Sunday, November 29, 2009

How do I Check the lower control arm, or bushing

How do I check the Control Arms or bushings: First let me explain what they do and how worn control arms can affect your tires and handling of the vehicle.
The Control Arm bushing consists of an outer metal sleeve, a durable rubber bushing and an inner metal sleeve. It's attached to the ends of the control arm as it's supported to the frame of the vehicle. Without the bushing, the metal ends of the control arm would be mounted to the frame and cause metal-to-metal contact. This would cause major clunking as the suspension maneuvers over bumps and other deviations on the roads. The bushing acts as a hinged dampener to cushion the suspension and provide a more manageable and quiet ride. Most front-wheel drive cars that employ struts only use a lower control arm, but many trucks and SUVs have an upper and lower control arm.

Upper Control Arm bushings are a little bit easier to inspect than lower ones. Peeking through the wheel well of each front wheel usually gives you a clear view to the bushings. In some cases, you can also inspect them from the engine compartment and look down on each side of the engine by the wheel.

Because rubber cracks and dry rots over time, look for signs of this symptom--although if it's just starting to dry rot and crack on the outer edges, it doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. The Control Arm ends should be perfectly centered inside the bushing to buffer it around the full diameter. A compromised bushing begins to weaken on the side that endures the most stress from the suspension.

The lower Control Arm bushings are usually encased between the end of the control arm and the side of the car frame, making them difficult to see. A large pry bar can be used to pry the control arm one way or the other. A good bushing returns the control arm to its original position when the pry bar is removed. A compromised bushing causes the control arm to stay in the position the pry bar moved it toward.
Deterioration of the Control Arm Bushing

When the bushings deteriorate, they affect alignment and vehicle handling. Wheel alignments are set in minor degrees, and it doesn't take much to position the tire at an awkward angle. All suspension components work in unison to position the tire as flat and straight onto the road as possible. A worn control arm bushing affects the camber angle of the tire. Camber is the vertical angle of the tire. When this is compromised, the tire cannot hit the road flatly. It's angled slightly enough to begin to wear the edge of the tire that contacts the road first. This not only causes excessive premature tire wear, it affects the way the vehicle steers. It may pull slightly or aggressively, depending on the severity of the bushing wear, to one side.

Worn bushings also allow metal-to-metal contact that they're intended to buffer when going over bumps. The suspension being compromised also affects the manageability of the vehicle when stress is placed on it. Have your Control Arms checked regularly to ensure a smooth, quiet and safe ride.

How do I check my ball Joints.

How do I check my Ball Joints.
First let me explain exactly what your Ball Joints do and what their function is.

Ball joints are a part of your vehicle's suspension that connects the steering knuckles to the control arms. A ball joint is essentially a flexible ball and socket that allows the suspension to move and at the same time the wheels to steer. Cars and trucks without strut suspensions typically have four of them (one upper and one lower on each side). Cars and minivans with strut suspensions have only two (one lower ball joint on each side). Some front-wheel drive cars also have ball joints on the rear suspension.
Like any other suspension component, ball joints eventually wear and become loose. Excessive play in the Ball Joints. can affect wheel alignment and tire wear. Loose joints can also cause suspension noise (typically a "clunking" sound when hitting a bump).
WARNING: If Ball Joints. fails, the suspension can collapse causing a loss of control. So don't put off having a bad set of joints replaced.

Joint Inspection

Joints should be inspected before they're greased (since grease takes up some of the slack in the joint). Ball joints are pretty easy to check, but each type requires a different inspection procedure. Use the wrong procedure and you'll get misleading results. The procedure that needs to be used depends on the location and loading of the joint:

* LOWER LOAD CARRYING ball joints are found on front- and rear-wheel drive vehicles where the coil spring or torsion bar is on the lower control arm. You'll also find them on the rear suspension of 1985 & up FWD Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac & Oldsmobiles, too.
Joints with built-in wear indicators (most GM and Ford RWD cars, rear joints on the FWD GM cars, and GM RWD vans, S10 ; S15 Blazer) must be checked with the full weight of the vehicle on the tires on the shop floor or on a drive-on style ramp -- not with the wheels up or the suspension supported by jack stands.

No measurements are required if a joint has a wear indicator because internal play is indicated by the position of the grease fitting boss. The boss protrudes about .050 inches on a new joint. As the joint wears, the boss recedes into the housing. The joint is considered "good" as long as you can see or feel the edge of the boss protruding from the housing. But if the top of the boss is flush or below the housing, it's time to replace the joint.

On lower load carrying ball joints without a wear indicator, the joint is checked in the unloaded condition with the wheel raised off the ground and the lower control arm supported by a jack stand. A dial indicator is then used to measure play in one of two directions: sideways (horizontal or radial play) or vertically (axial or up-and-down play). The direction to measure depends on the application (refer to a manual for the exact specs).

Sideways play is measured with the indicator positioned against the inside of the wheel rim near the joint. The wheel should be pushed in and out by hand to check sideways play, and lifted with no more than 25 lbs. of force to check vertical play. Many joints allow up to .250 in. of sideways (radial) play, but some allow no play or only .015 in. of play. Always refer to the vehicle manufacturer's specs.

Vertical play is measured with the dial indicator positioned against the knuckle stud nut (Ford & GM) or the joint housing (Chrysler). A joint that has more than .050 in. of vertical play doesn't necessary require replacement because the specs range from zero play to as much as .125 inch of play.
The most common mistake that's made here is to use too much pressure on a pry bar or to insert a pry bar between the control arm and knuckle rather than under the wheel. Pry hard enough and any joint may appear to be bad.

* LOWER FOLLOWER NONLOADED ball joints are found on two kinds of applications: RWD cars where the spring is over the upper control arm, and vehicles with MacPherson strut suspensions. On both applications the lower joint is checked with the wheel raised off the ground hanging free (no stand under the lower control arm). Rock the wheel in and out by hand. A good joint should show no movement.
One exception here is 1978-80 Omni & Horizon which allows up to .050 inch of sideways play. Another exception is Chrysler FWD minivans and FWD cars ('81 & up). On these applications, the lower joint has a wear indicator grease fitting. Joint play is checked with the wheels on the ground rather than raised. If the grease fitting can be twisted with your fingers, the joint needs to be replaced.

* UPPER LOAD CARRYING Ball Joints. are found on vehicles where the spring or torsion bar is on the upper control arm. Like the lower follower nonloaded ball joints, the upper joints are checked in the unloaded condition with the wheels off the ground -- but with a wedge or block between the frame and upper control arm to support the upper arm. On most applications, any movement calls for replacement. But on some Fords, up to .250 in. of radial play is allowed.

* UPPER FOLLOWER NONLOADED ball joints are also checked with the wheels off the ground but with the lower control arm supported. Any movement usually calls for replacement.

 Ball Joint Replacement

Any joint that exceeds the vehicle manufacturer's maximum allowable wear needs to be replaced. The greater the amount of wear, the greater the urgency to replace it.
Ball joints are often replaced in complete sets, or at least in matched pairs on both sides (both lowers or both uppers). This is because the joints on both sides of a vehicle usually have the same amount of wear. If one is bad, the other usually is too. Load carrying ball joints usually wear out before ones that don't carry a load, so it may only be necessary to replace the loaded joints instead of the complete set.
Replacing or checking your set of ball joints requires separating the control arms from the steering knuckles, a job which can be difficult depending on the design and age of the vehicle.

At the very least, it usually requires a special "Ball Joints. fork" tool to loosen the ball joint stud from the knuckle. If this sounds like more of a a job than you want to tackle, let a professional check your ball joints.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How do I know if my alignment is out

Alignment refers to the way your car's wheels are positioned. Your wheels should be parallel and facing forward.

How does alignment affect my vehicle?
When your wheels are properly aligned, you'll get better gas mileage, your tires will last longer, steering will be easier, and your ride will be smoother and safer.

What could go wrong with my alignment?
Several factors could contribute to a shift in alignment including old, worn-out components including Ball Joints, Control arm bushings, and poor road conditions, resulting in a few different problems including Camber, Toe and Caster, and if any of these problems develop, they will take a toll on your vehicle's tires, performance and manageability. Worn out shocks and struts can also be a serious problem with un-even tire wear.


Camber
The wheels are tilted, either inward or outward. This will create pulling and tire wear.


Toe
A change in the distance between the front and back of the front or rear tires. This will wear on the tires, too.



Caster
A backward or forward tilt at the top of the wheel's spindle support arm. This will cause either loose or difficult steering.



If any of these problems develop, they will begin to take their toll on your car's tires and performance, as well as steering

How will I recognize a problem with my alignment?
Check your steering wheel when you're driving. Does it stay straight? Does it vibrate? When you are traveling along a straight road, does your vehicle pull to one side? Is your steering loose, or difficult to control? Have you noticed uneven tire wear?


Check your tires periodically. A number of different things can affect your tires - from alignment to suspension components to improper inflation of tires. 
such as ball joints, control arm bushings, checked every 10,000 miles or once a year, and there are three types of alignment jobs with a good-better-best approach.

GOOD
Two-wheel geometric centerline alignment.
This adjusts the toe on your front wheels only. This will work only if your rear wheels are properly aligned. (Used mostly on trucks and older rear-wheel drive cars).

BETTER
Four-wheel thrust line alignment.
This aligns the front wheels to the rear-wheel alignment.

BEST
Complete four-wheel thrust line alignment.
This is the optimal approach: aligning all wheels straight ahead and parallel.

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What is a wheel alignment?
A wheel alignment is nothing more than setting the angle of the hub/wheel so it tracks in the right direction. Most vehicles have four-wheel alignments, meaning each of the four wheels is separately aligned. Your basic alignment consists of three angles: camber, caster and toe-in. Camber is the tilt of the tire when viewed from the front of the car. Positive camber means the top of the tire is tilted away from the car. Negative camber means the top is tilted in. Camber has a lot to do with cornering performance. Too much negative camber will wear the inside of the tires prematurely. Too much positive camber will wear the outside tread.

Caster is the inclination of the front spindle. Picture the angle of the forks on a bike top to bottom. When the caster is out, it creates a pull or wandering condition and sometimes a slow responding steering wheel. Toe-in is measured in inches or degrees. Viewing from the front of the car, it is the difference between the front and rear center-line of the tire. Toe-in means the fronts of the tires are closer together. Toe-out means, the fronts of the tires are farther apart. Toe-in or out has the most effect on tire wear.

How does an alignment effect handling and tire wear?

When your car is out of alignment, the tires will wear prematurely. In some extreme cases, new tires will be gone within 500 miles. At the price of tires, especially high performance tires with soft compounds, you want to keep your vehicle in alignment as long as possible. Other symptoms of an out-of-alignment car are poor handling, pulling to one side, or wandering from side-to-side. An alignment will also affect the steering wheel response and how quickly it returns to the center.

When should I do an alignment?
Your vehicle's alignment should be checked every 10,000 to 12,000 miles. Any harsh impact such as potholes, curbs, objects in the road, or the damage of an accident, should prompt you to have your alignment checked. If you do any modifications to your suspension, raising or lowering your car, that will affect the alignment angles. Even changing the tire size will effect the alignment. Loose, worn or bent suspension parts such as ball joints, springs, bushings, and control arms will have an adverse affect on your alignment, too. In most cases you do not know if your alignment is out. The best way to check it is with a precision alignment machine. Laser optics combined with a computer allow for the most accuracy in alignment readings.

Remember you are aligning the hub of your vehicle. Check to see if the alignment shop or dealer has equipment that attaches to the hub, not the wheel. Many independent shops that do alignments have a specialty tool called "Tru Align" that attaches to the hub. This will make for a much more accurate alignment with the added bonus of not damaging the delicate finish on your wheels.

There is a lot more to suspension alignment, especially if you push your vehicle on the track. The modifications you make on your suspension are just the beginning. Once you start down this road you will be concerned with things like bump steer, weighting (vertical load), pre-loading, tire traction versus tire load, and more. Now you're thinking under-steer, over-steer, tire compound, sway bar design, and other topics that can be covered in a later article. For now, just remember to have your vehicle aligned every 10,000 to 12,000 miles in normal driving conditions.

How would I know if my alignment is out?

If you accidentally hit a curb, or drive through a nasty pothole or other road obstruction, that would be a cue to have your car's alignment checked more often. Proper alignment is good for your car. It will save unnecessary wear on your tires. It will ensure that your vehicle is giving you the handling the factory designed the car to have. And, most importantly, a properly aligned car is safer and more fun to drive. Have your alignment, ball joints and suspension checked regularly checked regularly.