As part of the drive train in your vehicle, the drive shaft is responsible for torque. Also known as the propeller or prop shaft, here’s some more about how it works from the Riverton Master Muffler team.

How It Works

Have you ever given thought to what makes your car actually go when you press the gas pedal? How does energy move through your vehicle and make the wheels turn?

The drive train is a series of components that brings power to the wheels of your car or truck. In rear-wheel drive (RWD), four-wheel drive (4WD), or all-wheel drive (AWD), it consists of:

  • Crankshaft
  • Flywheel
  • Clutch or Torque Converter
  • Transmission
  • Drive Shaft
  • Drive Axle
  • Final Drive 
  • Differential

Based on how power is distributed, RWD, 4WD, and AWD vehicles have drive trains with slightly different arrangements of parts. 

In conjunction with these moving parts, here’s a summary of how the drive shaft works:

Wheels need to rotate in order to propel a vehicle backward or forward, and the drive shaft is responsible for that motion. It’s a long bar under the body of the vehicle that delivers rotation and torque from the engine and transmission to the gears that connect to the wheels.

The Transfer of Energy

Let’s take a look at the transfer of energy in your vehicle. First, your engine generates chemical energy via combustion, combining oxygen and fuel. The chemical energy converts to thermal energy, or heat. Due to the heat in the engine, the pistons experience compression, which moves them up and down in their respective chambers. This kinetic energy starts a chain reaction in the drive train.

CRANKSHAFT

The crankshaft converts the up-and-down movement of the pistons into rotational motion. As the pistons fire up and down, the crankshaft located underneath them in the engine block rotates.

FLYWHEEL

Pistons only generate energy during each stroke, so the flywheel helps maintain momentum between each stroke. By storing kinetic energy, it ensures continuous momentum so kinetic energy can be transferred through the drive train to the wheels.

CLUTCH OR TORQUE CONVERTER

If you drive a manual transmission, your drive train has a clutch converter. If you drive an automatic transmission, your drive train has a torque converter. They both perform similar operations in the drive train.

When the clutch pedal is not pressed, it connects engine power to the transmission. When the clutch pedal is pressed, the wheels of the vehicle are spinning freely without power assistance from the transmission. It’s like pressing a pause button while you shift gears.

A torque converter contains fluid that helps transfer torque to the vehicle’s wheels. It’s connected to the flywheel and allows cars to idle and maintain power levels at even speeds.

TRANSMISSION

The gearbox, or transmission, works like the gears of a bike to convert an engine’s chemical and thermal energy into kinetic energy.

DRIVE SHAFT

After the transmission has converted engine energy into kinetic energy, the energy is transferred to the wheels via the drive shaft. The drive shaft connects to the final drive and the differential, which allows wheels to rotate at different speeds even when each is supplied with the same amount of power.

The drive shaft is connected to the wheels via the drive axle, which often has its own differential to help divide power amongst the wheels. 

Signs of a Broken Drive Shaft

Vehicles of all kinds, whether a car, truck, motorcycle, or ATV, have drive shafts. Know the signs of a failing drive shaft so you can get it looked at before you’re facing more extensive auto repairs.

WOBBLY DRIVING

Unless you’ve accidentally strayed over the rumble strip on the interstate, feeling vibrations while driving is a big deal. If your drive shaft is failing, you might feel wobbles or vibrations emanating from the undercarriage. If left unattended, the vibrations can affect the performance of other parts of the drivetrain, and create uneven wear on your tires.

NOISY DRIVING

No one likes to hear whining, clunking, or scraping sounds while driving. If you notice your car clunks when you accelerate or reverse, it could be related to the drive shaft. Squeaks or squeals coming from the engine may not have anything to do with the drive shaft, but if those sounds are emanating from underneath your vehicle it’s a different story. If anything is misaligned with the drive shaft, you might hear squeaks under your feet while driving.

PROBLEMS STEERING

You might first check the power steering fluid if you’re having trouble turning your steering wheel, but if that looks good what do you check next? Problems with your steering may be related to a lack of power in the drive shaft. If it can’t deliver that power to the wheels, you’re going to have a hard time steering them.

If you’re experiencing any of these problems, contact the auto repair team at Riverton Master Muffler. You can give us a call at 801-436-5659, or send a message online HERE.