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Rollover accidents in light trucks and cars involving an axle failure frequently raise the question of whether the axle broke causing the rollover or did the axle break as a result of the rollover. Axles in these vehicles are induction hardened medium carbon steel. Bearings ride directly on the axles. This article provides a fractography/fracture mechanic approach to making the determination of when the axle failed. Full scale tests on axle assemblies and suspensions provided data for fracture toughness in the induction hardened outer case on the axle. These tests also demonstrated that roller bearing indentions on the axle journal, cross pin indentation on the end of the axle, and axle bending can be accounted for by spring energy release following axle failure. Pre-existing cracks in the induction hardened axle are small and are often difficult to see without a microscope. The pre-existing crack morphology was intergranular fracture in the axles studied. An estimate of the force required to cause the axle fracture can be made using the measured crack size, fracture toughness determined from these tests, and linear elastic fracture mechanics. The axle can be reliably said to have failed prior to rollover if the estimated force for failure is equal to or less than forces imposed on the axle during events leading to the rollover.

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