We get calls all the time from customers looking to change their springs, shocks, or struts because of a noise or suspension problem. Often times, though, another smaller (and much cheaper) suspension component has failed. In this article, we run through some of the more minor components of the suspension and symptoms of their failure.
Ball joints connect the control arm the the steering knuckle on the front of the car. Sometimes they fail simply because the grease wears out inside the joint (this can happen in under 100,000 miles). They can also fail from a hard bump into a curb.
If your ball joint has failed, you might hear a clank when you go over bumps, or a squeaking coming from your front end near the wheels.
Testing for a broken ball joint involves jacking up the front end of the car so the wheels are off the ground. Then, move the wheel up and down to see if there’s any excessive up and down movement. If the wheel can move up and down independent of the control arm, you have a bad ball joint.
Tie rods connect, or tie, the steering system to the steering knuckle and allow you to steer the car. If they wear out or break from an accident, you might not notice right away–especially if the tie rod is in the process of wearing out and you drive the car everyday. Symptoms of a broken tie rod include uneven tire wear, the car drifting slightly to one side, and a little bit of looseness or wandering when turning.
If you suspect your car has a broken tie rod, you can make sure by taking the tire off and inspecting the tie rod’s connection to the steering knuckle. Wiggle the steering knuckle back and forth. If the knuckle moves independently of the tie rod end and can move freely back and forth, you have a bad tie rod. More often than not, a tie rod end will fail, rather than the entire tie rod.
Control Arm Bushings
The control arms at the front of the car have a rubber bushing that often fails, and every time you go over a bump you’ll hear a metal *clunk* noise. If you jack up the car you can visually inspect the bushing, and you can also inspect it if you take the control arm off the car. If it’s torn, then the bushing is bad. If it’s a bit cracked, though, the bushing may be OK–the rubber can crease a bit and the bushing can still do its job.
One option on the MK. IV TDIs is to replace the stock bushing with an Audi TT bushing, which can increase responsiveness and ride stiffness.
Sway Bar Bushings & Links (aka Stabilizer Links & Bushings)
Sway bar bushings and links will make clucking noise when they have failed, especially when entering driveways and parking lots where there will be change in the road angle. Easy one to check, too: simply wiggle the sway bar under the car. If it has any play around where the bushing is, your bushing is bad.
Suspension and Steering Refresh Kits
These kits at IDParts include most of the components outlined above. If you want to get your car’s handling back to like-new in one job, these kits are a great place to start.