What Are U Joints?

by Ron Sardisco

U joints transfer the motion of the engine to the wheels when it is not possible to make a straight line connection.

How do they work?

Not just for cars

In order to transfer rotational motion from one object to another, the two objects are connected by a shaft. If the shaft is not flexible, as in a car drive-shaft or axle, a flexible joint must be added to eliminate binding in the movement. U joints are used for this purpose.

Where are they used?

In a rear wheel drive car, each end of the drive-shaft is equipped with a u-joint with one end being connected to the rear of the transmission and the other to the differential or rear axle. On a front wheel drive vehicle, each half of the front axle has two joints often referred to as constant velocity or CV joints. These connect the transmission output to the front wheels. As in the photo, they may be used for non-automotive purposes.

How do I know they are ok?

U-joints are clever. They either work quietly or signal their intention to give you a very bad day with noise and vibration. These are signs that you have little time to effect a repair or call a tow truck.

Care and Maintenance

Fortunately, most modern u-joints are permanently lubricated from the factory. Their protective covering, or boot, should be inspected for damage every time you change the oil. Older vehicles have lubrication fittings that should be serviced every time you change the oil.

When They Fail

A competent home mechanic can replace u-joints with a few simple tools like a vise, a ball peen hammer and a wrench. Axel CV joints are more time consuming and require more specialized tools but can be done in your home shop.

About the Author

After attending Pasadena City College as a business major, Ron Sardisco spent 35 years studying small business and organizational behavior. More than 20 years as a banker, 10 years as a small business owner and five years as a business adviser fuel his passion for writing and mentoring others. An award-winning photographer, he was also a contributing columnist to the "Antelope Valley Press."

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Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Scott Eyre