A car’s universal joints, or U joints, are one of those parts that work constantly and are under extreme stress and force. Most people don’t know the signs of a failing U joint until it is too late, which can be fatal.
The average U joint replacement cost is around $250.
What does a Universal Joint do?
A universal joint is an X-shaped piece of steel that has a bearing cup on each end and connects the driveshaft to the transmission as well as to the rear axle of the car. The function of the U joint is not only to be a connector but to allow freedom of movement by the individual parts; for example, the drive shaft rotates in one direction but the axle in another.
Rear-wheel drive vehicles have universal joints on both ends of the drive shaft.
What Happens When the U Joint Fails?
A car’s U joints have a very tough life, and they are typically completely forgotten about until they begin to fail. The vast majority of the time, when a U joint fails, it is in the rear axle.
When a U joint begins to fail, there are some tell-tale signs to watch out for. The three most common symptoms that you are progressing towards having a U joint fail are:
- Vibrations – a bad universal joint can make the entire car vibrate. This occurs while the car is in forward motion and is a result of U joint bearings being worn and making metal-to-metal contact.
- Vehicle noise – listen for clicking, clunking, or squeaking noises as well as ringing sounds. The squeaking noise will occur moving either forward or in reverse. However, the other vehicle noise to listen for will occur when shifting gears, typically from Drive to Reverse.
- Jerking – a bad U joint can cause the car to jerk when accelerating or letting off of the gas pedal. This is a common sign of worn U joint bearings or a dried-out grease fitting.
- Transmission fluid leaks – typically from the rear of the transmission. This is usually an additional symptom as it most commonly is not directly caused by a bad universal joint but due to the vibrations (as discussed above) that a bad U joint can result in.
However, those are symptoms of a failing U joint.
Once a U joint completely fails, the car will no longer be drivable as there will be no connection between the car’s engine and transmission with the wheels.
You would have no other choice but to have the car towed.
How Much Does U Joint Replacement Cost?
The actual universal joint replacement cost that you can expect to pay varies greatly. There are numerous factors to consider, such as the make and model, age of the car, front-wheel drive vehicles vs rear-wheel-drive vehicles vs a four-wheel-drive vehicle, etc.
The biggest variation in the repair cost will be dependent upon the cost and amount of labor involved with the specific car and not really about parts.
Average U joint price
As far as the replacement cost for parts is concerned, the joint replacement parts, regardless of the vehicle, tend to all average around the same. You can expect to pay between $130 and $150 for parts.
Front axle U joint replacement cost
Technically, a front-wheel-drive vehicle doesn’t have any U joints, as they are called CV joints, or constant velocity joints, on those cars.
Driveshaft U joint replacement cost
The replacement cost is about the same regardless of whether on the axle or driveshaft. Expect to be in the neighborhood of $250, but again this varies greatly from vehicle to vehicle.
Average labor cost for U joint replacement
To replace a U joint, you can expect the labor costs to average between $100 and $140.
How Long Do U Joints Last?
The U-joints actually are built to last for the majority of a car’s expected life. It is not at all uncommon for U-joints to still be functional at 100,000 miles. A U joint that fails prematurely is typically a result of either:
- Lack of proper maintenance
- The rubber lip seal becomes dry rotted
- Vehicle abuse
Can You Drive a Car With a Broken U Joint?
No, if the universal joint is broken, then the car’s driveshaft will also drop out of the car, which will render it impossible to transfer power to the wheels. The car will not move.
How Long Can You Drive With a Bad U Joint?
As with any damaged part that poses such a significant risk regarding either safety or additional damage, universal joints are no different. If the U joints fail completely while driving the car, you will lose complete control over the car. It is even possible for the car to flip over, or cause some other form of tragic, and potentially fatal, accident.
It is possible that the vehicle could still move with a failing universal joint. However, it would not be for too long or go too far. Only drive with a bad universal joint problem if it is absolutely necessary, and go very slow.
A failing universal joint will break eventually and driving could cause additional excessive damage. The maximum you could possibly expect to drive in this condition is a couple of hundred miles. Unless there is also transmission fluid leaking, in which case, do not continue to drive at all.
Can I Replace U Joints Myself?
While not the easiest repair on a car, replacing the U joints can be a Do It Yourself project providing you have adequate space to work on the car, the proper tools to do the job, and enough automotive know-how for this sort of repair.
Where to Get U Joint Replacement Services
Universal joint replacement services should be available at any auto repair garage that employs certified mechanics.