How much play is too much play in a tie rod end? How much movement is too much in a ball joint?
On the surface, both questions seem fairly straightforward and for the most part, both answers are pretty straightforward as well. There is a very detailed procedure for checking the ball joints, both upper and lower. Conversely, there is no specification or procedure for checking the tie rod ends, inner or outer, beyond the fact that any visible movement is too much movement. This is all background information for a larger story, a greater issue.
Three years and 40,000 miles ago, one of my technicians installed new ball joints and tie rod ends, along with a host of other steering and suspension parts, on a 1998 Dodge truck. The truck, a fairly “vanilla” Dakota, was and still remains absolutely stock. It wasn’t lifted. It wasn’t lowered. It wasn’t modified in any way. It’s never seen the dirt, never been off-road and the most punishment it has ever received was the result of suffering through rush-hour traffic on the San Diego Freeway.
The vehicle was in the shop for a pre-trip service and inspection, which revealed that both the lower ball joints had exponentially more play than is allowable and one inner tie rod was just plain loose. The vehicle owner is a great customer with a ‘fleet’ of family cars and trucks, which meant we were going to bend over backwards to take care of him, something we would have done regardless. In the real world that means “warranty,” especially when one of the reasons for choosing the original set of aftermarket replacement parts was the lifetime warranty offered by the manufacturer.
There was just one problem: When we called the vendor that originally sold us the parts to inquire about the warranty, we were told there wasn’t one. My service advisor was told that since the parts had more than 40,000 miles on them, they were out of warranty.
I knew that wasn’t true. As long as the vehicle hadn’t been modified and wasn’t being used commercially, every steering and suspension part we had both purchased and then installed on the Dakota was warrantied for life.
It’s important to note that I didn’t source these products from my current “First Call” vendor, whose sales representative just happened to be standing in the office while all of this was going on. Now, before you call or write to let me know what a jerk I am for not having gone to my “First Call” for these suspension parts in the first place, you need to know that my “First Call” wasn’t my “First Call” three years ago when I bought these parts. What happened next, however, is exactly how my “First Call” became my “First Call.”
The sales rep asked about what had just happened and when I told him he very quietly replied, “Those parts do come with a lifetime warranty. Give ‘em to me and I’ll take care of it.”
When I asked him exactly how he would do that, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll handle it!” And, that was it. The parts appeared almost instantly, along with a “$0.00” invoice!
Life is filled with choices and each choice comes with consequences, both logical and unforeseen. The original vendor could have warranted the part. After all, the manufacturer was more than willing to do the same. Or, they could have done what they did: Share information that someone had to know was incorrect, offering instead to “pro-rate” the purchase of the replacement parts.
My current “First Call” could have ignored the conversation taking place in the office between my service advisor and me. After all, it didn’t really concern him and he didn’t sell me the parts. Or, he could have done what he did: Spot a problem and offer a solution.
The original vendor could have tried to win back a larger share of the business they had somehow lost. Or, they could have reinforced the fact there had to be a reason for our lack of commitment.
Like most things in life, it usually comes down to a simple matter of choice, a simple matter of either, or.