Is it better to repair the CV boot right away, or wait until the whole joint goes?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

My father and I enjoy your column. I have an '86 Honda Accord which evidently
has cracked CV joint boots (one outer, one inner boot). At first, I was told it
would be OK to drive the car this way until I heard them "makin' a God-awful
noise." More recently, I was told by another mechanic that I should get the
boots replaced right away or I could end up damaging my axle. What's the truth,
and should I replace the boots now? -- Brent

RAY: Normally, the second guy would be right, Brent. But in your case, there
are extenuating circumstances, so I'd stick with the first guy's advice. Just
drive it until you hear them "makin' a God-awful noise."

TOM: You have two axles on the front of this car; one on each side. Each axle
is a metal shaft with a CV (constant velocity) joint on each end.

RAY: And each joint is covered with a rubber boot to protect it from dirt,
grime and roadkill. Normally, if a boot breaks, you want to replace the boot
right away to protect the joint inside from getting dirty and being ruined,
because the joint costs a lot more than the rubber boot.

TOM: But if the joint's already ruined (or as we suspect in your case, well on
its way to being ruined), you might as well just drive it until it breaks. And
the "God-awful" noise will give you months of warning before the car leaves you

RAY: Right. The problem is, if you replace the boots now, the joint might fail
anyway in three months. And the labor involved in changing the boots is exactly
the same as the labor involved in changing the joints. So you'll be paying
twice for the same labor. And we know the joints ARE going to fail soon because
they're a dozen years old, just like the rest of the car.

TOM: Besides, with a car this old, who knows what may happen between now and
when the joint actually breaks? The engine could self-destruct. You could win
the lottery and buy yourself a new Lexus. Or you could be abducted by aliens.
And in any of those cases, you'll be glad you didn't spend the $200 on new CV
boots, won't you?

* * *

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