How to Tell Which CV Joint is Bad? Follow These 3 Easy Tips

CV joints are one of the most vulnerable components in your car’s suspension and often go bad. Ideally, you’ll change the whole set but that’s not practical.

It’s more economical to know the source of the issue and make targeted repairs.

This text discusses the best ways to tell which CV joint is bad so you may keep your car in working condition without spending a fortune.

A Brief Overview of CV Joints and Their Importance

What is a CV Joint?

CV Joints are flexible coupling joints that connect the car’s axle and the wheel to facilitate maneuvering and handling of tires.

They are essential for front-wheel drives and most 4-wheelers also have them because of the advantages they bring to the table.

If you take a detailed look at the components of the suspension system.

Parts of A CV Joint

The CV joints operate with the CV axles, which then connect with the transaxle that provides the rotational force coming from the engine.

Each CV axle has two joints. An inner and outer joint.

Both work in combination to allow the car to navigate on rough terrain, potholes, and other elements that are common on the road.

Without the CV joints, all the forces from that road will directly impact the axle and make your car susceptible to damage.

Moreover, the CV joints also play an important role in facilitating the car in turning and maneuvering, which makes them quite essential for any vehicle.

Recognizing Faulty CV Joints: The 3 Giveaway Signs

Because of their location, CV joints are very susceptible to damage.

Ignoring them for too long can cause a plethora of issues for your car and may even become dangerous. If the joints fail while you are driving, your car may go out of control and put you and others at risk.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to come to that as there are only a few signs you need to keep an eye on.

This makes it easier for you to recognize damaged CV joints and take appropriate action at the right time.

Here are the three most common signs showing that it’s time to get your CV joints checked by a professional.

1. Abnormal Noises from the Suspension

Naturally, a faulty suspension will make a lot of noise and if you are not experienced, it’ll be very hard to know about the source.

The abnormal noise because of damaged CV joints will be very specific and if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll easily be able to recognize it.

Generally, faulty CV joints create a specific clanking noise and a humming sound that is very similar to the sound of faulty wheel bearings.

The only distinction is that the sound from bearings intensifies with the speed, while the sound because of CV joints increases when you take a turn and accelerate.

2. Excessive Vibrations

Damaged CV joints affect the axle which sustains all the contact forces from the road directly.

Naturally, this results in excessive vibrations in your car, which are intensified as you accelerate. Cars are not designed to sustain excessive vibrations and this affects all the other components, resulting in more problems for you.  

3. Lubricant Leakage

The housing or CV boot will always be the first thing to be affected in case of a damaged CV joint. In some cases, your joint will still be functional and all you’ll have to do is to change the boot.

In others, the entire thing would need to be replaced.

As the CV boot gets damaged, it allows water, dust, and other contaminants to damage the CV joint and create more problems down the line.

The first sign of a damaged CV boot is the lubricant, which starts to leak. If you notice that, immediately consult a mechanic and you might be able to save the CV joints.

The Best Way to Diagnose a Bad CV Joint

Sometimes, diagnosing a bad CV joint from the sound alone can get a bit tricky. Especially for older cars here other components may also be failing at the same time.

In such cases, your best bet is to run some additional diagnostics before getting started with the CV axle.

Here are a few ways to help you ensure that your CV joints are going bad.

1. Visual Inspection

One of the simplest ways of checking the condition of your car’s CV joints is to visually inspect the component. You’ll be able to see the CV booth which will tell you if you should visit the mechanic or not.

Naturally, you can’t check the CV joint just by looking at it.

A visual inspection will only tell you if your CV boot is failing or not. If the CV boot is perfect, then you can be sure that the CV joint is operational as well. If your CV boot is damaged but the CV joint is perfect, then count yourself lucky.

Because CV joints deteriorate really quickly after damage to the CV boot.

2. Take Your Car for a Test Drive

The visual inspection only tells you about the condition of the CV boot.

To check the joints, you’ll have to take a test drive. Simply take your car to an empty parking lot with a lot of room and you’ll be good to go.

How to tell which cv joint is bad?

There are two ways to go about it and each allows you to test either the inner or outer CV joint.

For the outer CV, the process starts with putting your car in reverse.

Turn your steering wheel in one direction and drive your car in a circle. Repeat the whole process by turning your steering wheel to the other side.

In this process, a snapping or clicking sound is a giveaway sign that the outer CV joint is damaged.

The noise can be on both sides or only one side. Depending on the results, you’ll either have to replace both outer CV joints or the affected side.

It’s simple to recognize which side is damaged, if you hear the abnormal noise when the steering is at the extreme right, then your right CV joint is damaged.

In the other case, you’ll need to replace your left CV joint.

The process for inner CV joints is slightly different but much simpler.

All you need to do is to put your car in reverse and drive straight.

Accelerate and decelerate your car and pay close attention to the sound it makes. If you hear a clunking noise during the process, then you should know that your inner CV joints are worn out now.

One more important difference between the two types of joints is that inner CV joints don’t tell you which side is affected. In this case, you’ll have no option but to replace the set.

The Overall Cost of Replacing CV Joints

The actual cost to get the job done depends on several factors.

The extent of damage, the cost of labor in your area, and your car’s model are some of the most important considerations for estimating the total cost of repairs.

Generally, you can expect to spend around $1000 if you get the CV joints replaced by a professional. Some experts can do it themselves if they have the right tool.

If you are one of them, then that cost would go down to $350 or $400.

Final Thoughts

CV joints are essential for any car and they commonly go bad. Naturally, replacing the whole set would be expensive and it’s better to simply focus on the damaged component.

For that, you must know how to tell which CV joint is bad.

Visual inspection and taking a test drive are the only ways to check the performance of the joints.

It’s always recommended to not delay the repairs as damaged CV joints can lead to further serious problems down the line.   


Dean Alvarez, TireForge Head Author

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