How to Not Break Your Axles

A red UTV with a damaged axle.

Axles break. They break going 70 miles per hour over crazy lunar terrain, and they break when rolling around the farm to check the property line.

It’s a universal experience among UTV riders. Whether by fluke or folly, most riders will break an axle and a new one will take its place no matter how they ride, right?

Maybe not. Let’s look at some of the most common ways people break their axles and all the ways axle failure can be avoided. When you know what to look out for, you’ll be less likely to commit these axle crushing crimes.

Don’t Let Your Axles Dangle!

One of the most common support calls we get is from people who have just installed new axles and find that their boot is cut. This is an installation error. Most people don’t notice they’ve damaged their boot until starts leaking grease on their first ride. What’s the deal?

Installing axles on a UTV
To avoid cut boots, don't let your axles dangle while you're installing them.
Cut boots aren’t caused by knives, old rubber, or anything like that. It’s caused during installation by inserting the inner CV into the differential and then letting the axle hang there without support. That bends the boot and joint further than it could during normal operation and pinches the boot enough to sometimes create a small slit.

It can happen on any stock or aftermarket axle and if you don’t spot the grease leaking right away, your new axle will soon be kaput.

Just don’t let your axles dangle during installation. You can support the weight of the axle with straps or a bungee cord to prevent boot damage.

Popping Sounds

You know the sound: that mechanical clunk and crackle that you hear emanating from your wheels. It’s especially noticeable when you’re going slow or turning hard.

A damaged CV joint
If you lose all your grease, you'r CV will end up looking like this.
The bad news is that you should worry about it. Your CV joint is on the path to failure once it starts singing. The good news is that with a little maintenance, your axle could keep running for a year or more or even longer.

The first thing you should do is check your boot. Low grease in your CV is a common cause of popping or clicking. If a boot is damaged and leaking, you can count on water and other contaminates getting into the joint. A full boot and grease replacement is your best bet to keep your axle in one piece.

If the boot and grease are good, your CV might just be reaching the end of its life. It’s OK, it had a good run. You can change your boot and grease to extend its lifetime, but your only long-term fix now is to get a new axle or replace the afflicted CV joint.

Major Failures

Those are the most common problems that are easy to understand and easy to address. There are plenty of ways to break your axles without warning, though. Watch out for these common mistakes when you’re getting wild.

  • Don’t Bind Your Axles
    An axle is “bound” when the CV joint is bent to such a degree that it won’t turn. This one is pretty obvious — binding your axles is bad and can destroy your axles in an instant. When you force a bound-up axle to turn by hitting the gas, the CV joint, the axle shaft, or both will break. It puts a heck-of-a-lot of strain on your differential and transmission, too. What’s less obvious about binding axles is all the different mistakes that can lead to a bound axle.

  • Don’t Lift Too Much
    At the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me explain why lifting your UTV too much can bind your axles. Your average OEM axle has CV joints that don’t bind until they’re bent to 25° or greater. When running stock suspension, your axles won’t get to that 25° threshold even when your shocks are fully extended. As you add lift to your machine, that angle gets closer and closer to 25° until you lift enough to bind your axle.
    SuperATV Rex custom build with lift kit

    Places like SuperATV will let you know if you need better, more flexible axles to run a lift kit and often won’t sell the kit without new axles. But if you’re making your own kit, buying one second-hand, or combining bracket lifts with spring spacer lifts, you could run into axle angle issues.

    There’s really no excuse for riding on a lift that can bind your axles because it’s so easy to check for. Just lift the machine until the tires are off the ground and see if you can turn the tires by hand. If it binds, you can upgrade to axles that can handle higher CV angles, throw on some limiting straps to keep your axles from dropping too far, or take off the lift kit.

  • Don’t Gun It at Full Turn
    Another common breakage we see comes from turning your front wheels all the way left or right with four-wheel-drive engaged and gunning it.

    When you turn your front wheels all the way in one direction, you’re bending your CV joint almost to its breaking point. That’s the axle’s weakest position, and when you slam on the gas you introduce a major shock to your CVs. Before your front wheels can straighten out, they break.

    Breaks are more common when you’re in reverse because reverse causes the machine to rock forward and add a ton of extra weight to your already stressed out axles. Either way, you need to be cautious and go easy on the gas.

  • Go Easy on the Gas
    It’s worth repeating. Most sticky situations that result in catastrophic axle failure are caused by hitting the gas too hard when your wheels don’t want to move. Don’t be a jerk to your machine and you’ll have a lot more fun riding.

Keep all these things in mind and your axles will thank you with a longer life and more weekends that aren’t interrupted by parts failures. Of course, you could grab some heavy-duty axles from SuperATV and enjoy riding without worrying about breaking an axle.

Checking to see if your axles are in a bind

UTV with Lift Kit going down rocky path
Checking to see if your axles are in a bind 2017-10-24