For those who live in snowbelt states, winter driving can take a real toll on chassis parts. Potholes are the main culprit, but road salt and slush are contributing factors, too.
The impact forces created by hitting potholes really pounds away at the ball joints, control arm bushings, tie rod ends and steering links. Chassis parts are designed to take a beating, but after prolonged abuse, even the stoutest parts can call it quits. Adding insult to injury is the ongoing assault by sodium chloride. Road salt is extremely corrosive and devours unprotected iron and aluminum parts like an NFL lineman at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The rubber boots that protect tie rod ends, ball joints and other steering links don’t always seal that tightly, and allow some of the salt-saturated road splash to find its way inside these critical parts. Once inside, the salt eats away at the sockets until it ruins the polished finish.
Ball joints and tie rods can start to creak and groan. As the parts loosen up, wheel alignment changes can accelerate tire wear and/or create steering or handling problems. If a ball joint or tie rod end binds up, it can make the steering and suspension feel stiff and sluggish. Upper bearing plates on MacPherson struts can suffer the same fate for the same reasons.
Too much pounding and/or corrosion can wear the bushings, creating suspension noise as the parts loosen up. A bad upper bearing plate on one or both front MacPherson struts may also increase steering effort or make the steering slow to return to center after making a turn.
Tire wear, steering issues (like pulling to one side) and/or suspension noise are the typical symptoms that often indicate the need to replace worn or damaged chassis parts. The vehicle in question should be put up on a hoist so a technician can thoroughly inspect all for the critical steering and suspension components. Any chassis parts that are worn beyond specifications or are damaged need to be replaced.
A chassis parts failure can have serious consequences such as loss of steering control or a suspension collapse, so repairs should not be postponed. There can be additional costs, too, if needed repairs are postponed. Worn tie rod ends cause toe alignment to change for the worse.
This can accelerate tire wear very quickly depending on how loose the tie rods are. If a motorist puts off replacing worn tie rod ends too long, they’ll also end up needing a new set of tires. When a customer needs replacement chassis parts, encourage them to buy brand-name, top-quality parts. What’s the difference? Cheaper parts use cheaper materials and designs. Some aftermarket chassis parts suppliers use less expensive slip-on neoprene dust boots that do not provide the same degree of protection or longevity as joints that have permanently bonded urethane boots.
Some idler arms are made from castings while others are made from stronger forgings. For hard-use applications, some ball joints and tie rod ends are improved over the OEM design for improved durability. Related parts that are often overlooked when replacing chassis parts include engine and transmission mounts, as well as suspension cradle mounts. Alignment kits also may be needed for some applications if there are no factory provisions for adjusting camber or caster.
These include offset adjustable ball joints, offset adjustable control arm bushings and adjustable strut plates. Some aftermarket replacement control arms also come with built-in adjustments that were not available on the original equipment arms.