drive shaft cover does not show any symptoms other than the puncture itself. When we do not change the cover, the drive shaft deteriorate at an exponential rate and you will start to notice noise and vibration.

It’s like a ticking time bomb!

That being said. If you are determined enough, you can do a routine inspection once every week or so. As soon as you find out that you have a torn cover, phone your foreman immediately to get it serviced.

2. Clicking Noise

Picture this.

You are driving on the road trying to get to work. Then, you see a sharp turn to the left in front so you start to steer your car to that direction. Suddenly, you hear this rapid clicking noise when turning.

In this short video, Justin Miller showcased what a bad drive shaft sounds like.
Although some car models can differ slightly, this is the most obvious sign of a drive shaft failure.

That is a tell-tale sign for you to know that you have a bad drive shaft.

The clicking noise is an audible noise that sounds like “tak tak tak…” and it goes on as long as you are turning. It is especially noticeable when you are turning a sharp corner. Even more so when you step on the gas pedal when turning.

Let’s take a closer look.

Have a listen to this closeup view of bad driveshaft by jimmyihl.
Yup, definitely a worn CV axle.

You should be able to hear it from your driver seat when driving. If you listen close enough, you can hear which side is the noise coming from. In the hands of an experienced car mechanic, they can even tell if it’s coming from both side or just one side.

What should you do if you hear the clicking noise?

Well, there is no easy way to say this. But if you can hear it, it means that you definitely need a drive shaft repair.

You can consider replacing the front wheel drive axle yourself but we do not recommend that unless you know your way around car repair. This is because there are a zillion things that could go wrong. Besides, labor charges are only between RM 30 ~ RM 70 per drive shaft. Given the risk and time required, it’s just not worth it to learn and execute it yourself.

But if you would really love to DIY it, here’s a great video to give you an idea of what you need to do. I’d like to point out that this is not an absolute guide and is only intended to point you towards the right direction. You should always practice caution and consult a professional if you are not sure.

EricTheCarGuy did an amazing walk-through video on how to replace a front-wheel drive axle. It’s won’t be as easy as it looks but it’ll be a great starting point!

Alternative, you can get someone else to do the hard work for you. Just head over to the nearest car workshop to get a professional to inspect and change it for you. Most workshop will have no problem providing this service. If you happens to be in Petaling Jaya area, you can always call us!

Lastly, we would recommend getting both your drive shaft repaired. This is because if one side is worn, most likely the other one will be as well. Two is always better than one. This’ll save you a trip to the local car service centre in the future!

3. Vibration

It’s Saturday morning and you’ve planned a field trip together with your friends. You’ve been looking forward to this day and it’s finally here! As you turn into the highway, you start to accelerate at 30… 40… 50… 60 kilometers per hour. It was this moment that you start to feel your steering wheel shaking when you accelerate.

Guess what? You’ve just found out that you have a bad drive shaft. Not exactly a great way to kick start your weekend.

A bad half shaft can cause vibration at your steering wheel when travelling at low to medium speed. We are talking about roughly in the range of 50 kilometers per hour.

However, don’t just rush to a nearby drive shaft shop to buy yourself a reconditioned part just yet. You may end up buying something that you don’t need. This is because vibration is a common symptoms and can be caused by many other things. For example:-

  • Engine mounting
  • Worn out long shaft
  • Out-of-round rims
  • Unbalanced tyres
  • Poor road conditions

Well, if you notice the vibration, what should you do?

We strongly recommend that you get a professional test drive done to see if it is really a worn drive shaft. Once confirmed, you should get your drive shaft repaired before it gets worst.

If the vibration is left unattended, the wear will deteriorate aggressively.

Instead of a straightforward repair, it can become a complicated one. Or worse, you may have to pay for a new one which will costs a fortune. You know what they say, early birds save tons of money (or something like that).

The Bottom Line

We discussed about what a drive shaft is, and how it works. A bad drive shaft causes unpleasant driving experience such as noise and vibration while compromising your safety. By now, you already know the symptoms of a bad drive shaft, how you can identify and why you should get it fixed a.s.a.p. Some say that there are no free lunch in the world. But I say that repairing your drive shaft early is as close as it gets.

If you have a worn drive shaft and happens to live in Selangor, Malaysia… Get in touch with us! As a drive shaft & steering rack specialist who have been in the industry for close to three decades, you can be rest assured that your car will be in good hands.

Until then, drive safe and drive smart!

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Paul M.Wong Kumaran

    Very good explanation with an excellent write up. Im just queries is GKN the revered brand in driveshafts? I am going to receive the unit old new stock and have bought an aftermarket oil seal. I hope my car, Waja CPS 2009 will get a new set of shafts which drives. After an accident about 2 years ago, I’m finally doing a major but not overhaul type of replacing to do. Disc rotor, engine mounting, absorbers, timing belt and water pump, driveshafts. All in hope to get the former glory. I’m strictly on budget but so far. My car is vibrating from ground up while accelerating and vibration worst from discs when braking. My most important question is, can I do anything to fully utilise my gearbox capability? I feel it’s not functioning well enough.

  2. Shane

    Great all round advice for the average person, thanks guys! )

  3. Ime Umoh Onifade

    Very simple and clear explanation. Many thanks.
    Is there a way to test the drive shaft without putting the car on the high way please?

    1. D S AUTO

      Hey, Ime Umoh. Thanks for stopping by! You’re definitely right about not testing it on the highway because it can be dangerous for both you and the other drivers. We recommend paying attention to the noise during your usual day-to-day travel as you’re driving around curves and corners. If you can find an empty plot of land to do this, that’s even better. Good luck 🙂

  4. ali

    I see some grease around drive shaft cover of one side, I check the cover there is not crack or something on drive shaft cover, Can I consider that it was too much grease inside and some expose to outside, do you think I need to open and fill grease.

    what can go wrong if I continue driving with considering the cover look ok from outside ?

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