Have You Noticed These 5 Signs of a Bad Universal Joint? Here's What to Do

Date Posted: 11 April 2023 

Have You Noticed These 5 Signs of a Bad Universal Joint? Here's What to Do main image Have You Noticed These 5 Signs of a Bad Universal Joint? Here's What to Do image

While you might rarely see your car’s universal joints, that doesn’t mean they aren’t hard at work. In fact, though you may not have realised it, you might even have noticed some signs that the universal joints of your car are under pressure, and feeling the wear and tear of regular use. So what should you be on the lookout for and what can you do?

How Do Universal Joints Work?

You’ll find your universal joint mounted at the end of your car’s drive shaft and connected to the differential. Here, it transfers torque and rotational motion from the transmission to the wheels. As the universal joint can move in multiple directions, it ensures that any rotational motion doesn’t affect the drive shaft. When working correctly, it has the flexibility and movement to ensure a smooth but constant transfer of power.

Your 5 Key Signs Your U Joint Is Failing

As your u joint is handling so much movement and motion, you’ll quickly see signs that it is failing.

1. A Bouncy, Shaky or Vibrating Ride

Wondering can bad u joints cause shaking? You better believe it. Vibrations are actually one of the most commonly noticed signs that something isn’t right. You’ll likely feel this vibration whenever you drive your car, but it’ll become more pronounced as you accelerate or drive at a high speed.

2. Clunking, Banging, Squeaking or Chirping

Almost like your u joint is trying to talk to you, it will make a lot of noise when it is failing. This can range from clunking and banging to squeaking or chirping. It will sound like these noises are coming from the underside of your car. You might only hear it though if you’re shifting gears, or quickly speeding up or braking.

3. Difficulty Turning or Steering Your Car

While other problems could be behind a tricky turn, if tight turns or even a gentle turn at low speed aren’t happening, your universal joint could be at fault. This can be because there is increased resistance in the drivetrain.

4. A Greasy or Oily U Joint

You’ll need to get up close and personal with your u joint to check this one. To function correctly, your universal joint has grease inside the socket or bearing cups. These should be sealed, however. So, if you see grease or oil around the u joint, it’s fair to say that the universal joint has become damaged or is wearing out with age.

5. Loss of Speed & Power

Can a bad u joint cause a loss of power? It sure can! While it won’t affect your car’s electrical system per se, it will reduce your car’s oomph and moving power. You might find your car doesn’t accelerate like it normally, suddenly hills are a problem or you just aren’t getting the speed you used to.

What Happens If Your U Joint Breaks While You’re Driving?

And what can happen if you choose to ignore these warning signs? Nothing good, unfortunately. First and foremost, you are likely to lose control of your car. This is because your u joint breaking means that the drivetrain is no longer connected to your wheels. Severing this connection means your steering and brakes aren’t able to do their job. As a result, you are highly likely to be involved in a collision. This may be with other road users, pedestrians or stationery objects.

If you aren’t moving when your u joint breaks, a collision can still happen. This is because if your u joint breaks, you also won’t be able to move your car. So, if it breaks while you’re stopped at the lights or waiting to make a turn, things can escalate quickly.

Everything You Need to Know for Replacing Your Universal Joints

It’s clear that a damaged u joint is a recipe for disaster, but what do you need to know when it comes to replacing them?

How Much Does It Cost to Replace Universal Joints?

The exact cost of replacing your universal joint varies depending on a number of factors. This includes:

  • The make and model of your car.
  • If you’re using a genuine part or an aftermarket option.
  • If further damage has been caused by the u joint failing, like issues with the drivetrain.

While you might think you can save some money when it comes to labour, remember that only an experienced mechanic should replace your u joints. They are a critical part of your car and, if improperly replaced, they can severely compromise your safety and that of other road users.

Overall, you can be looking at paying anywhere from $150 to $500 or more. If you want a cheaper option, be sure to get your universal joint replaced as soon as you notice issues to avoid other repairs, and opt for a reliable aftermarket alternative.

Why Should You Replace Universal Joints in Pairs?

While you’re still thinking about cost, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s best practice to replace your universal joints in pairs. This ensures that they are working in unison, sharing an even distribution of the pressures and wear of regular driving. If you only replace one and the existing universal joint is close to wearing out, you may reduce the lifespan of your new joint.

Additionally, replacing both at once can often save you time and money. It also gives you greater peace of mind because you know both are in good working order.

How Long Do Universal Joints Last?

Just like the price of your new universal joint, you’ll need to take a few factors into consideration when estimating how long your joints will last. That includes your car make and model, your general driving conditions, and if you regularly keep the universal joint lubricated. However, in general, you can expect to get 160,000 km to even 240,000 km out of a fresh universal joint.

How to Install a New Universal Joint

As we noted above, it’s best to let a professional handle replacing your universal joints. This is because it is a complex job that can affect your car’s safety. It also can vary between cars. However, if you’re keen to know what they will do, these are the general steps:

  1. Remove the driveshaft: This can depend on your car, but often the driveshaft needs to be removed to get at the universal joint.
  2. Remove the old universal joint: With the driveshaft out of the way, the old joint can come out.
  3. Install the new universal joint: Typically, this will involve sliding the joint into the yoke, ensuring it is correctly aligned, and attaching it with retaining clips or snap rings.
  4. Reinstall the driveshaft: With the new joint in place, the driveshaft can be put back in and secured safely.
  5. Test the joint: Your mechanic will then ensure everything is working okay. They may spin the driveshaft to check for unusual noises, vibrations and similar.

A New Universal Joint Is a Universally Good Idea

If all the signs are steering you towards a new universal joint, then it’s time to go to Machter. We have a range of u joints ready to go — just pick the right fit for your car’s make and model, then replace away! Be sure to check out our range today and don’t risk driving with a damaged universal joint.