Clunking Noise When In A 4 Wheel Drive – What Does it Mean?

If you too hear a clunking noise when in a 4 wheel drive, read this article to understand why this happens and what you can do about it.

Whenever I engage the four-wheel-drive of my truck, then I hear a clunking noise constantly. I checked everywhere in my truck but could not diagnose the problem. So, I researched the issue on the internet and luckily found that I was not the only one to encounter such a problem.

Clunking Noise When In A 4 Wheel Drive

So what’s the reason that one can hear a clunking noise when in a 4 wheel drive?  The four-wheel-drive of your vehicle consists of various components like UV joints, propeller shaft, tie rod ends, ball joints, front and rear differential, and numerous others. These components, when worn out or lose, create a clunking noise in the vehicle.

This article discusses the possible reasons for clunking noise and its solution. So keep reading this article for more information.

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What Is Four Wheel Drive?

A 4 wheel drive has a two-axle drive train capable of transmitting torque to all the vehicle wheels simultaneously. It has various benefits like it improves traction when you drive in dangerous road conditions like snow, ice, and rocks. A vehicle with 4 wheel drive will be less likely to get stuck on slippery surfaces. This mechanism also helps you in tow.

If I compare it with a two-wheel-drive mechanism, then in that mechanism, you can transmit the power to either front wheels or rear wheels at a time. For instance, if the rear wheels are stuck on a muddy road, they will spin and spin, and it will be difficult for you to remove the wheels from the muddy road. 

In that case, four-wheel drive is beneficial as it provides power to all the vehicle’s wheels. You can easily get out of your vehicle from a muddy road.

Reasons For Why You Might Hear A Clunking Noise In A 4 Wheel Drive

#1. Failure Of Constant Velocity Joint

Constant velocity joint failure is one of the reasons for producing clunking noise while turning the vehicle.

The constant velocity joints enable the driveshaft to transmit the power at a variable angle but at constant rotational speed without increasing friction. These joints have numerous ball bearings which are present inside a metal casing. 

The ball bearings are usually covered with grease to lubricate and protect the bearings from high operating temperatures. But whenever you drive your vehicle, these ball bearings rotate at almost a thousand revolutions per minute. It reduces the grease of the ball bearings and eventually dries out and wears out with time. It is one of the common causes of hearing the clunking noise while driving.

To identify the problem in CV joints, you have to do various physical tests. The simplest way to identify is to take a sharp left and right turn in a big parking lot. The side where you hear the clunking noise is where there is a defective constant velocity joint, and you need to repair it as soon as possible.


Try to apply grease to the ball bearing of the CV joint. But it has worn out; then you need to replace the ball bearings.

#2. Failure Of Universal Joint

The Universal joints are usually found at the end of drive shafts. It helps in transmitting power from the propeller shaft to the differential.

These joints mainly have rubber caps at the end, and if these caps are damaged or worn out with time, you hear a clunking noise while accelerating your vehicle. Sometimes due to broken rubber caps, dirt and other debris enter inside the needle bearing inside the universal joint. 

Consequently, it leads to the failure of universal joints in the vehicle. Again, the lack of lubricating grease on the joint can be the reason for the failure of universal joints.


You need to lubricate your universal joints from time to time. If you inspect that your U joint has been damaged very severely, then replace it immediately.

Clunking Noise When In A 4 Wheel Drive

#3. Failure Of Differential

The working of the differential is to transmit the power produced by the engine to the vehicle’s wheels. In the case of a 4-wheel drive system, you will find two differentials, one in the front and the other in the rear part of the vehicle.

The differential may fail because of various reasons, such as pinion gear, ring gear, or bevel gear teeth having broken or a low level of differential oil level. As a result, you hear a clunking noise from your vehicle.


Remove the differential from the vehicle and inspect it from all sides. If you find any metal fillings, then that could be the reason for broken gear teeth. If your differential has been damaged very severely, then replace it as soon as possible.

#4. Loose Axle Mount

A loose axle can be the reason for hearing clunking noise from your vehicle. There is a rubber bushing on the axle, which may wear out with time, resulting in direct metal contact, and consequently, you hear a loud clunking noise.


Check the rubber mounting from time to time. If it has been poorly damaged, then replace it with a new one.

Clunking Noise When In A 4 Wheel Drive

Answers To More Questions About Noises In Your 4 Wheel Drive

#1. What kind of noise does a bad transfer case make?

If you hear a grinding noise or growling and humming noise while changing the vehicle’s speed, then it may be because of a bad transfer case. It is caused just because of low fluid level, loose chain, or damaged gears.

#2. What causes clunking noise in the front end?

If you hear a clunking noise when your vehicle crosses a bump, then that may be because of a damaged suspension system. The suspension system of your vehicle consists of various components. The possible reasons can be because of damaged struts or lack of lubrication in bearings.

#3. Can I drive with clunking noise?

If you hear clunking noise from your vehicle, then you should not drive your vehicle. It will be best if you take your vehicle to the nearby mechanic as soon as possible.

#4. What is that clunking noise when I drive?

If your car is making clunking noise after applying brakes, the reason can be damage to the brake caliper or worn-out brake pads. If the vehicle is producing clunking noise while passing over a bump, it can be because of a damaged front suspension system.

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Wrap Up

Various components are responsible for producing clunking noise when driving a vehicle with a 4-wheel drive mechanism. It’s wise to investigate the reason for creating clunking in your car before taking it to the workshop. It will save hundreds of dollars.

I hope this article is informative, and please don’t forget to share any suggestions in the comment section.

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Sean Mendez

Hi, I am Sean, a self-confessed petrolhead. I live in Boise, Idaho with a busy family of four and our energetic Labrador retriever. Thank you for visiting my website. You can find my email on the contact page.

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