What Happens if My Drive Shaft Breaks While Driving?

The drive shaft transmits the rotational force generated by the transmission’s output shaft to the wheels. This allows the wheels to rotate and move the vehicle forward. It’s common for it to go bad, but here’s what happens if the drive shaft breaks while driving.

It will snap with a loud bang and cause the car to shake. Since it connects to the transmission, the transmission fluid will leak out. The car will also lose its ability to turn the wheels and cause a loss of stability and traction. If the shaft sticks into the ground, the car may flip over and cause a major accident.

If the engine is still running and you still have control of your vehicle, it’s advisable to step on the brake and bring the car to a stop away from traffic. Call a tow truck and have them take the car to the nearest auto repair shop or to your mechanic. They may need to remove the drive shaft before towing the vehicle.

What can cause a drive shaft to break?

Replace center support bearing

a)     Corrosion

A drive shaft can break while driving due to corrosion. The rust eats away at the metal and causes it to decay. As a result, it becomes weaker and may develop a crack. The crack expands as you drive, causing the drive shaft to snap into two.

b)     Road obstacles

A drive shaft can also break if it hits an obstacle at high speed. The broken pieces may find their way to other parts of the car such as the transmission housing and the differential. This can cause considerable damage to your vehicle.

c)     Overloading

Driveshafts are normally weighted and balanced appropriately to make sure they rotate well at high speed. When overloaded, the excess weight added to the car can cause an imbalance. This will then cause the driveshaft to break.

d)     Bad universal joints

The drive shaft is connected to the transmission using universal joints. Like any other part of the car, the joints tend to wear out with time due to continuous use. It’s therefore, common for U-joints to break while driving, causing the drive shaft to snap from the differential.

e)     Lack of maintenance

The drive shaft must be checked once in a while to make sure the shaft bearings are performing as they should and that the shaft isn’t bent. If neglected, it can wear out over time and eventually break. This is a common occurrence in cars with more than 90,000 miles on the odometer.

f)      Poor repair work

If a mechanic recently replaced worn-out universal joints, seals, or bearings; they may have installed the drive shaft incorrectly causing it to break. Its alignment and balancing must be done by a professional to avoid such problems.

What are the signs of a bad drive shaft?

Start a manual car smoothly

In most cases, there are symptoms that will show up before the drive shaft breaks while driving. They are an indication that something is wrong and it needs to be checked.

Below is what happens before the drive shaft breaks while driving.

a)     Weird noises

What noise does a bad drive shaft make? A drive shaft makes several sounds. When you accelerate or put the car into reverse, you may hear a clunking noise that tells you something is wrong with the slip yoke.

If you hear a rumbling noise that mimics that of worn tires, something is wrong with the driveshaft itself. It could be unbalanced or bent. A squeak is usually a sign that you have bad bearings.

b)     Vibrations

The driveshaft is a major component of your car. It directly affects its drivability. A slight issue with it can cause the car to vibrate and shake with varying intensity. This is one of the first signs that most car owners notice.

The shaking is normally caused by worn-out bushings. Their job is to keep the shaft from vibrating in its position. If they fail, the shaking can cause damage to other parts of the car as well.

c)     Turning problems

Another sign of a bad drive shaft is having a car that hesitates to make turns or fails to do so completely. In more serious situations, you may steer your car to the left only for it to turn to the right. This can be dangerous and requires that the driveshaft be diagnosed as soon as possible.

d)     Shuddering when accelerating

A bad drive shaft can also cause the car to shudder every time you accelerate or come to a stop. A bad center support bearing and loose or worn U-joint may make stopping and accelerating your car a problem.

How long does a drive shaft last?

Drive shafts are designed to last up to 75,000 miles with scheduled maintenance. This, however, varies widely from car to car. Some drive shafts will last longer. Most cars will experience significant driveshaft problems when they get close to hitting 100,000 miles.

Why does my drive shaft keep breaking?

The drive shaft could be overloaded by any weight you may have added to your car. This includes installing large wheels and tires. It could also be bent and unbalanced, causing it to flex.

Can you drive a car with a broken drive shaft?

While you may still be able to steer and keep the car running, it’s not advisable to continue driving with a broken drive shaft. This is because the car can lose control and cause an accident.

Furthermore, a broken drive shaft is likely to smash things and cause damage to the differential and transmission. You will be forced to spend a lot of money to get the car back to its working conditions.

Is it dangerous to drive with a broken drive shaft?

Yes. The drive shaft could dig into the pavement and cause the car to flip. The action can cause the car to rise from the ground and roll on its side.

How much does it cost to fix a drive shaft?

A drive shaft will cost anywhere between $400 and $2,000 to fix. This is especially if you own a rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. These are normally a bit harder to fix or replace. It, however, depends on the type of car you drive since parts from the manufacturers vary in price.

Is it expensive to replace a drive shaft?

It can be very expensive to replace a drive shaft on your car. For example, for Mercedes-Benz models, dealers charge up to $10,000 to replace a broken driveshaft. But, the drive shaft price list varies widely depending on the car you drive.

Cheaper makes and models will typically cost less. You’re far better having the work done by a certified mechanic who will not overcharge you for the services. They are also more likely to dig deeper into other parts to check for damage.

Final Thoughts

To prevent incurring expensive damages on your car, it’s best not to ignore anything that sounds out of place. What happens after the drive shaft breaks while driving is normally preceded by some signs and symptoms.

Pay attention to any weird vibrations, clunks, noises, and squeaks. Investigate them as soon as possible no matter how subtle or small they seem. Have a mechanic check it out for you before driving any farther with your vehicle.