An axle is a central shaft for a rotating wheel or gear. On wheeled vehicles, the axle may be fixed to the wheels, rotating with them, or fixed to the vehicle, with the wheels rotating around the axle. In the former case, bearings or bushings are provided at the mounting points where the axle is supported. In the latter case, a bearing or bushing sits inside a central hole in the wheel to allow the wheel or gear to rotate around the axle. Sometimes, especially on bicycles, the latter type axle is referred to as a spindle.
Axles are an integral component of most practical wheeled vehicles. In a live-axle suspension system, the axles serve to transmit driving torque to the wheel, as well as to maintain the position of the wheels relative to each other and to the vehicle body. The axles in this system must also bear the weight of the vehicle plus any cargo. A non-driving axle, such as the front beam axle in heavy duty trucks and some 2-wheel drive light trucks and vans, will have no shaft, and serves only as a suspension and steering component. Conversely, many front wheel drive cars have a solid rear beam axle.
In other types of suspension systems, the axles serve only to transmit driving torque to the wheels; the position and angle of the wheel hubs is an independent function of the suspension system. This is typical of the independent suspension found on most newer cars and SUV's, and on the front of many light trucks. These systems still have a differential, but it will not have attached axle housing tubes. It may be attached to the vehicle frame or body, or integral in a transaxle. The axle shafts (usually constant velocity type) then transmit driving torque to the wheels. Like a full floating axle system, the drive shafts in a front wheel drive independent suspension system do not support any vehicle weight.
Splines on a front drive axle.
An axle that is driven by the engine or prime mover is called a drive axle.
Modern front wheel drive cars typically combine the transmission (i.e. gearbox and differential) and front axle into a single unit called a transaxle. The drive axle is a split axle with a differential and universal joints between the two half axles. Each half axle connects to the wheel by use of a constant velocity (CV) joint which allows the wheel assembly to move freely vertically as well as to pivot when making turns.
In rear wheel drive cars and trucks, the engine turns a driveshaft (also called a propeller shaft or tail shaft) which transmits rotational force to a drive axle at the rear of the vehicle. The drive axle may be a live axle, but modern rear wheel drive automobiles generally use a split axle with a differential. In this case, one half-axle or half-shaft connects the differential with the left rear wheel, a second half-shaft does the same with the right rear wheel; thus the two half-axles and the differential constitute the rear axle.
A dead axle, also called lazy axle, is not part of the drivetrain but is instead free-rotating. The rear axle of a front-wheel drive car is usually a dead axle. Many trucks and trailers use dead axles for strictly load-bearing purposes. A dead axle located immediately in front of a drive axle is called a pusher axle. A tag axle is a dead axle situated behind a drive axle. Dead axles are also found on semi-trailers, farm equipment, and certain heavy construction machinery serving the same function. On some vehicles (such as motor coaches), the tag axle may be steerable. In some designs the wheels on a lazy axle only come into contact with ground when the load is significant, thus saving unnecessary tire wear.
Full-floating vs semi-floating
A full-floating axle shaft does not carry the vehicle's weight; it serves only to transmit torque from the differential to the wheels. It "floats" inside an assembly that carries the vehicle's weight. Thus the only stress it must endure is torque (not lateral bending force). Full-floating axle shafts are retained by a flange bolted to the hub, while the hub and bearings are retained on the spindle by a large nut. In contrast, a semi-floating design carries the weight of the vehicle on the axle shaft itself; there is a single bearing at the end of the axle housing that carries the load from the axle and that the axle rotates through.
The full-floating design is typically used in most 3/4 and 1-ton light trucks, medium duty trucks and heavy-duty trucks, as well as most agricultural applications, such as large tractors and self-propelled agricultural machinery. There are a few exceptions, such as many Land-Rover vehicles and in American "stock car" racing since the early 1960s. The overall assembly can carry more weight than a semi-floating or non-floating axle assembly, because the hubs have two bearings riding on a fixed spindle. A full-floating axle can be identified by a protruding hub to which the axle shaft flange is bolted. The semi-floating design is found under most 1/2 ton and lighter trucks and SUVs and rear-wheel-drive passenger cars, usually being of smaller and/or less expensive models.
A benefit of a full-floating axle is that even if an axle shaft (used to transmit torque or power) breaks, the wheel will not come off, possibly preventing a serious accident.
Depending on the usage, Vans tend to take quite a beating. We have seen a lot of Vans that needed major Differntial work. Please contact us so that we can quote your Vans and get you the best possible service for the price.