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"Mushy" steering

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K^2
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#1

Posted 27 July 2013 - 10:20 PM

Don't know if a lot of you know about fixing cars, but I can't imagine it'd hurt to ask. And I should probably start at the beginning while I'm at it.

So a couple of weeks ago, I started getting noise from the front passenger brake. Sounded like worn brake pads, which was a bit odd since I've only replaced pads and calipers less than two years back and they always lasted longer for me. Unfortunately, I discovered this on the outgoing leg of a bit of a road trip, and by the time I got back it was really bad. I figured that the wear might have been due to the fact that I neglected to resurface the rotors the last time, so I ordered replacement pads and rotors. On the driver side I found everything ship shape with acceptable wear on the pads. On the passenger side, however, pads were worn down to metal and the rotor was badly scratched up. I don't know if rotor condition was the cause of the pad wear or the consequence of my belated response to it, however. In addition, the caliper has totally seized up, presumably due to overheating. So I ordered a replacement caliper and the bracket while I was at it and just replaced the whole brake assembly. Put everything together, bled the brakes, and everything seems to work.

Unfortunately, pretty much straight away I started noticing that steering was not quite as responsive as I'm used to. Not in terms of force, but in terms of steering wheel having a bit of travel before having effect on the wheels. It's quite subtle, but very similar to what I had when the driver side lower ball joint went loose. Now, I don't know if this has started developing before the problem with brakes and I just didn't notice, if it was related to the brakes, or if it could have been due to everything I had to do to get the brake caliper off the wheel.



tl;dr. Between "mushy" steering and extreme wear on passenger side brake pads my first thought was a bad ball joint. I did the basic tests. Lifted the car and tried to wobble the wheel. I can't really find anything wrong with the way it responds. There is no give I can find other than what is afforded by suspension. Same on the other side.

Should I still be worried about ball joints? I would hate to lose a wheel on the road. Though, safe to say, I won't be taking this car onto freeway until I confirm that it's safe. Is there some other problem I should be looking for? Related to the brake pad wear or something completely coincidental?

Any advice would be appreciated.

ryuclan
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#2

Posted 27 July 2013 - 11:46 PM

QUOTE (K^2 @ Saturday, Jul 27 2013, 22:20)
Don't know if a lot of you know about fixing cars, but I can't imagine it'd hurt to ask. And I should probably start at the beginning while I'm at it.

So a couple of weeks ago, I started getting noise from the front passenger brake. Sounded like worn brake pads, which was a bit odd since I've only replaced pads and calipers less than two years back and they always lasted longer for me. Unfortunately, I discovered this on the outgoing leg of a bit of a road trip, and by the time I got back it was really bad. I figured that the wear might have been due to the fact that I neglected to resurface the rotors the last time, so I ordered replacement pads and rotors. On the driver side I found everything ship shape with acceptable wear on the pads. On the passenger side, however, pads were worn down to metal and the rotor was badly scratched up. I don't know if rotor condition was the cause of the pad wear or the consequence of my belated response to it, however. In addition, the caliper has totally seized up, presumably due to overheating. So I ordered a replacement caliper and the bracket while I was at it and just replaced the whole brake assembly. Put everything together, bled the brakes, and everything seems to work.

Unfortunately, pretty much straight away I started noticing that steering was not quite as responsive as I'm used to. Not in terms of force, but in terms of steering wheel having a bit of travel before having effect on the wheels. It's quite subtle, but very similar to what I had when the driver side lower ball joint went loose. Now, I don't know if this has started developing before the problem with brakes and I just didn't notice, if it was related to the brakes, or if it could have been due to everything I had to do to get the brake caliper off the wheel.



tl;dr. Between "mushy" steering and extreme wear on passenger side brake pads my first thought was a bad ball joint. I did the basic tests. Lifted the car and tried to wobble the wheel. I can't really find anything wrong with the way it responds. There is no give I can find other than what is afforded by suspension. Same on the other side.

Should I still be worried about ball joints? I would hate to lose a wheel on the road. Though, safe to say, I won't be taking this car onto freeway until I confirm that it's safe. Is there some other problem I should be looking for? Related to the brake pad wear or something completely coincidental?

Any advice would be appreciated.

Ok...

Brakes: To answer one question, whether your balljoints are bad or not has nothing to do with the brakes. The pads were low like that because the caliper hung up. Now, if you are putting new pads on a vehicle and you're are not getting new rotors, the old ones better be in perfect shape or you're wasting your time. Either cut them or buy new ones. Also you should measure your rotors to determine if they are even any god anymore. They do have a minimum thickness. If you are doing brakes make sure the slider pins actually slide, and they are lubricated. Also make sure the thin metal spacers between the pads and the caliper brackets are relatively clean and the surface underneath them are not extremely rusty. If you have to force the pads into the bracket it's too tight and the pads could hang up.

Balljoints: I don't know what kind of car you have but to check balljoints all you need is a prybar. Stick it between the control arm and the wheel hub and pry up and down on it. If the hub moves, or you can see the top of the bal joint moving you need new ones. Some vehicles require that you lift the vehicle off the ground just enough to get the tire off the ground. Then stick the pry bar under the tire and lever the tire up. Observe ball joint and repair as necessary. If the boots are torn then just replace them.

Steering: Lift front of vehicle off the ground and attempt to wiggle the tire left to right. If there is noticable movement one of your tie rods are out.

sivispacem
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#3

Posted 28 July 2013 - 08:36 AM

What car is it? My initial whim would also be tie rod as that could cause uneven wear under braking as well as an apparent dead zone in the steering.

K^2
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#4

Posted 29 July 2013 - 01:22 AM

2002 Suzuki Esteem.

I did the ball joint test that ryuclan recommended, and on the passenger side the ball joint lifted nearly all the way out of the socket. mercie_blink.gif The one on the other side moved ever so slightly, but given that it's only a year old, I assume that's within tolerance. So that basically settles it. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like I can get just the ball joint replaced, so I'll have to buy the entire lower control arm. That's going to set me back at least $140. I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't be looking for a new(er) car.

The tie rods seem solid enough, and the way the steering wheel feels is consistent with a worn out ball joint. Like I said earlier, it's a very subtle feeling. So I don't think anything else is wrong, but the only way to make sure is to replace the control arm and see how it feels then.

Thank you guys for the help.

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#5

Posted 04 August 2013 - 12:01 AM

Okay. Play in the steering wheel doesn't sound like a bent/maladjusted tie rod. A bent tie rod would generally cause toe in and the associated tire wear. But with everything still properly attached, there shouldn't be any play. A ball joint is a fairly simple device. Either it's loose on one end, the boot is torn and the grease leaking, or it's snapped. Obviously it's not snapped. If it's still attached then there's not much way for it to become loose within it's seat, and a torn boot isn't going to cause play in your steering. Worn bushings could potentially cause some play, but only in small amounts.

Play in the steering generally comes from the steering box. It's a common problem on GMT400s. (One that mine suffers from but I got used to after a couple of weeks) It can be adjusted, but making the steering tighter also means more force is required to turn the wheel, so there are trade offs and care must be taken if going by that method. The obvious other method is to simply replace the box with a new unit.




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