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You could look at the CV axle boots - 2 per axle - and look for cracks and tears. Typically there will be grease splattered all over the surrounding surfaces but sometimes not. You can't see a failed CV joint from the outside. Once you get it apart you can see worn race surfaces or pitted balls but at that point you have it all apart so replacing the joint is easy. In other words, it's not easy to see a failed joint. A failed boot does not always mean a failed joint or vice versa. I've replaced a bunch of torn open boots an had the joints be perfectly fine - a lot depends on how long the tear has been there and how much crap has found it's way inside the joint. The common method of diagnosis is to hear a failed joint and an experienced ear is really the only way. I can tell you that of you can hear it just replacing the boot is a waste of time. Also, most mechanics don't bother to tear down failed cv axles. They just buy full replacements that include joints, boots and axle, yank the old one off and pop in a new one.
 

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Sometimes you can feel the rotation between parts of the axle that shouldn't be there. It can be confusing, since there is normally a good bit of rotation in the transaxle itself (so the wheel will move back and forth quite a bit normally - when that corner is jacked up, of course). But if you're feeling movement between any of the CV axle elements (shafts, cv joints), it's a bad axle. But as BajaUtah said, it's most often diagnosed by the crunchy noise the axle makes turning a corner.

Oh, and be careful about cheap Chinese axles. You'll be replacing them again VERY soon in most cases. Better to get a used axle, IMHO - or a quality rebuilt axle (I've had good luck with Cardone rebuilds).
 
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