What Is a Driveshaft or Propeller Shaft?

Driving a car can be an exciting experience one can have. However, many of us do not stop to ponder the various components that make up our cars. Today we will focus on one such component known as a driveshaft.

The Drive Shaft is a metal rod that is connected at one end to the transmission and on the other end to the differential. It transmits torque from the transmission and creates rotation.

Let’s discuss what a driveshaft is, what it does, and why it is important for your vehicle.

What is a Driveshaft or Propeller Shaft?

The drive shaft (also called propeller shaft or prop shaft) is a component of the drive train in a vehicle, to deliver torque from the transmission to the differential, which then transmits this torque to the wheels in order to move the vehicle.

The drive shaft is primarily used to transfer torque between components that are separated by a distance since different components must be in different locations in the vehicle.

A front-engine rear-wheel drive car must have a long drive shaft connecting the rear axle to the transmission since these parts are on opposite sides of the car.

Drive shafts are used differently in different vehicles, varying greatly in cars with distinct configurations for front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, and the previously mentioned front-engine rear-wheel drive.

Other vehicles also use drive shafts, like motorcycles, locomotives, and marine vessels. Below is the drive shaft configuration for a common front-engine rear-wheel drive vehicle (some cars have the transmission at the back).

Driveshaft or Propeller Shaft

How Does the Driveshaft Work?

The driveshaft is a spinning tube that transmits power from the engine to the back of the vehicle at the differential. It does this by transmitting the spinning power from front to back. The deliverance of torque from the transmission to the differential then transmits torque to the wheels so the vehicle can move.

Without the torque transfer between the separate components, you cannot drive. The driveshaft absorbs movements and allows two separate parts to move without breaking drive train components in the process.

It’s important to note that front-wheel drive vehicles don’t have drive shafts. The transmission and axle are combined into a single unit called a transaxle. However, in four-wheel and rear-wheel drive vehicles, the transmission and axle are separate units. Hence the driveshaft transfers the turning motion of the transmission to the axle.

This component has a tubular design and is usually made from aluminum, steel, or carbon fiber to ensure its both strong and lightweight.

Advantages of Driveshaft

  • Drive system is less likely to become jammed.
  • The rider cannot become dirtied from chain grease or injured by “chain bite” when clothing or a body part catches between an unguarded chain and a sprocket.
  • Lower maintenance than a chain system when the drive shaft is enclosed in a tube.
  • More consistent performance. Dynamic Bicycles claims that a drive shaft bicycle can deliver 94% efficiency, whereas a chain-driven bike can deliver anywhere from 75 to 97% efficiency based on condition.

Disadvantages of Driveshaft

  • A drive shaft system weighs more than a chain system, usually 0.5–1 kg (1–2 lb) heavier.
  • Many of the advantages claimed by drive shaft’s proponents can be achieved on a chain-driven bicycle, such as covering the chain and sprockets.
  • Use of lightweight derailleur gears with a high number of ratios is impossible, although hub gears can be used.
  • Wheel removal can be complicated in some designs (as it is for some chain-driven bicycles with hub gears).

What happens if my drive shaft breaks while driving?

If your driveshaft breaks while driving, the result would be:

  • Immediate loss of steering
  • Inability to go forward or backward
  • Inability to accelerate
  • Parts of the driveshaft striking the pavement and causing sparks or severe damage to other components of your vehicle

The driveshaft of your car takes power from the engine and transfers it into the torque that causes your wheels to rotate. Important stuff! To avoid a bad driveshaft, look out for below symptoms.

Signs of a Failing Driveshaft

A bad or failing driveshaft can make it difficult to control your vehicle. Read on to learn what signs and symptoms you should be on the lookout for. If your car exhibits any of these conditions, a trip to your mechanic is in order; they have the know-how to diagnose and fix your driveshaft problems.

#1. Vibrations from under the vehicle.

A common symptom of a failing driveshaft is an intense shaking coming from underneath the vehicle. Worn out u-joints, couplers or carrier bearings can cause the driveshaft to vibrate. If you don’t get these components serviced, it can lead to further damage to other drivetrain components.

#2. Difficulty turning.

If you are experiencing problems when taking turns, there is a high likelihood that your driveshaft is worn. A damaged driveshaft prevents wheels from turning properly hence limiting your control of the vehicle.

To ensure that your driveshaft is always in good working condition you should keep it well lubricated. Lack of lubrication can cause damage to the driveshaft and its components. High-use driveshafts should be inspected regularly since they can wear prematurely due to excessive movement.

#3. Squeaking sounds.

Squeaking sounds are caused by a couple of driveshaft problems. They’re not usually an indicator that the driveshaft has failed, but they do typically mean that bearings or the U-joints require lubrication.

#4. Loud Clunking Noise.

This will sound like a loud clunk or knock coming from beneath the vehicle. Usually, this sound is an indication that a U-joint is badly worn and needs replacement.

#5. Other Strenge Noises.

You may also hear scraping or rattling sounds. Again, these are sounds that indicate that a certain part of the driveshaft needs to be lubricated or that it’s worn out. All noises are a sign you should bring your car in to be checked.

#6. Movement In The U-Joint

Worn or broken U-joints are a common driveshaft problem. If you know where to look, you can often check the U-joints yourself. Simply put the vehicle in park, put the vehicle into neutral, and then move the U-joint yokes back and forth.

Too much movement is an indication that you should take it in for replacement. While you’re at it, check for visible rust on bearing cap seals, which can be another indicator of driveshaft problems.

#7. Shuddering While Accelerating.

Loose U-joints or bad center bearings within the driveshaft can cause a worrisome shuddering as you accelerate. This may also be accompanied by unusual sounds. If the car or truck feels like it’s faltering or shuddering when you press the gas, take it in to have the driveshaft checked.

Drive Shaft Replacement Cost

Usually, the Drive Shaft Repair costs will differ based on what caused the issue and how fast it can be repaired. If you just have to replace it, that would be anywhere from $500 to $1000. However, you can also expect the cost of the parts to be around half that number and the labor costs around $200.

So even for a simple repair, you can end up with around $1500-$1700 invested in the Drive Shaft Repair process. That might not feel like much, but it can be an issue if you want to avoid expenses like this.

If you are only repairing a half section or half the shaft, then the prices will differ. This can cost anywhere from $350-$850 depending on location. Again, the cost of parts is around average for all repairs. with labor topping out the rest of the cost at $150-$250 depending on the service center, state, and taxes for that state.

With rear-wheel drive vehicles or 4-wheel Drives, the cost will increase. On average the price for this kind of repair on this type of vehicle will come in somewhere in the range of $700-$1800.