Hey Perfesser, there is no automobile in the world that has an axle that connects the wheels on opposite sides. Such a vehicle wouldn't be able to turn. With that said, I have heard mechanics refer to the entire rear drivetrain of a rear wheel drive car as the rear axle, but the closest a manufacturer might get would probably be rear axle assembly. There is the rear axle housing and the rear axle shafts and the differential, but what part would be accurately refered to as the "axle"? There really isn't such a part.
According to Encarta, the rear axle shafts should be called spindles and the front shafts on a RWD car should be called axles, but every mechanic I have heard refer to these parts uses the exact opposite parlance. I just opened my Ford Taurus manual (sadly closer to hand and more often referenced than my Sutherlands or Paterek), and it clearly lists the drive AXLES and the rear SPINDLES (the Taurus is FWD). In this case, the "half-shafts" have a transmission positioned between them.
One thing you learn about auto mechanics is that a part is called what the mechanic wants to call it and that's that. You get that way when you can get 200 ft-lbs out of a wrench. Who's going to argue with you? Since the term spindle derives from spinning wheels (according to the dictionary), and we know how much those are used these days, perhaps its time for language to demonstrate its ability to be dynamic.
Steve Barner, who doesn't really care what you call the darn thing, Bolton, Vermont
> Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2003 10:08:18 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Ron Gurth <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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> Subject: [CR]Axle and Spindles
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> Spindles spin (ie. bottom brackets); An Axle remains stationary and the hub and bearings rotate around it. Re: the automotive terms, I think the industry differentiates because an axle connects the two wheels on the rear of the vehicle (like the term axis), while they use the term spindles for what supports one wheel up front.
> "Professor" Ron Gurth
> Carmel, IN