Many people like to do their own auto repair and maintenance work and if you are one of them then I'm guessing you already know a lot about how vehicle's drive train systems are typically laid out. On the other hand if you aren't a big auto repair hobbyist then you might appreciate some of what we'll discuss in this article. Most of us get in our cars and take off without a thought for exactly how it is we achieve the forward momentum that's so useful in everyday life. The cool thing is that normally we don't need to think about how it all works however when something goes wrong it is good to have a general understanding of the system.
Most cars on the road are either front wheel drive or rear wheel drive models. There are an increasing number of all wheel drive models available but they are really just a hybrid of the latter two systems. Another thing to keep in mind is that virtually all cars we use on a daily basis are front engine models. If you're super special then maybe you drive a rear or mid-engined model like a Ferrari but that's unlikely.
So for illustrative purposes let's think about a rear wheel drive car with the engine in the front and the drive wheels in the back. Typically we'll find an automatic transmission mounted at the rear of the engine in a set up like this. The power is transferred out of the back of the transmission via a drive shaft typically connected with a U joint since there is a need for some flex due to suspension movement that allows the vehicle to give a smooth ride over rough roads.
You'll also usually find one other U joint at the rear differential in this type of set-up. In a lot of older pickup trucks that's it as far as joints on the rear of the vehicle but on newer cars with independent rear suspension you'll often find CV joints on the inner and outer ends of drive axles running to each of the rear wheels.
Where U-joints are good for allowing flexibility in up and down motion CV joints can also handle power transfer through a wider range of motion and thus you can expect to find them on the front end of both AWD and FWD cars.
Perhaps the best way to get a clearer idea of how the typical drive train layout actually looks and functions is to see if you can get a look at the underside of your vehicle when it's up on a lift in the shop. Older pickup trucks are especially good models to check this out on since they are very simple and spacious making it easy to see the different componets. You shouldn't have any trouble picking out the long tubular drive-shaft with it's connecting joints at either end.