What Happens if Your Axle Breaks While Driving?

Naomi O'Colman

What Happens if Your Axle Breaks While Driving?

What Happens if Your Axle Breaks While Driving?

Axle breaks are such a pain because they require you to call for a tow truck and miss hours of time on the road. Axles are designed to carry weight and take the friction that builds up as the tires rotate. Thanks to them, the torque is transferred from the transmission to the wheels. So, what happens if your axle breaks while driving? The immediate effect is dangerous. Let’s dive into the details.

What Happens if Your Axle Breaks While Driving?

A short and quick answer:

If your axle breaks or bends while driving, the wheels will no longer receive power, and the car’s brakes will be unable to slow it. To avoid a crash, apply the car’s brakes as hard as you can while also steering in an effort to control skid that may occur under these conditions.

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What causes a drive axle to break?

Almost every car has at least one drive axle in each wheel. The drive axle connects the wheel to the differential (the mechanism that converts engine torque into a rotation), and it also supports some of the weight of the vehicle. Also, like a pair of levers, they allow you to choose between transmission- and wheel speed.

Axles often break due to age, or heavy pressure. They can also be damaged by accidents or weather conditions. And this is only a partial list of the possible causes.
Luckily, failing axles give you signals before they are completely broken.

How do you know your axle breaks while driving

There are basically two ways to know when an axle breaks. A signal that the axle is not working properly can be detected by the car’s ABS (Anti-lock braking system) system, which will lock up one wheel if it detects a sudden or rapid change of the car’s speed or acceleration. However, sometimes your car may simply slow down dramatically and pull to one side because of a defective axle.

Another way is to see a gap in the easy or one-way mechanism. This is usually seen when a tire can no longer pull up to the rim on its own, but the axle is still attached to the hub. As a result, it will not retract and therefore cannot transfer power to the wheel.
If your car doesn’t respond to these signals (or you have no idea what they are), an axle may have broken while you were driving.

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What happens if your axle breaks while driving?

If an axle breaks while you’re driving, the odds of a serious accident, like injuring other drivers and pedestrians or even wrecking your car and resulting injuries, are much higher than if it breaks at a stoplight or middle of the road. This is because when an axle breaks while you’re driving, you won’t be able to see the break until it’s too late.

We saw what happens when you finally see a gap in your axle. However, the car will not automatically stop or come to a complete halt. You will continue to be able to control the car, so it is possible that you could control it back into traffic and avoid an accident (as long as you are wearing your seat belt).

In this case, however, if the axle breaks while you’re turning or braking sharply, there is a chance of completely losing control of the vehicle and resulting in injury.

Symptoms of a Failing Axle

When a drive axle of the wheel fails or bends while you’re driving, it will be followed by some noticeable symptoms.

#1 Noise

When drive axles are about to fail, you will hear a “whizzing” or “screeching” sound coming from the affected wheel. If you notice this problem, have your car inspected immediately.

Also, the sound of a broken axle can be heard by a string or a piece of wood placed under the affected wheel. You’ll instantly know when this happens by the tapping noise emanating from your drive axle.

If axles are damaged, they will cause a lot of vibration and shaking in the wheel shaft leading to “clonk clonk” sounds while turning or braking.

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#2 Easy looseness

If a wheel has lost power and is no longer able to rotate on its own, it will not be able to turn as well as normal wheels. This can be easily noticed at low speeds through small movements or vibrations of the steering wheel in one direction or another.

#3 Fluid leaking

If the axle is broken, you can expect to see fluid seeping from the wheel. This can be covered by wheel covers (or wheel guards) which may appear to be really useless at first, but in case of a failure will give you a heads-up on your way to the mechanics.


As I said at the beginning, having an axle break while driving is a major accident. The reason is that the axle has broken while you were driving, so it will not suddenly stop, and you will be unable to slow down or stop the vehicle.
It is, therefore, best to have your drive axles inspected at least once every two years to make sure they’re working properly.