Your driveline delivers power from the engine at the front of your car to the wheels in the rear. If you drive a front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicle, the only driveline components are the half-shafts and CV joints. On the other hand, rear-wheel drive (RWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles require a driveshaft to transmit power to the rear and center differentials.

The driveline components need to rotate in time with the transmission or transaxle. They also need to flex as your car travels over bumps and the frame deforms by minuscule amounts. Problems with driveline components often manifest as vibrations, but how can you distinguish between driveline vibration and other vehicle tremors? Keep reading to find out.

Common Forms of Driveline Failure

FWD vehicles have the most straightforward driveline symptoms to recognize. Since these vehicles don't have a driveshaft, the only common failure points are the constant velocity joints on the transaxle half-shafts. If the boots on these joints fail, the joints will quickly wear out. This failure can produce vibrations, but the more common symptom is a clicking noise when turning.

RWD and AWD vehicles have a somewhat more complex setup. With RWD vehicles, a one- or two-piece driveshaft connects the transmission directly to a rear differential. AWD vehicles use a similar design and include a center differential that splits the driveshaft. The center differential allows AWD vehicles to shift power between the front and rear wheels.

As with FWD vehicles, joints are the most common failure points. Driveshafts on both AWD and RWD vehicles use universal joints to allow the shaft to move as the car flexes. These joints can wear out through regular use or from damage, resulting in clunking noises, vibrations, or even banging for severely worn joints.

Recognizing Driveline Vibrations

Problems with driveshaft u-joints will often produce noticeable issues as you apply or remove power. Stepping on the accelerator causes the driveshaft to increase its spin rate, making any play in the u-joints more apparent. You may feel a sudden jerk or hear a clunk and then notice more vibrations as you continue to accelerate.

Anything that causes the driveshaft to change speed can make this problem more apparent, so you should also pay attention to how your vehicle behaves when lifting your foot from the accelerator. If you feel the same clunk and vibration as you let off the gas, that's a good sign that your vibration is driveline-related. You'll also usually feel driveline vibrations through the car's chassis and not the steering wheel.

If you suspect a driveline problem, you should bring your vehicle to an experienced mechanic as soon as possible. Diagnosing these issues is usually relatively easy, and a good shop with a lift can quickly check for play in your u-joints or signs of a failed CV axle boot. Repairing driveline problems when you first notice them can help you avoid costly catastrophic failures in the future. Contact a local mechanic to learn more about driveline repairs.