The universal joints are an essential component of rear-wheel drive trucks, off-road vehicles, four-wheel drive trucks, and SUVs, that transfer the power from the driveshaft to the differential. Universal joints can transfer the torque and rotational power while allowing any height misalignment between the transmission and the rear axle. They are positioned in pairs on the drive shaft, which allows each end to bend and negotiate the misalignment all the while transferring power to the wheels.
Universal joints, being a heavy-duty component in off-road and rear wheel drive vehicles, can undergo many issues that lead to its failure. These can severely affect the movement of the vehicle and can cause great losses in the rotational power and torque transmitted from the engine to the wheels. However, a faulty universal joint in a vehicle exhibits several symptoms that one can look for when driving. Below are the key signs of a faulty universal joint in a vehicle.
Universal joints contain a bearing that is pre-greased for allowing smooth motion. This grease can evaporate or seep down when they shift during the rotation of the driveshaft this leading to less lubrication. This results in increased friction between the metallic components when the drive shaft rotates, which produces the squeak sound.
Vibrations during a Ride
Vibrations during movement are another sign of a faulty universal joint. It signals that the bearings are worn out, causing the drive shaft to dislocate from its rotational axis, thus resulting in vibration. The vibration will usually be of higher frequency due to the higher rate of rotation of the universal joint when compared to the wheels.
Leakage of Transmission Fluid
A leakage of transmission fluid from the rear of the transmission is another sign of a faulty universal joint. The wearing out of the tail shaft bushing can cause damage to the output shaft seal of the transmission, thus causing it to leak the transmission fluid.
“Clunk” Noise When Shifting to Reverse
While shifting from drive to reverse, a “clunk” noise is a sign that the universal joint has developed more clearance that causes it to continue rotation and then stops abruptly when shifting to reverse. It can result from lack of proper lubrication and greasing of the joint bearings.
Vehicle Fails to Move
A vehicle that fails to move indicates that the power is not transmitted to the wheels. It could arise due to a permanent failure of the universal joints that will cause it to detach from the rear axle of the vehicle. It can stop the vehicle from moving altogether and requires a full replacement of the drive shaft.