You may have broken one, you may have sheared splines, you may have bent it. Whatever the reason, here’s how to change your driveshafts on your front-wheel-drive car…

Your engine and gearbox are the dream team, but if all their good work can’t get to the wheels, it’s all in vain. That’s why your driveshafts are very important indeed. But, as they’re charged with the task of handling the power, they can fail over time. You might snap one, or shear the splines off one, or you may even bend one if you hit something particularly unforgiving.
 
If any of that happens, you needn’t panic too much. Changing your driveshafts is actually a simple task that a home mechanic can undertake without too much trepidation. It’s just a case of being thorough, being safe, and of course, having your trusty Haynes Manual to hand.
 

How to change your driveshaft

Note: The driveshaft outer joint splines may be a tight fit in the hub, and it is possible that a puller/extractor will be required to draw the hub assembly off of the driveshaft during removal. 

1  Firmly apply the handbrake, then jack up the front of the car and support it securely on axle stands (see Jacking and vehicle support ). Remove the relevant front roadwheel. Where applicable, remove the engine undershield.  

2  Refit at least two roadwheel nuts to the front hub, and tighten them securely. Have an assistant firmly depress the brake pedal to prevent the front hub from rotating, then using a socket and extension bar, slacken the driveshaft retaining nut.

Alternatively, a tool can be fabricated from two lengths of steel strip (one long, one short) and a nut and bolt; the nut and bolt forming the pivot of a forked tool. Attach the tool to the hub using two wheel nuts, and hold the tool to prevent the hub from rotating as the driveshaft retaining nut is slackened. Loosen the nut almost to the end of its threads, but do not remove it at this stage.  

Warning: The driveshaft nut is done up extremely tight, and considerable effort will be required to loosen it. Do not use poor-quality, badly fitting tools for this task, due to the risk of personal injury. 

3  Unscrew the bolt and release the brake hydraulic hose from the suspension strut.  

4  Unscrew and remove the lower arm balljoint clamp bolt nut, and withdraw the clamp bolt from the swivel hub. Unscrew the nut and remove the lower arm balljoint clamp bolt. Note that a new nut and bolt will be required for refitting.  

5  Use a chisel or screwdriver as a wedge to expand the lower portion of the swivel hub.  

6  Lever down the lower arm to free the balljoint from the swivel hub, then move the swivel hub to one side, taking care not to damage the balljoint rubber boot.  

7  If removing the left-hand driveshaft, turn the steering wheel to full right-hand lock. If removing the right-hand driveshaft, turn it to full left-hand lock. 

8  The splined end of the driveshaft now has to be released from its location in the hub. It’s likely that the splines will be very tight (corrosion may even be a factor, if the driveshaft has not been disturbed for some time), and considerable force may be needed to push the driveshaft out.

Ford recommends using a four-legged puller for this, but if one is not available, the shaft will have to be tapped out with a hammer. If a hammer is used, place a small piece of wood over the end of the driveshaft – in addition to the loosened hub nut, this will protect the threads from damage.  

9  Once the splines have been released, remove the hub nut and discard it – a new nut must be used for refitting.  

10  The driveshaft can be separated from the hub by having an assistant pull the base of the suspension strut outwards, while the splined end of the shaft is pulled clear of the hub   (see illustration)  . Do not bend the driveshaft excessively at any stage, or the joints may be damaged – the inner and outer joints should not be bent through more than 18° and 45° respectively. Do not let the driveshaft hang down under its own weight – tie it up level if necessary.  

Pull the base of the strut outwards, and pull the driveshaft splines through to the inside

11  Proceed as follows, according to which driveshaft is being removed.  

Left-hand driveshaft

12  Insert a lever between the driveshaft inner joint and the transmission housing, positioning a thin piece of wood between the lever and housing to protect it. Also position a container below the inner joint, to catch the transmission oil which will be lost as the driveshaft is removed. Carefully lever the driveshaft inner joint out of the differential, taking great care not to damage the transmission housing or the oil seal.  

Use a lever to prise the driveshaft out – this may take some time and effort. Once the driveshaft comes free, support the inner joint and remove the shaft completely.

13  Manoeuvre the driveshaft out of position, ensuring that the constant velocity joints are not placed under excessive strain, and remove the driveshaft from underneath the car. Whilst the driveshaft is removed, plug the differential aperture with a clean, lint-free cloth to prevent the entry of dirt.  

14  Extract the circlip from the groove on the inner end of the driveshaft, and obtain a new one.  

Right-hand driveshaft

15  Unscrew the nuts securing the intermediate shaft support bearing cap to the rear of the cylinder block. On diesel engine models, remove the support bearing cap from the studs. On petrol engine models, lift the support bearing cap and heat shield (where fitted) from the studs and slide it down the intermediate shaft. On all models, a new bearing cap and nuts must be used when refitting.  

16  Position a container below the transmission, to catch the oil which will be lost as the driveshaft is removed. Withdraw the complete driveshaft from the transmission and from the bearing bracket, and remove it from under the car. On petrol engine models, remove the support bearing cap and heat shield from the intermediate shaft. Whilst the driveshaft is removed, plug the differential aperture with a clean, lint-free cloth to prevent the entry of dirt.  

Both driveshafts

17  Check the condition of the differential oil seals, and if necessary renew them.  

Refitting the driveshaft

Right-hand driveshaft

18  On petrol engine models, fit the new support bearing cap and heat shield (where fitted) to the intermediate shaft.  

19  Use a special sleeve to protect the differential oil seal as the intermediate shaft is inserted. If the sleeve is not used, take great care to avoid damaging the seal (installation sleeves are supplied with new oil seals, where required). 

20  Carefully refit the intermediate shaft in the support bearing and into the transmission. Turn the intermediate shaft until it engages the splines on the differential gears.  

21  Tighten the new nuts securing the new support bearing cap to the cylinder block to the specified torque. Proceed to step 25.  

Left-hand driveshaft

22  Locate the new circlip in the groove on the inner end of the driveshaft. Fit a new circlip to the driveshaft groove.

23  Use a special sleeve to protect the differential oil seal as the driveshaft is inserted. If the sleeve is not used, take great care to avoid damaging the seal. (Installation sleeves are supplied with new oil seals, where required.)  

24  Insert the driveshaft into the transmission, and push it fully home. Try pulling the shaft out, to make sure the circlip is fully engaged.  

Both driveshafts

25  Pull the suspension strut outwards, and insert the outer end of the driveshaft through the hub. Turn the driveshaft to engage the splines in the hub, and fully push on the hub. Ford use a special tool to draw the driveshaft into the hub, but it is unlikely that the splines will be tight. However, if they are, it will be necessary to obtain the tool, or to use a similar home-made tool.  

26  Screw on the new driveshaft nut, and use it to draw the driveshaft fully through the hub.  

27  Locate the front suspension lower arm balljoint stub in the bottom of the swivel hub. Insert the new clamp bolt in the previously-noted position, screw on the new nut, and tighten it to the specified torque.  

28  Refit the brake hydraulic hose to the suspension strut and tighten the retaining bolt securely.  

29  Using the method employed on removal to prevent rotation, tighten the driveshaft retaining nut to the specified torque.  

30  Fill the transmission, and check the level.  

31  Where applicable, refit the engine undershield, then refit the wheel, and lower the car to the ground. Tighten the wheel nuts to the specified torque.  

What is the lifespan of a driveshaft?

The driveshafts of your car are exceptionally important, given that they take the power from the engine and send it to your wheels. Despite their importance though, they’re not a service part, and this means there is no set interval for when they should be changed. Every car is different. The key to driveshaft longevity is preventative maintenance as well as just generally looking after them.

If you look after your driveshafts, they can last the lifetime of the car. It only if you ignore the information below that they can become a problem.

The main shaft of the driveshaft unit is just a bar of metal, and as such is pretty robust. The only way this bit fails is if it’s damaged, or if the rust is allowed to eat it away. As such, there is no harm in getting under your car with a wire brush, clean up the shaft and give it a new coat of rustproof paint. This will extend the life no end.

Other than that, there are two main points of failure, they are:

The splined ends

Each end of the driveshaft has a splined input piece. It is these splines that allow the driveshaft to be acted upon by the gearbox, while at the other end, they allow the shaft to act on the wheel/hub, thus delivering power.

If these splines are damaged, the shaft can start to break up and shift, meaning the power isn’t delivered. In situ, these spines are pretty hardy.

However, if the car is driven hard, this can damage them. Also, if the car is modified to produce more power, it can be too much for the stock splines and can strip them from the shaft.

The most common issue is at the hub/wheel end. If the car has to have any work done that involves taking the hub off, so suspension work, a new wheel bearing, that kind of thing, if the hub isn’t fitted correctly, it can damage the splines.

The CV joint

Driveshafts have a constant velocity joint at either end to allow the shaft to move with the suspension and steering of the car. These joints are packed with grease to keep them happy.

To keep all that grease in place, you have a CV boot, a rubber cover that flexes with the movement of the shaft. If this cover splits or comes adrift, dirt can get into the grease.

When that happens, the dirt grinds against the metal of the joint, eventually breaking it. If you get a CV boot advisory on your MOT, do not put it off. That £10 boot can save you a lot of money down the line.