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Front End Suspension and Steering Checks

Front End Suspension and Steering Checks For the various jobs which follow, the front of your car should be jacked up and supported by safety stands. In this position, the front wheels are suspended and the ball joints, control arms, and tie-rods are under tension from the front springs or torsion bars. In order to check these parts for wear there must be no tension on them. There are special procedures to relieve the tension on these parts so you may check for wear on either of the two different types of front end suspension. You should have a helper assist you when checking the front suspension and steering for wear. Relieving tension on the front suspension Cars with coil springs mounted be-tween the frame and the lower control arm and cars equipped with torsion bars. Place a floor jack or single piston hydraulic floor jack under the lower con-trol arm as close to the ball joint as pos-sible. Raise the arm until the frame is about to lift off the safety stand, then stop. Now check the front suspension for wear.

MacPherson struts These are frequently used on for­eign cars but only recently have begun to replace standard shock absorbers on American models. This type of suspension system can be identified by looking for a very heavy and thick tube-shaped strut attached to the wheel assembly at the base and slanting upward away from the wheel. A coil spring is visible around the outside of the strut at the top, and an A-shaped arm runs horizontally from the base of the strut so its two legs attach to the frame. The shock absorber is inside the tubular strut. You cannot re­place it without taking part of the suspension system apart. That job should be left to some­one who has professional expe­rience with this new type of sus­pension. Cars with coil springs mounted be­tween the frame and the upper control arm. Jack up the lower control arm as described previously. Place a block of wood, a 2 x 4 will do, between the upper control arm and the frame. Slowly re­lease the jack from the lower control arm, making sure neither the block of wood nor the upper control arm moves. Now the front suspension is ready for in­spection. Caution: Remember to remove the block of wood after you have com­pleted your inspection of the front end. Checking the upper and lower control arm bushings for wear 1 With the front end jacked up and supported under the lower control arm as described previously, have a helper sit in the car and firmly apply the foot brake. This will lock the front wheels. With both hands, grasp one front tire at its front and rear. Now, attempt to rotate it forward and backward. You must apply vigorous force for this operation. While attempting to rotate the tire, watch the upper and lower control arms for exces-sive side-to-side movement.

2 Repeat these steps on the other front wheel. If excessive wear is present, you should take your car to a qualified mechanic who has the special tools, equipment, and training to replace the control arm bushings. Checking the upper ball joint for wear 1 With the front end jacked up and supported under the lower control arm as described previously, grasp the bot­tom of one front tire with your left hand. With your right hand grasp the top, then pull out at the bottom while simultane­ously pushing in at the top. Have your helper watch the play in the upper ball joint.

2 Check the manufacturer’s specifi­cations for allowable ball joint play and wear. Repeat the procedure on the other front wheel. If there is excessive wear, you should take your car to a qualified mechanic or front end specialist who will replace the defective ball joint, since this requires special tools and skills. Checking the lower ball joint for wear 1 With the front end jacked up and supported under the lower control arm as described previously, place a bar or pipe directly under the center of the tire. Wedge it against the ground, and lift it. Have a helper look at the lower ball joint for wear. You may have to pick up and release the bar several times to get a good visual check.

2 Check the manufacturer’s specifi­cations for allowable play and wear for your car. Repeat the operation on the other front wheel. If you find the ball joint has excessive play and wear, take your car to a qualified mechanic or front end specialist for repairs. He has the tools and skills to do the job. Checkh  for wear in the steering linkage 1 Refer to Chapter 1 for a description of the steering linkage components. With the front end jacked up and supported under the lower control arm as de­scribed previously, grasp one tire at the front and rear as you did when you checked the upper control arm. Now, vigorously shake the tire from right to left. Have your helper check all parts of the steering linkage for excessive wear.

2 Repeat the procedure on the oppo­site front tire. Check the tie-rod ends, the intermediate arm (known as the cen­ter link), and the idler arm. There should be no play or sign of wear in any of these parts. The idler arm must not move up and down, although it may move hori­zontally with the other linkages. Ball joint removal Most mechanics use a ball joint fork to remove the ball joints from the front suspension. There is a way to loosen or break ball joints from the steering knuckle without the special tool. Jack up the car and support it properly by the body, not by the frame. This will put tension on the ball joint.

Remove the cotter pin and back off the attaching nut about three-quarters of the way. Do not remove the nut completely. Use a five-pound hammer and give both sides of the steering knuckle a good shot. The ball joint should jar loose and break out of the steering knuckle. Now put a jack stand under the lower control arm and release the weight off the suspension components. Since there is no load on the attaching nut, its removal is now easy and safe. Be sure all tension is released from the control arm before attempting to remove the attaching nut.