Powertrain vs. Drivetrain vs. Driveline: The Differences You Need to Know

When talking about the systems that power your vehicle, you’ll hear a lot about the engine and the transmission, as well. Your car won’t run if neither of those are working. However, the drive system that is often the least understood—yet is equally important—is the driveline. It is what transfers the power (torque) from the engine and transmission to the drive wheels that ultimately move the vehicle.

First, it helps to understand the differences in the terms powertrain, drivetrain and driveline. The three are often used interchangeably, though they are not actually the same. Here is a quick breakdown to define these terms:

Powertrain — Everything that powers the vehicle, including the engine, transmission and driveline components (differentials, axle shafts and joints that we’ll explain more later).

Drivetrain — This is the powertrain minus the engine, meaning it includes the transmission and the driveline components.

Driveline — This is the drivetrain minus the transmission, meaning it includes only the driveline components we’re about to describe.

It’s easy to understand why the above terms get used interchangeably because they are all working toward the same goal of making the vehicle move. As you see, though, there are differences worth understanding. With that in mind, we want to focus specifically on the driveline and its key components.

Driveshaft — This is the shaft that is connected to the transmission and is the first component in transferring power to the differentials, axle shafts and wheels.

Differential(s)The differential controls power to individual wheels on either side of the vehicle while you drive for stability, energy efficiency and a smoother overall driving performance. If your car is a front-wheel drive, it will have a front differential. If it is rear-wheel drive, it will have a rear differential. If it is all-wheel drive, it will have front and rear differentials. 4-wheel drive vehicles will have what’s called a transfer case as part of the drivetrain system that helps control torque for all four wheels individually.

Axle Shafts — Axle shafts are connected on either side of the differential and out toward each wheel. They rotate independently based on the controls provided by the differential.

U-Joint — Otherwise known as a universal joint, this flexible pivot point is what transmits power and allows for varying angles of the driveshaft.

CV Joints — Otherwise known as constant-velocity joints, these are also part of the driveshaft. They can bend in any direction while keeping the drive wheels turning at a constant velocity.

If your car is feeling sluggish, isn’t shifting smoothly or the handling feels off, a mechanic will usually look over the drivetrain system, including the transmission itself and the various driveline components. It is a complex puzzle. Any single part that is failing or misaligned can cause a tidal wave of additional problems throughout the vehicle. At the first sign of any issues, you want to bring your car to an automotive repair expert like Fox Run Auto in Bear, DE.

Whether the problem is with your driveline, transmission, engine or something else entirely, the Fox Run Auto technicians will determine the source of the issue and recommend the necessary automotive repairs.

If you think you have a driveline or other drivetrain/powertrain failure, call Fox Run Auto today at (302) 597-9205 or schedule your service appointment online.


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