Car Axles: What They Are and Everything You Should Know

February 24, 2022
Jeep driving down a winding road

Press the gas pedal, and it goes. Hit the brakes, and it stops. But underneath the seamless design of a car there’s a lot of complexity. Many parts work together in perfect synchrony to keep your car running smoothly. One part, in particular, is important for connecting your engine to the wheels it powers: the axle.

What is a car axle?

Have you ever wondered how the power generated by your car’s engine makes the wheels turn? You’ve got the axle to thank for that. Your engine applies force against the axle (a rod or shaft connecting two wheels) which then transfers that force, causing the wheels to spin. In other words, the axle is a car part that serves a dual purpose: connecting the wheels of your car and delivering the power from the engine that moves them forward or backward.1

How many axles does a car have?

Generally, a vehicle will have one axle for every two wheels it has. The axle connects one wheel on one side to another wheel on the other side. And because cars have four wheels, they have two axles.2 As you might expect, larger vehicles sometimes have more axles. There might be an extra axle in a large pickup truck, for example.

Front Axle vs. Rear Axle

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of axles in a car: live axles and dead axles. Live axles rotate with the wheels and transfer engine power to them, while dead axles are simply load-bearing.1 In cars, the front axle and rear axle can both be live, as in the case of cars with four-wheel drive, however, many modern cars feature a front-wheel drive system.3

The parts of a car wheel and axle vary between the front and rear axle. The rear axle of a car is typically comprised of two connected halves known as half shafts. Front axles are typically built sturdier and with more sophistication, as they bear the responsibility of steering the car and absorbing shocks from uneven surfaces.2

Why should you inspect your axles?

A broken axle, to put it plainly, is not a good thing. If an axle breaks while you’re driving, you will most likely lose control of your vehicle. Having your front and rear axles inspected regularly helps prevent this from happening. You should pay close attention to your vehicle for any signs of deterioration and bring it in for inspection accordingly. Any shimmying, shaking, or shuddering could point to signs of a degraded axle. A car axle showing such signs may need to be replaced.4

Who should inspect your axle and how often?

As sturdily as they’re built, having safely functioning axles in your car is critical, and you should treat them accordingly. If you hear strange noises or notice any signs (clunking when you put the car in gear, vibrations, if the car won’t move despite running fine), then your axles may require attention and you should bring your car to a mechanic for inspection.5

Are axles covered by insurance?

Like any part of your car, whether axles are covered by your insurance depends on the nature of the damage they’ve taken. If you have collision insurance and your axle is damaged in an accident or by a pothole in the road, then you may be covered. However, if the damage arises from something more expected, like natural wear and tear or too much weight in your car, then you likely will not be covered.6 For specific coverage questions, you can always talk to an insurance agent.

Regular maintenance and inspection is important. And so is being prepared for the unexpected. Get a free quote from Nationwide today and learn more about how auto insurance can protect you and your vehicle.

1, Accessed December 2021.
2, Accessed December 2021.
3, Accessed December 2021.
4, Accessed December 2021.
5, Accessed December 2021.
6, Accessed December 2021.

The information included is designed for informational purposes only. It is not legal, tax, financial or any other sort of advice, nor is it a substitute for such advice. The information may not apply to your specific situation. We have tried to make sure the information is accurate, but it could be outdated or even inaccurate in parts. It is the reader’s responsibility to comply with any applicable local, state, or federal regulations. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, its affiliates and their employees make no warranties about the information nor guarantee of results, and they assume no liability in connection with the information provided. Nationwide, Nationwide is on your side, and the Nationwide N and Eagle are services marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. © 2022 Nationwide.

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