Axle Steel Grades: Carbon vs. Chrome-Moly

If you're shopping for axle shafts and wondering what's best for your setup, you probably have more than a few questions about materials. While trying to figure out what axle shaft material is the best, you might get a little cross eyed trying to sort through the differences in material, which is the best, and what to make of the different grades. Here's the skinny on the differences between carbon and chrome-moly to help you decide what's best for your rig.

Axle shafts AISI

Chrome-Moly Steel vs. Carbon Steel

Steel axle shafts are available in different grades. The strength of an axle shaft is dependent upon its diameter, type of material used, and the design itself. Steel is made of different alloys; iron is the base material, while elements including carbon, silicon, manganese, phosphorus, sulphur, nickel, chromium, vanadium and molybdenum are used to adjust hardness, machinability and degree of heat treatability.

Chrome-Moly Steel - What Is It?

Chrome-Moly Steel is the informal name given to alloy elements that are comprised of chromium and molybdenum. The material is known for its superior ratio of strength to weight, and is generally harder and stronger than standard steel. Chrome Moly Steel can perform in high-temperatures with low elasticity and under high pressure applications.

Carbon Steel - What is It?

Carbon Steel is easy to manufacture compared to hard alloys. It provides a balance between strength and elasticity. The use of carbon as a main component increases its strength. Carbon steel offers resistance to wear and optimal durability.

Which Is Better?

Although frequently used when describing axle shafts, the terms “carbon steel,” “chrome-moly steel,” and “mild steel” aren’t particularly helpful. These terms are not precise, and because there is such a great variance in their meaning, it's a bad idea to trust their meaning. Instead, the specific materials should be compared based on their numerical designation from the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).

AISI ratings shaft

AISI Grades Explained

The AISI grades steel alloys precisely, distinguishing the specific attributes of the material. The first two numbers of the designation are used to identify the specific alloy used. The last two numbers dictate the average carbon content used in alloy. Numbers beginning with a “1” generally denote a carbon group, while designations beginning with a “4” are made primarily of nickel, chromium and molybdenum, otherwise known as chrome-moly.

1340 uses a large amount of manganese and is not recommended for high-performance use, as these applications need a stronger material.

1040 is easy to machine, but this grade is not recommended for heavy-duty use. This particular grade does exhibit both strength and ductility.

1050 will hold up in passenger vehicles and makes for a suitable replacement axle shaft. This grade uses more carbon in its composition, making it stronger and harder than the 1040 grade.

1541 is a high-alloy grade that is widely used in aftermarket applications.

1541H uses silicon to increase its overall strength and heat-treatability. Known for its reasonable cost and durability, this grade is the best choice for high-performance applications.

4140 is a chrome-moly steel and features improved hardness, greater elasticity and resistance to corrosion.

4340 is designated as chrome-moly and is noted for its ability to absorb shock of split-second acceleration. This particular grade is widely used in aftermarket shafts as it is known for its strength and affordability.

Each of these grades has their pros and cons. Lower strength steels are easier to form and manufacture, which makes them more affordable. 1040 or 1340 steel is good enough for a compact car that never leaves the road. Choosing 4340 steel for this application would be a waste of money. On the other hand, 1050 steel is insufficient for a serious off-road vehicle.

So what's the best material and grade to use? Generally speaking, you want to buy the best steel you can if you're pushing your vehicle to the limits. But if you're not necessarily attacking hard-core trails, then it's OK to trade a little strength for some savings.

Additionally, remember that the choice of axle shaft also depends on the wheels, tires and differential you have installed on your vehicle. A mildly over-sized tire on a stock differential might be A-OK. But larger wheels and tires and/or an aggressive short gear ratio might require you to invest in a top-grade steel.

As always, call us for suggestions and recommendations about choosing the right axle shafts. We don't just sell off-road parts - we have our own install shop and know the parts backwards and forwards. We'll be glad to give you a recommendation based on your specific vehicle.

  • Posted on   09/23/15 at 09:33:29 AM   by Jason  | 
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Posted in Tech
Tagged with axle grade, carbon, chrome

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