Can a Broken Drive Shaft Damage a Transmission

Drive shafts are one of the most commonly damaged components in off-road vehicles and a damaged, twisted, bent or worn out drive shafts can damage your transmission and differential.

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Drive shafts are an integral part of any vehicle. They’re responsible for transmitting power from the differential to the driven wheels.

This means a broken drive shaft is a big deal. Not only does a broken drive shaft create issues with accelerating and steering a vehicle, it can also cause damage to other components.

This is especially common in 4WDs.

Extra strain is placed on your drive shafts when you’re off-roading or driving in tough terrain, like rocks, mud and loose sand. Not only do you risk bending or twisting a drive shaft, they can also be broken by obstacles or excessive torque.

So what happens if you break a drive shaft? In this article, we’ll see whether a broken drive shaft can damage a transmission, and what you should do to prevent damage to your vehicle.

Can a Broken Drive Shaft Damage a Transmission?

Yes. Driving with a broken drive shaft can cause serious damage to your transmission.

In Front Wheel Drive (FWD), Four Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles, the drive shafts are connected to the front differential. The front differential is typically built into the same housing as the transmission.

Driving with a broken drive shaft can damage the differential, transmission and the housing. This may cause problems like:

  • Cracked differential and transmission housings
  • Broken or damaged gear sets
  • Damaged bearings, bearing housings and carrier bearings
  • Broken or damaged drive shaft splines
  • Damage to steering, brakes and suspension components
  • Damage to wheels, hubs and tyres
  • Major transmission oil leaks

A broken drive shaft can also affect your ability to control the vehicle. Without a drive shaft, the engine is unable to deliver power to the affected wheel(s). Steering and braking may also be affected.

Similarly, a broken rear drive shaft (on a RWD, 4WD or AWD vehicle) can damage the rear differential. While this is unlikely to affect the transmission, it can damage the differential beyond repair.

Never drive a vehicle with a broken drive shaft. Have the vehicle towed to a drive shaft specialist to repair the damage.

Classic Toyota LandCruiser parked next to a remote river | Driveline Services Australia

Can a Worn Out Drive Shaft Damage a Transmission?

Yes. Damaged, twisted, bent or worn out drive shafts can damage your transmission and differential.
Worn out and damaged drive shafts don’t perform their role correctly. This can result in excessive play in the drive shaft and CV joints that may damage the drive shaft, differential, transmission and the transaxle housing.

It is not safe to drive with a worn out or damaged drive shaft. While the vehicle can still move under its own power, there is a significant risk that the drive shaft will break, which may leave you stranded.

Drive shafts are one of the most commonly damaged components in off-road vehicles. If you own a 4WD and like to spend time off the beaten path, we recommend carrying spare drive shafts.

Changing a drive shaft on the trail is much simpler than towing your vehicle back to a repair centre to rebuild or replace the transmission.

What to Do if a Drive Shaft Breaks While Driving

A broken drive shaft will prevent the engine from delivering power to at least one of your wheels. It may also affect steering, braking and suspension. If a drive shaft breaks or becomes damaged while driving, do the following:

  1. Do not accelerate – Your wheels should still be able to rotate, even if the drive shaft is broken. But you should avoid accelerating. This will cause the broken drive shaft to spin, which may damage the transmission and diff.
  2. Pull over as soon as you can – Steer the car to safety as soon as possible. If you can’t steer the vehicle, use the foot brake or hand brake to bring the car to a stop.
  3. Turn the car off – Turn the engine off as soon as possible to minimise the damage caused by oil leaks and gear rotation.
  4. Call for a tow truck – Do not drive a vehicle with a broken drive shaft. Even if the transmission and housing are undamaged, a broken drive shaft may cause major oil leaks. A lack of oil can cause catastrophic damage to the transmission and differential.
4wd vehicle driving in the outback

Signs of a Worn or Damaged Drive Shaft

Drive shafts are subject to heavy use in any vehicle, but they’re especially prone to wear and tear in 4WD and off-road vehicles. These are some of the common signs of drive shafts that are bent or worn out:

  • Vibrations in the car, especially when accelerating
  • Clicking or clunking noises, especially when accelerating
  • Shivering or vibrations in the steering wheel
  • Play in U-joints or CV joints
  • Difficulty turning the vehicle

It’s normal for drive shafts to wear out over time. They need to be replaced at regular intervals. Off-road vehicles, 4WDs and high performance vehicles may need to have their drive shafts inspected and replaced more often.

Maintenance items like inspecting splines, replacing CV and U-joints, balancing the shaft, and reapplying lubrication can extend the life of drive shafts dramatically.

Head Off the Beaten Path with Drive Shaft Solutions from Driveline!

Four wheel driving is one of Australia’s favourite pastimes. When you’re building the ultimate weekend rig, make sure you spare a thought for your drive shafts.

Driveline are Australia’s underbody and power transmission specialists. We supply tens of thousands of unique components, including drive shafts for some of Australia’s most popular utes and 4WDs.

If you can’t find the parts you need in our catalogue, we’re also equipped to custom manufacture drive shafts for performance vehicles. We’ll work to your specifications to manufacture, test and balance a drive shaft that can withstand hard use under any conditions.

Contact us today to find out more, or speak to the team if you would like a quote on a custom drive shaft solution.

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