For most car owners that intend to keep their vehicles more then 5 years you can expect to do some maintenance that can cost you quite a bit of money at the Dealer or a little less at your local shop but if you are able and have the space there is no reason that you can’t do much of the work yourself and save thousands of dollars.
Lets face it the longer you can drive your vehicle without putting a ton of money in to it the more you get for your money. You may also want to fix up an older car for yourself or another family member and having a second car that may only costs a few hundred dollars to insure is worth the extra comfort.
After about 150,000 miles or 5 or more years the rubber boots that protect your CV Joints on your front wheel drive axles will begin to crack and open. When this happens the grease that lubricates the joint gets spun out as you drive down the street.
Unfortunately the cost, time and effort to repair an axle even if you catch it right when the grease boot is damaged is more then the cost to replace the whole axle. There are kits you can buy with a new boot, clamp and grease and some manufacturers sell a wrap around boot but the results you will get are not long lasting and if you go with replacing the boot with a standard part it means having to disassemble the CV Joint and then needing a special crimper to attach the clamp. All in all its worth the extra $50 to just buy a new axle and do the job right.
Many people suggest that when one axle goes that you replace both. This is up to you and although you may get another year on the side that has not busted open you should keep checking it because its days are short.
If you are attempting this job then it is expected this is not your first try at car repair. Although the job will only take a couple hours you should have a good assortment of tools and know how to use them.
Tools you will need include but are not limited to:
Jack and Jack Stand along with wheel chocks.
1/2 inch drive socket wrenches
1/2 inch impact hammer 350 ft pounds or higher & Air Compressor
Medium size flat pry bar
Center punch & Chisel
Large Hammer 3lb or better
Needle Nosed and Vice Grip Pliers
Torque Wrench Ft Pounds 150
Transmission Fluid as recommended by your Manufacturer
Removing The Axle
Follow proper jacking procedures to raise the side of the vehicle you are working on. There is no need to raise both sides of the car and doing so is not recommended because a level vehicle will lose more transmission fluid then one on an angle.
You should place some plastic on the garage floor and have a clean container ready to catch your transmission fluid. About a half quart will spill out when you remove the axle from the transmission. Don’t reuse it only put fresh fluid back in the transmission or you risk a metal shaving or other object destroying your transmission.
Always support the car with jack stands if you will be working on it. A jack alone is not enough.
When removing parts you want to replace them in reverse order.
With the car fully supported and the wheel removed you want to begin by making sure that you can remove the axle nut. This is the most difficult nut to get off and will require a good sized half inch impact wrench. The nut is usually 32mm or larger on import vehicles so you will most likely need to purchase a special socket for your axle. Many Discount Auto stores sell them for about $25.
Begin by desinching the axle nut.
If you look closely at the nut you will see there is a small dent on the side that fits into a groove this is similar but better then using a cotter pin to retain the nut.
You will need to use a small dull chisel and or a center punch to remove the dent. The better you do the easier the nut will come off so if you are having problems getting the nut off drive a center punch deep into the slot and you should be able to get it off. Most likely if you do the job right a hand wrench could be used to remove the nut but most mechanics just use more air.
Once you know you can get the nut loose you should keep it on the end of the axle until you can get the through bolt out of your strut fork and remove your ball joint.
Fork Through Bolt
Removing the through bolt of the strut fork is relatively easy. Hold the fixed side with a hand wrench and remove the nut with your impact hammer or a hand socket wrench.
Because the through bolt is held tightly in the bushing you will need to drive the bolt through the bushing with a 1/4″ socket extender bar.
Be careful because once the bolt is completely free the strut will expand and jump at you a bit.
There are a number of methods to remove a ball joint. You can use a pickle fork but you risk damaging the rubber boot you can also use a puller but they are often difficult to manage. Some mechanics will simply beat on the side of the ball joint on the lower control arm where a small nib is placed for the puller to rest on. This can work but you have to be careful and have good aim.
Now that the lower control arm is free you can remove the nut on the end of the axle.
The brake caliper / hub can be swung away and the outside connection of the axle will be free. If necessary you can use the ball peen end of your hammer to tap the axle end in the hole while pulling it free. Don’t tap too hard and only if you are pulling back on the caliper.
To get the axle out of the transmission you will need to pry it out.
A small clip on the end of the axle retains the axle in the transmission and secures it slightly firmer then you can get it out by hand. Also pulling on the axle may dislodge the cv joint.
Use a medium sized flat pry bar or an extremely wide flat screw driver and place it between the inside of the axle and the transmission housing. You should only need slight force to remove the axle from the transmission.
Once the axle is free you can pull it back out of the vehicle through your Strut Fork if you are lucky. If not you may need to remove your strut fork but because you only need to get the shaft and not the whole CV joint through the fork to set it free you should be able to do so by pulling the fork with one hand and sliding the axle out with the other. Its a little tricky but watch exactly how you do it so you can reverse the procedure.
Inspect and Compare the New Axle To the Old
When you get the axle out you want to inspect the new one against the old one and make sure that you have the correct axle. It is not very common but some cars with different but similar engines may have splines of a different number. Do not even try to use an axle that is not an exact match you will most likely not be able to get it in and will cause damage trying.
Make sure the retaining clip is on the inside spline and in good condition.
Notice the distance between the end of the spline and the retaining clip it should be about 1/4 inch and this is the amount that will engage in your transmission female splines when you first insert the axle but before the retaining clip is forced in… important info do it.
Replacing the Axle
Ok so you have the old one out and the new one is ready to go in.
The first thing you want to do is inspect the transmission oil seal that you will be sliding your axle through to get into the transmission. It is a 1/4″ wide ring that is inserted into the opening and has a rubber lip that will mold against the axle and retain the transmission fluid. If it is damaged you will need to replace it. If it had been leaking you should have already picked one up when you purchased your axle but most shops carry them the problem will be getting to the store with your car disassembled.
Remember if you were to pull on both sides of the axle while grasping the inside and outside splines you could most likely separate the CV Joint so when you insert the Axle back the way it came out you definitely do not want to damage it by separating the CV Joint.
Insert The Axle
Remember I told you to take notice on the exact way you slipped the axle free from the transmission and through the strut fork well this is where you reverse the procedure.
You may need to place a piece of plastic over the inside spline until you can get it near the transmission opening that way grease from the engine or mud won’t get on the part you are inserting however if you are careful this should not be a problem. If needed clean the splines before you insert it.
When you insert the male splines they will engage with the female splines in the transmission. Remember I said take notice of the distance on the clip. This is the amount that will engage when you first insert the axle and it will stop because the retaining clip is not compressed enough to get through the outside lip of the female splines.
When the axle is engaged in the female splines of the transmission you should be able to twist the axle as if the car was running and giving power to the wheels and you will feel and hear the transmission click and move.
You can try forcing it in by hand and this can work if you had the car on a lift and maybe a friend helping but most likely you will need to straighten out the axle and from the outside spline that goes into the hub press inward to force the axle into the transmission.
You will notice when you press inward the CV Joints will compress… at that point you can use your hammer to give a very VERY gentle tap to get the clip past the female spline lip. Be careful and the CV Joints must be compressed as if the axle was a solid pipe you are tapping into place.
You can now remove the nut from the outside spline and insert it through your hub.
Make sure that your lower control arm and fork are in proper position. It will take a little muscle.
Tighten the axle nut by hand leaving it slightly lose so you can now reinstall your suspension parts.
Replace the Fork Through Bolt and Ball Joint
Replace the ball joint by placing the threaded end through your control arm. Hand tighten the nut until the strut fork bolt is in place.
Follow the reverse steps to replace your fork through bolt. The nut may either have a cotter pin or be a self locking nut. If it is self locking you should replace it. Torque the nut to the proper setting using your torque wrench. DON’T GUESS HOW TIGHT IT IS… us a torque wrench.
Now Tighten the Ball joint to the proper foot pounds and look through the hole for the cotter pin. DON’T BACK THE NUT OFF you can slightly tighten the nut to allow for the cotter pin to slip through the hole but remember there are two holes drilled through your ball joint in an X pattern so it may line up front to back instead of inside to outside..
Torque the Axle Nut and Stake The Nut
You can now use your torque wrench to tighten the axle nut to the proper foot pounds. Some people just use an air wrench but you are asking for problems if you do. Like your suspension parts don’t guess how tight the axle nut is because it needs to be correctly seated.
Once the nut is tightened correctly you will need to use a dull (meaning ground down) chisel or center punch to stake the nut into the grove as it was before you removed it.
Check Your Transmission Fluid Level
If your axle leaked transmission fluid then you will need to replace it. Only use fresh fluid. This is also a good time to change the fluid in your transmission since the car is jacked up and it probably has not been done in a long time. Call your dealer and ask how many quarts you will need.
If you are working on a Honda then i strongly STRONGLY suggest that you use only honda dealer purchased fluids in your car … not doing so is a big reason for problems. It costs twice as much as generic but believe me it is worth it considering you won’t need to do it again for a few years.
When completing a task like replacing an axle you will go through removing and working on a number of suspension parts and other items.
Take time to decide if you need to replace these parts during the process instead of coming back in a month and doing it all over again.
Each vehicle is different and there are tricks that work with one manufacturer that may even lead to damage if tried with other brands or even models of cars.
ALWAYS get a good manual and read the instructions including proper torque specs and maintenance intervals.
Like always work safe with eye protection and take every precaution to not get hurt. Saving $500 in labor paid to a mechanic may mean paying $5,000 to a doctor. Be Safe.