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An axle is a central shaft for a rotating wheel or gear. Axles maintain the position of the wheels relative to each other and to the vehicle body. Since for most vehicles the wheels are the only part touching the ground, the axles must bear the weight of the vehicle and occupants, as well as acceleration and braking forces. In addition to this structural purpose, axles may serve one or more of the following purposes depending on the design of the vehicle.
One or more axles may be an integral part of the drivetrain ( or powertrain ), a generic term for everything that gets power onto the road, such as the engine, transmission, driveshafts, differentials, and wheels. A mechanical system ( typically a motor ) exerts a rotational force on the axle, which is transferred to the wheel(s) to accelerate the vehicle.
A vehicle can also be slowed by applying force to brake the rotation of the axle. Consumer vehicles dont do this, as brakes are part of the wheel assembly and therefore exert friction on the wheels directly, but engine braking may still be effected via the axle.
The front axle of most automobiles / cars is a steering axle. The vehicle is steered by controlling the direction of the front wheels rotational axis relative to its body and rear wheels.
Modern front wheel drive cars usually combine the functions of transmission and front axle into a single unit called a transaxle. The drive axle is a split axle with a differential and universal joints between the two half axles. Each half axle connects to the wheel by use of a constant velocity (CV) joint which allows the wheel assembly to move freely vertically, and to pivot when making turns.