What Is a Solid Shaft? Definition, Meaning and Concept
A solid axle is a device used to propel a vehicle by converting the circular power of a driveshaft into linear motion through the use of a pinion, ring gear, and differential. Commonly found in rear wheel drive car and truck applications, a solid axle is a common rear end configuration, however it is not used in a rear axle independent suspension. Commonly considered to be stronger than an independent suspension or split axle design, a solid axle is commonly moved to the front axle position of four-wheel drive trucks. While it is true that most axles are of solid design, this reference commonly means that the axle housing must be of solid construction and without joints.
An independent front-axle or split-axle configuration provides a typically softer, smoother ride than a comparable solid axle. This is why most automakers use this type of axle in the production of most four-wheel drive light trucks. The problem with the design is that the shaft uses multiple joints in the construction of the unit, providing multiple potential weak areas that commonly fail under severe loading. A common axle swap on light trucks is completed by swapping an early solid axle instead of the split axle.
A split axle is usually suspended by coil springs or torsion bar suspension, while a solid axle commonly uses leaf springs. The most common solid axle swap involves installing springs under the front of the chassis. To accomplish this feat, all suspension and steering components must be removed from the chassis. This is often done with the help of a cutting torch and a grinder. Once the frame is free of all mounting brackets and is smooth, the leaf spring brackets can be welded into place to suspend the axle.
By converting from a split axle to a solid unit, the front axle of a four-wheel drive truck is greatly strengthened. The axle is limited to a single joint at each end at the steering knuckle. For maximum strength on the solid shaft, the common universal joint is often changed to a planetary joint or constant velocity joint. Using these stronger axle joints can prevent the joint breakage that often marries a newly converted, solid-axle-equipped vehicle along the side of a trail or in the clutches of a swampy bog.