We all like a nice looking car, but that’s not half as important as a well-running car. Knowledge is power, and that’s why knowing about your car will help you keep it in good working order.

Whether you have a four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive, you need to know what the “drivetrain” is and when to have it serviced. The drivetrain of your vehicle is not only important but costly to repair if it is malfunctioning. And if you delay repairs, you could end up with damage to other parts of your car as well.

“Drivetrain” is a term often heard in car commercials. It may be nebulous in meaning to most, but it is a crucial part of your vehicle. Your car’s drivetrain is the group of parts that work together to deliver power from the transmission to the wheel components. Everything about the drivetrain impacts your motor vehicle’s operation. Yet, somehow, it is one of the most overlooked parts of a vehicle. Without it, your car can’t go anywhere.

There are different types of drivetrains, depending on the type of vehicle. The four most common are: Four-Wheel Drivetrains (4WD), All-Wheel Drivetrains (AWD), Front-Wheel Drivetrains (FWD), and Rear-Wheel Drivetrains (RWD).

In the RWD, the drivetrain delivers the power to the rear wheels of the vehicle. This type of drivetrain has been around the longest and was the first used in the earliest cars. It is best known for its use in “performance” cars, providing for quick acceleration and exceptional braking.

In the FWD, the drivetrain delivers the power to the wheels in the—you guessed it—front of the vehicle. This type of arrangement is the most common in cars. (These are typically lighter vehicles that have better gas mileage).

While AWD delivers power equally to all four wheels, 4WD can deliver power to all four wheels, but it allows the driver to switch from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive depending on terrain and type of power needed.

Despite its many different functions, the drivetrain is not a single part. The drivetrain is a group of parts that includes the driveshaft, the axle shaft, joints, the wheels, differential, and the transmission.

Your Car’s Drivetrain… (What to Know to Make It Go)

(Nabeel Syed/Unsplash)


A long steel/aluminum tube that links the transmission to the wheels. It allows the transmission to provide torque to the wheel components.

Axle shaft

The central shaft for rotating the wheels of the vehicle.

U Joints or CV Joints

The joints that connect the driveshaft to the transmission and to the wheels. (U Joints are used in rear-wheel drivetrains, and CV joints are used in front-wheel drivetrains.)


The part that sits between the rear wheels. It transfers torque (force) to the wheels, causing them to spin, which, in turn, makes the vehicle move.


The transmission transfers power from the engine to the wheels.

Since your drivetrain’s function is essential to the life and use of your car, you need to know when it is worn, broken, or nearing the end of its life.

Symptoms of a faulty drivetrain include:

  • Noises/irregular sounds from the rear of your car
  • Issues in wheel turning/shifting
  • Leakage of fluids from your vehicle
  • Vibrations/shudders when driving
  • Warning indicator or “check engine” light on dashboard

Irregular sounds can be hard to diagnose. Some of the most common malfunctioning sounds are clanking, banging or rattling under the center and rear of the vehicle. (The location of the rattle depends on the type of transmission.)

The key times to listen for these sounds are when shifting into gear, accelerating from a stop light, coasting, and braking. Worn parts can exhibit irregular sounds and harmonics based on speed and loading of the drivetrain. A professional with experience in many makes and models can distinguish between normal and unusual sounds.

Once you have established that your drivetrain is malfunctioning, take it to a professional. There could be multiple reasons that your drivetrain is not working properly. The problem could lie in the transmission or the engine. Here are a few issues that could cause the drivetrain to fail:

  • Damaged or clogged fuel injectors
  • Deficient fuel pump
  • Worn-out or old spark plugs
  • Failure of ignition coils
  • Poor fuel quality

It is important to get your car serviced regularly to prevent these issues. An annual car inspection is crucial in overall car maintenance; however, service representatives will agree that having your ignition coils and fuel injectors serviced every few thousand miles matters, too.

In the end, you don’t have to be a “car buff” to know that making sure your drivetrain is working properly gives you peace of mind on the road. Putting off routine maintenance and inspection of your drivetrain is costly and dangerous. Once these parts are damaged, the issues will only get worse. The damaged parts of the drivetrain put strain on the other functional car parts, which means the problem can quickly go from bad to disastrous.

Continuing to drive with these issues could endanger other drivers on the road as well as yourself. If you notice any of these “faulty” indicators in your vehicle, you should stop driving and have it repaired immediately.

At TJ Chapman, we sell used cars and rebuilt title cars at our Salt Lake City dealership (offering nationwide shipping for our out-of-state-customers). We know that the last thing you want in a used car is a lemon with a faulty drive train or any other major mechanical issue. That’s why we meticulously repair and rebuild our cars, then send them through a meticulous 150-point inspection by a third party company.

We’re so confident in our work that we offer a Peace of Mind warranty that is personally backed by our dealership (not some anonymous third party). We’ll cover the mechanical worries so that you can drive with confidence in your new-to-you car.