What Is the Difference Between a Driveshaft & an Axle Shaft?

by Gerry Poulos

Modern motor vehicle construction involves thousands of parts, making it inevitable that some components will have similar names yet different functions. Various shafts, such as driveshafts and axle shafts, are examples of this.


While both axle and driveshafts transfer mechanical power from one place to another, they serve different functions in a vehicle's drivetrain. The driveshaft transfers power from the transmission to the rear differential gearbox. The axle shafts transfer power from the rear differential gearbox to the wheels.


Axle shafts resemble solid-steel rods with teeth cut into their ends. A driveshaft is a hollow steel tube of greater diameter than an axle shaft and with universal joints on each end. These joints allow the rear differential to rise and fall with the rear suspension without binding a rotating driveshaft.


The driveshaft runs down the center of a vehicle from the rear of the transmission to the rear differential gearbox and is visible beneath the vehicle. Axle shafts are concealed inside the steel rear-end housings running from the differential to each of the rear wheels.

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