Control arm bushings can be likened to the cartilage that covers our bones. Cartilage is a rubber-like padding connective tissue that coats the surface of the bones providing a cushioning effect. The control arm bushings are an essential component responsible for protecting and cushioning other critical parts of the suspension system. What is the purpose of control arm bushings and what happens when they go bad? Knowing the answer to these questions is crucial for
ensuring that your car is in good condition.
What Are Control Arm Bushings?
The control arm bushing should not be confused with the actual control arm component. The control arm forms a link between the vehicle’s suspension system and the chassis of the car. It is attached to the wheel hub and the steering knuckles. The control arms are equipped with ball joints which is the rubber seal on top of the control arm.
The control arm helps the wheel move up and down. On the other hand, the control bushings are cushions that are derived from rubber, polyurethane and other materials. The bushings are made up of rubber seals. The bushings used in the lower and upper control arms are designed with three main components; outer shell, the rubber or polyurethane bushing and then of course the inner sleeve. The control arm bushings were created to help absorb impact like bumps on the road.
The bushings serve as a cushion between the parts, it controls the movement in the joints and it reduces road noise and vibration. The rubber seals play a crucial role in preventing metal on metal friction which assists the vehicle in turning or pivoting and providing the driver with a smooth driving experience.
What Happens When The Control Arm Bushings Fail?
The bushings might seem like just a minor part of the suspension system but they play a vital role in the occupant’s comfort, longevity and health of the suspension and steering system. Like every part on a vehicle, the control arm bushings are prone to wear and tear. The suspension systems are like sacrificial lambs because they take a beating from the road more than other components. The suspension system and their parts are constantly exposed to contaminants like road dirt, salts, and lubricants Therefore, the control arm bushings are likely to deteriorate faster than you think.
When the bushing starts to wear, the rubber seal starts to break down while the shell and sleeve begins to rust and build corrosion. While advancements in technology have allowed for the production of control arm bushings made from sturdy and reliable materials due to constant heat and friction you can expect the bushings to become worn or damaged. They dry out or become cracked for absorbing so many bumps in the road. It’s important to have the bushings inspected regularly for signs of wear. What are some of the signs that you need to replace the control arm bushings?
Tell-tale Signs It’s Time To Replace The Control Arm Bushings
When the control arm bushings fail or become incredibly worn, metal to metal contact between the joints of other parts of the control arm and suspension assembly will occur.This can decrease the longevity of the other affected parts if the problem isn’t handled in time. Replacing the steering knuckles and other vital components in the suspension system such as the control arm itself can be very expensive.
You can visually tell when the control arm bushings have become worned. There will be tears and breaks in the rubber seals or in the rubber to metal bonding. You will also be able to tell the bushings are done by the way that the vehicle drives. Here are the most common signs and symptoms of bushings failure:
Small bumps feel like a big impact
Since the control arm bushings provide a cushioning effect, when they are damaged you’ll begin to feel every bump and pothole in the road. You may even start to feel as if you are riding in a vehicle with no or very little suspension. This can make driving and your passenger’ s experience very unpleasant. The vibrations from the front of the vehicle may even be worth it when accelerating.
Steering Wheel Vibrations
One of the first symptoms you’ll experience when the control arm bushings fail are steering wheel vibrations. This is because as the bushings wear the joints loosen and the tire might even start to wobble a little as you drive. The bushings along with the ball joints are also connected to the steering knuckles. Worn control arm bushings can lead to a plethora of other problems such as faster tire wear. In severe cases the control arm, ball joint or another suspension part will break.
The longer you go without a control arm bushing replacement, your car will begin to need a wheel alignment. The steering wheel might start to pull to the left or the right. Not only do the bumps and vibrations feel bad but the vibrations in the steering wheel feel a lot worse.
The metal on metal noise is hard to ignore and it sounds a lot like trouble. Once the rubber seal wears off the metal starts to continuously come into contact with the other nearby metal components. You’ll even hear a knocking noise that worsens when you accelerate. If the bushings are loose you might hear the clanging sound of loose metal.
Decreased Braking Performance
Although the control arm bushings aren’t directly linked to the braking system, instability within the suspension and steering system can compromise stopping power. If you have to brake suddenly the front end of the vehicle might oscillate back and forth as the vehicle slows down.
Can You Drive With Bad Control Arm Bushings?
Most automotive professionals warn against driving a vehicle with bad control arm bushings. Technically, you will be able to drive with bad bushings but the handling will be terrible since the control arm bushings also hold the camber part of the alignment. Therefore, the bad bushing will cause your tires to wear incredibly faster than normal.
The constant metal to metal contact will wear out the entire control arm and it will eventually break off. The longer you drive a vehicle with bad bushings you increase the risk of breaking some other vital component in the suspension system. This will significantly increase repair costs.
How Much Is A Control Arm Bushing Replacement?
So how much does it cost to replace damaged or worn control arm bushings? To replace the bushings on average you can expect to pay anywhere between $200-$670 depending on the make and model of the car. The labor for such a job costs about $110-$245 while the parts can cost up to $415. The cost of a control arm bushing replacement largely depends on the extent of the damage.
If one of the control arm bushing is worn it’s best to replace all of the bushing at the same time. The mechanic will inspect for ball joint damage since it’s linked to the bushing. If you need to replace the ball joints as well the cost of the bushing replacement job will increase. The cost of the ball joint itself is about $80-$150 for the parts alone.
Check out this breakdown of sample control arm bushing replacement costs.
|Vehicle Model||Labor||Parts||Total Costs|
What Happens During A Control Arm Bushing Replacement
If the bushing was bent or damaged due to an automobile accident it’s possible that the surrounding parts sustained some damage. Even with moderate wear to the bushings it’s a good idea to have the sway bar links and the tie rods will need to be carefully examined by the mechanic.
During the replacement process the mechanic will have the vehicle hoisted and disconnect the control arms starting with the lower one. The control arm assembly will be assessed for further damage. Once the bushings are replaced the mechanic will test drive the vehicle to ensure the procedure was successful.
DIY Control Arm Bushing Replacement
Some people try to save money on a control arm bushing replacement by opting to make the repair themselves. However, if you don’t have any mechanical knowledge, taking on a DIY control arm bushing replacement isn’t recommended.
In general, a control arm bushing replacement is a straightforward job. There are several methods you can use to remove and replace the bushings. Replacing the control arm bushings mainly involves the outer shell since this is the part that mates to the control arm. Here are some of the most common removal methods:
Manual Bushing Removal
If you don’t have all the professional needs required for this job, you’ll have to remove the bushings manually. This is the most common removal method for non-professionals. This labor intensive method involves placing the control arm in the ground or holding it still so that you can beat the bushing out of the arm. This isn’t the best method because you risk damaging the whole control arm assembly.
Manual Press Method
This is the best method for DIYers who aren't equipped with an arsenal of professional tools. The manual press method requires the use of a ball joint press and a socket that fits the outer shell of the bushing and a variety of cups. You can drive the control arm bushing out by using a cup that matches the diameter of the bushing and press it out. Perform this action in reverse to install the new bushing part.
Tips For DIY Control Arm Bushing Replacement
- All control arm bushings look similar. You’ll want to make sure you’re using the correct bushing for your vehicle. The internal features of the bushings are different across each vehicle.
- Check the dimensions before fully installing the bushings.
- Some control arm bushings are difficult to remove and install. For complex jobs it’s best to have a professional mechanic perform the control arm bushing replacement.
How To Save Money On Your Control Arm Bushing Replacement?
A DIY control arm replacement is out of the question if you don’t have any mechanical knowledge, skills or the necessary tools. You can save money when replacing the bushings by shopping around for the parts. Chain stores like Autozone and Advance Auto tend to charge higher prices for automotive parts.
You can always purchase this part from the junkyard and save about fifty to eighty percent on parts cost. Another great way to save money to compare prices with mechanics. Visit all of the reputable shops in your area and see who gives you the best offer.
Q: Should I replace the control arm or just the bushings?
It may not always be necessary to replace the control arm with the bushings. However, if the bushings are severely damaged or worn, the control arms might need to be replaced. You’ll want to have a mechanic inspect the upper and lower control arms for damage. If the control arm is in good decent shape then you don’t have to replace the control arm.
Q: Do I need an alignment after replacing the control arm bushings?
Bad control arm bushings can cause alignment issues since it's linked to the camber. So it's a good idea to have an alignment performed after replacing the control arm bushings.
Q: What happens if the control arm bushings fail?
Bad control arm bushings can cause a host of problems. It can damage other vital suspension parts such as the ball joints. Once the bushings fail, the ball joints are next in line and this affects the steering knuckles. Steering may start to vibrate, shimmy or become unresponsive.
Q: Can you replace the control arm bushings yourself?
A control arm bushing replacement should be performed by a professional unless you have mechanical knowledge and the proper needs required to carry out such a job.