Driveshaft - Front
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Driveshaft - Front at 1A Auto

What is the front driveshaft and where is it located? 

In four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicles, the front driveshaft transfers power from the transfer case to the front axle housing to power the front wheels.  Without a driveshaft, your engine could produce all the power in the world, and you’d never go anywhere.  The driveshaft is an integral part of the drivetrain. 

Front driveshafts are used in 4WD vehicles that use both a front and a rear driveshaft.  The rear driveshaft is sometimes called a prop shaft to differentiate it from the front driveshaft, because the rear driveshaft plays a similar role to the propeller shaft in a boat.  Front wheel drive (FWD) vehicles have constant velocity axles to power the front wheels.  Rear wheel drive (RWD) vehicles use a rear driveshaft, but no front driveshaft. 

The front driveshaft can be found underneath the body of the vehicle.  It attaches to the transfer case via a rubber flex plate, sometimes known as a giubo.  The flex plate is made of flexible rubber and allows for some amount of difference in speed between the transfer case output and the driveshaft.  That helps keep driveshaft vibrations low. 

How do I know if my front driveshaft needs to be replaced?      

Driveshaft problems usually take the form of a strong vibration under the floor boards.   These vibrations may get worse under acceleration.  Another sign of driveshaft problems is rattling or clunking noises. 

These issues result from a loose or unbalanced driveshaft.  The driveshaft attaches to the transfer case and axle housing via universal joints.   These joints can wear out over time from exposure to dirt, salt, moisture, and other road hazards.  The rubber of the flex plate can become stiff which leads to vibrations.  Over time, a stiff flex plate can lead to driveshaft wobble and damage to the driveshaft itself.  

The easiest way to test for driveshaft problems is to check for driveshaft looseness by hand.  If you can move the driveshaft by hand, it’s too lose.  In a 4WD vehicle, you can drive the vehicle in RWD.  If the vibration goes away under these conditions, then the problem is with the front driveshaft. 

Can I replace the front driveshaft myself?  

Replacing a front driveshaft is not a highly technical or complicated job, but it is physically demanding.  An assistant can definitely help the job go more smoothly.  Before you begin, you’ll need to raise and secure the vehicle.  You’ll want to set the emergency brake to keep the driveshaft from spinning while you work.  If you’re working on a manual, put the transmission into first to hold the driveshaft in place. 

The driveshaft needs to be properly aligned to work correctly, so you should make marks where it attaches so that you can line up the new one.  Then remove the bolts that hold the driveshaft to the axle housing.  You may have to spin the driveshaft to reach all the bolts.  Your assistant can help by releasing the emergency brake and putting the transmission into neutral.  Once the bolts are out, carefully lower the front of the driveshaft.  Then remove the bolts that hold the driveshaft to the flex plate the same way and carefully lower it.  If you are replacing the flex plate or the center support, you can do while the driveshaft is removed. 

Lift your driveshaft into place and have your assistant hold it in place as you insert the first couple of bolts.  From this point, you should be able to reverse the preceding steps to put everything back together.  

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