CV axles are most commonly used on the front-wheel-drive vehicles to transfer engine power from the transaxle to the wheels. Some all-wheel-drive vehicles with independent rear suspensions also use CV axles to transfer engine power from the rear differential to the wheels.
CV axles have an inner joint and an outer joint. The inner joint has three rollers (a “tripod joint”) and a good range of motion. The outer joint has 5 bearings in a cage and an exceptional range of motion that allows the joint to follow the steering axis on the front wheels.
The two CV joints on a drive axle can be replaced separately. That involves removing the axle, removing the axle boot and then the joint, installing a new joint, new grease and the boot, then, reinstalling the axle in the vehicle.
This is almost never done. For whatever reason, whether using OE parts or aftermarket, pre-assembled CV axles generally cost about the same (or often less) as single CV joints. 99% of the time, if a joint has failed, a new axle will be recommended.
General Cost of CV Joint Issues
Some examples of the cost to replace axle on some common vehicles using $100 labor rate are as follows:
- On the 2004 Toyota Corolla, the labor time for front axle replacement is 2.4 hours. An aftermarket Cardone CV axle is $97, while a factory Toyota replacement axle is $582. The job would amount to about $297 with aftermarket parts or $822 with a factory replacement axle.
- On a 2007 Honda Accord with an automatic transmission and a 3-liter engine, the labor time for front axle replacement is 1.3 hours. A new Cardone axle costs about $99 and the costs for an OE replacement axle would be about $672 for the right side and $339 for the left. This would make the CV axle repair cost around $229 for an aftermarket axle. For an OE axle, the job would come to about $802 for the right and $469 for the left.
- On a 2006 Volkswagen Jetta axle replacement, the labor time is 1.3 hours. A new APWI axle costs about $97. A factory replacement axle costs about $320. This would make the job about $227 with aftermarket parts or about $450 with a new factory part.
- On a 2009 Dodge 1500 four-wheel-drive pickup, the labor time for front axle replacement is .9 of an hour. A new Cardone axle costs about $96. A factory Mopar replacement axle costs about $145. This would make the job about $186 with an aftermarket part or about $235 with an OE axle.
The above estimates rely on book time; many shops will replace axles at a standard charge on most vehicles rather than book time, usually often calculated at a flat hour labor charge. Most of the time axles are sold with a core price attached (about $40 or $50) which is returned when the old part is turned in. Usually that is taken care of by the shop, and is only an issue if the old axle is damaged in some way that it has no core value.
New Versus Remanufactured
For many years, depending on the vehicle, new axles were only available through dealer sources and only remanufactured axles were commonly available in the aftermarket. Most of the time, a new axle is the best choice, but looking at the CV joint pricing differences above – many times, it comes down to cost.
In the last few years, there is much better availability for new aftermarket axles on many vehicles. Usually, there isn’t much of a price difference between new and remanufactured, and if a new axle is available, that’s usually the best choice.
How CV Joints Fail
CV joints use a rubber or silicon boot to hold the grease in the joint. Most CV joint failures begin with a split or torn boot – whether from ordinary wear and tear or getting torn from road debris. At that point, the grease slings out and road grime can enter.
In some cases, if a torn boot is noticed soon enough, the boot can just be replaced. More often, the joint has run too long without grease to be trusted or the joint has enough mileage on it that replacement is warranted for age and wear regardless.
Joints can also wear out if the boot is intact. On an outer joint on a front axle, what is commonly noticed is clicking noise when accelerating with the wheel steered fully one way or the other. At that point, the outer joint is under the most stress and wear will show up as noise following the wheel’s rotation.
The inner joint is under the most stress when accelerating; regardless of direction. Sometimes, wear patterns can develop in the tripod joint that prevent the smooth transmission of power.
Under heavy acceleration, a worn tripod joint can feel like oscillation in the engine position; pushing and releasing the engine side to side in rhythm following the wheel’s rotation.
Other Things That Might be Recommended
Most CV axles have a splined end on the transmission side which slides into the body of the transmission. There is an axle seal at the juncture which is often recommended to be replaced.
In general, if a seal isn’t leaking before the axle replacement, it probably won’t leak after. But the seal is easy to damage during installation and is usually pretty insignificant in cost. The cheapest time to replace an axle seal is when the axle is out and it’s not a bad idea.
Often, a wheel alignment will be recommended after axle replacement. There is a general rule that if any part of the suspension between the wheels is removed or replaced, the alignment should be checked.
On most vehicles, to replace an axle, you have to disconnect a lower ball joint. Sometimes the whole knuckle has to be removed and sometimes the knuckle is disconnected at the strut. In any case, if an alignment is recommended, it’s probably a good idea to have it checked.
If wheel alignment is not recommended, it’s still a good idea to pay attention to how the vehicle drives and if any difference is noted after the work – have the alignment checked. The main sign of a change in toe angle (the primary angle involved in tire wear) is a change in the position of the steering wheel when driving straight down a flat road. If the steering wheel was level before and level after, probably, there was no change.
If an inner joint has failed, it should be kept in mind that these are vulnerable to engine position. If an engine mount is worn out, that changes the angle of the engine and so, the angle of the joint.
If the engine mount that resists engine rotation under force wears out, then, the engine can roll forward or back too far when in forward or reverse. This can put the inner joints at a more extreme angle than they were designed for; causing wear and failure. Engine mounts should be inspected with an inner CV joint failure and addressed as necessary.