Knowing a thing or two about symptoms of a bad cv joint may eventually come in handy.
Mainly because you won’t be that worried when the problem occurs since just the term bad cv joint sounds ominous.
You’ll know a thing or two and probably have a good idea of what lies ahead in terms of repair.
This article will show some of the most common symptoms. We’ll start with the more harmless ones and finish with the more severe symptoms.
If you don’t know what a cv joint (constant velocity joint) is, click here for a great article from Wikipedia.
1. STEERING WHEEL VIBRATIONS
This is probably the first tell-tale sign that you’ll sense. You’ll feel it on the steering wheel as a slight jitter.
While the problem is minor, the jitter or mild shake is barely noticeable and mostly appears at higher speeds.
As it progresses, the jittering gets worse and starts to appear at lower speeds also.
At this point, this is one of the symptoms of a bad cv joint can be misinterpreted as some other problem.
For a separate article about other reasons for a shaking steering wheel, click here.
2. HUMMING SOUND WHILE DRIVING
The vibrations may be accompanied by a humming sound coming from the undercarriage. This sound may appear even while driving at a slower pace.
It has a similar sound to driving with winter tires during the summer season if you’ve had this experience.
Just like the vibrations, it can easily be mistaken for a poorly balanced or damaged tire or a bad alignment.
3. THE CAR BOUNCES WHEN YOU DRIVE
This is one of the symptoms of a bad cv joint where you may want to start paying more attention.
By bouncing I don’t mean violent and uncontrollable bouncing. Instead, it usually appears as a mild bouncing both at higher and lower speeds.
It much resembles driving with worn-out or imbalanced tires or with tires that have a bulge on them.
At higher speeds, the bouncy ride will usually be accompanied by the mentioned humming sound and steering wheel vibrations.
4. KNOCKING NOISES FROM THE FRONT UNDERCARRIAGE
As the problem progresses all of the above will be followed by a slight knocking noise coming from the front undercarriage.
When it starts to appear, you’ll barely notice it but in a very short time, it can become a very loud knocking sound.
The sound is metallic in nature so to say. It sounds much like knocking two metal bars against each other.
When these symptoms of a bad cv joint appear, seriously consider visiting a mechanic as soon as possible.
You’ve probably got some time left before the cv joint totally breaks down. Nevertheless, this is the time to solve the problem.
5. CLICKING SOUND WHEN TURNING
Now we’ve come to the most recognizable and sure sign of a bad cv joint.
So, when you turn the steering wheel completely to the left or right and start driving you’ll hear a sharp clicking or maybe even a crunching sound.
If you’ve had any doubts to this point, then this is the sure confirmation that the cv joint is bad and not any other part of the suspension.
The clicking means that you may still have some time to replace the cv joint before total breakdown.
6. GREASE ON THE CV BOOT
When the clicking appears (or even earlier when the humming and knocking start) you can take a look under the car.
Mainly look at the front undercarriage, near the wheels. If you’ve never seen a CV joint, you’ll easily recognize it as a big elliptically shaped part located near the wheel hub. It’s connected to the wheel axle on one side and to the wheel hub on the other.
It has a big rubber shell around it (it’s called a cv boot). You simply can’t miss it.
Take a look at the boot and see if it’s greasy. When everything is OK, it should be bone dry.
If it’s greasy, check if the boot is torn and that the clamps on both sides are intact. If any of these are damaged, they may have caused the cv joint failure.
Anyway, if you see thick grease around the joint, then this is one more sure confirmation that it’s the problem.
7. GREASE ON THE INNER SIDE OF THE TIRE
If the cv joint leaked grease for some time, it may have reached the tire. Especially if the mentioned cv boot is torn or damaged.
Since the cv joint rotates at high speeds the grease gets thrown onto the wheel. You’ll easily recognize the grease as a thick, lumpy substance that is sticking to the inner side of the wheel.
I’m mentioning this in order to avoid misinterpreting this symptom as some other problem (like a brake fluid leak, for instance).
This one is among one the symptoms of a bad cv joint that almost guarantees that it’s the problem.
8. JOLTING OF THE STEERING WHEEL
At this point, the more severe symptoms start.
These will appear if you continue driving or if all of the previous symptoms have been completely ignored.
When driving straight forward, the steering wheel will seriously shake. But when you try to turn, it will start to violently jolt from side to side.
By this, I mean about 10 cm from side to side (at least from my own experience). The car will probably still be controllable to some extent but you’ll have a hard time doing it.
Also, the jolting may suddenly disappear and everything will be back to normal only for it to suddenly reappear again.
When this starts, the cv joint is on its last legs. The inner parts of it are not completely damaged but are very near to it.
If possible, stop driving immediately and search for help, namely for someone that can tow you.
9. CRUNCHING AND GRINDING SOUND FROM ONE OF THE WHEELS
Shortly after the jolting (if not at the same time) a disturbing crunching sound will also appear.
At first, you’ll only hear it when you turn the wheels completely left or right and start moving the car.
But at the final phase of the problem, it starts to crunch even at the slightest turns.
This crunching is loud, metallic, and sounds much like something is being grounded to smithereens under the car.
Just like with the jolting symptom, best stop driving. If you do continue, you may be in serious danger.
10. THE WHEEL BLOCKS AND STOPS TURNING
For the final and most dramatic symptom: the wheel completely blocks and stops turning.
This means that the inner parts of the cv joint (cage, balls, driver, and else) are completely broken and crushed.
This can happen if you continue driving even after the crunching sound appears.
It can happen during driving or especially when you turn. It’s a pretty dramatic and hair-raising scene as the wheel grinds to a shrieking and crunching halt.
After this happens, the car is undrivable and has to be towed.
Hopefully, after reading all of these symptoms of a bad cv joint, you’ll notice something.
A bad cv joint is one of those car problems that tend to have a longer warning period.
In most cases, the cv joint takes a long time to fail completely.
From the slight jittering and humming all the way to the crunching sound, it can pass a couple of hundred or even a couple of thousand kilometers or miles.
So, this problem tends to happen gradually giving you lots of time to react and solve it.
The tricky part, as mentioned, is that a bad cv joint can be mistaken for some other problem in the early phase.
Nevertheless, the moment you sense or see any of these symptoms make a check or drive your car to a mechanic.
Once again, don’t wait for the more severe symptoms to happen, as they are both dangerous and will render the car undrivable.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com