Imagine yourself driving over a dirt road with a surface as uneven as the one on the moon. The passenger cabin is kept all cosy by the suspension which irons the bumps out. The lower control arm is an integral part of the suspension that forms the link between the wheel and the frame. So, will this element ever fail and if it does, how much will it cost you to replace it?
What are Lower Control Arms?
The control arm, as we mentioned earlier, can be simply called the component that connects the wheel to the frame. They facilitate the vertical movement of the wheels in tandem with the irregularities of the surface.
The control arms usually have three mounting points. A ball joint connects it to the wheel, while the remaining two mounting points connect the arm to the frame. This is possible via the usage of flexible rubber bushings, called control arm bushings. These rubber bushings allow the arm to flex under load and lets the wheel move up and down.
With the bendable mounting of the control arm, the suspension gets assistance to smoothen the bumps on the road out. So, at the end of it all, a little bit of credit can be given to this key part of our vehicle’s suspension.
How important is the lower control arm’s replacement?
As the control arm forms the main linkage between the arm and the frame of the vehicle, it is imperative that it is kept in its top shape. A failure in the arm can result in, well, not being able to move the car or truck.
The problems in the control arm can stem from wear and tear after long years of usage. As the control arm ends are subjected to constant movement when the vehicle is in motion, the deterioration is higher at these points. It goes without saying that the rubber bushings at these points progressively degrade and tear away, bit by bit. The control arms can cause issues due to these worn-down rubber bushings or the ball joint. This leads to excessive wobbling of the wheels and brake assembly, creeping into the cabin as rattles and vibrations.
If there is damage to the lower control arm, it is paramount that it gets replaced. For some vehicles, just the bushings can be replaced. But for most vehicles, the entire lower control arm needs a swap.
How much does a lower control arm replacement cost?
The lower control arm replacement cost can be split into two sections, the cost of the part itself and the labor charges for fitting it in. A new control arm can set you back anywhere between $50 to $100, depending on your car or truck. As it is an advanced task, the replacement of this component can cost you more than $100 and go way up to $400 or more. So, in total, you may have to keep aside about $150 to $500 for this task, if you own an economical vehicle. It goes without saying that if you own a luxury car, the costs can easily catapult.
As per a survey conducted by autoservicecosts.com, the average lower control arm replacement cost is found to be $578. This survey took into consideration the lower control arm replacement cost of vehicles ranging from a Ford Focus to Audi A8 Quattro. The top ceiling of the costs in this survey is occupied by Toyota Avalon, at an exorbitant cost of $2,286. But, keep in mind that this will vary from state to state, or even garage to garage.
It is not necessary that you have to replace both left and right control arms in one go. However, if one of the lower control arms requires a replacement, the other may be damaged in the same way. So give the other control arm a check as well to see if that needs a swap. It does not matter if you replace either one or both of them, the wheels need to get aligned. This can cost you another $60-$120.
Yes, the repair can be expensive, but it depends on the vehicle you own. Some manufacturers supply just the bearings of control arms. But to replace them, the labor charges will still be roughly the same, or even higher as it may need a hydraulic press to squeeze the bushings out of the control arm.
How long will a lower control arm last?
With the cost out of the way, the question that may loom in your mind may be about how often you will need to replace the control arm. There is some good news for you. It is not very often.
The lower control arm is a sturdy mechanical component and can last quite a long while, especially if you ride mostly over wall-paved roads. But in cars and trucks that regularly ply on dirt roads and other battered surfaces, deterioration of the lower control arm bushings can be a real threat. This issue can creep in after some years of driving the car or truck.
How to know if the lower control arm is having an issue?
Like most parts of the vehicle, when the rubber bushings or the ball joints start wearing out, it starts showing up as vibrations. But the problems with the control arm can cause way more than just vibrations. Please note that the following issues are not always caused only by the lower control arm. But if you experience any of it, it is worthwhile to get it checked. Let us have a glance at what these issues can be.
The very first sign of a worn-out bushing can be vibrations that creep in. The driver may be able to feel the vibrations from the lower control arm through the steering wheel. As the control arms are directly connected to the front wheels, any excessive vibration from a worn-out bushing or a ball joint will travel onto the steering. Most of us may pass these off as irregularities on the road, especially if we drive an old car with weakened steering units. But you certainly will not miss it under hard acceleration when the vibrations pick up strength. If you feel the steering shaking more than usual, it is advisable to get the vehicle checked as soon as possible. This can save you from the inconvenience of a breakdown and a tow truck ride to the nearest garage.
If there are vibrations, it will not take that long for noises to show up. Worn-out bushings loosen the ends of the control arm. Loose ends are an open stage for knocking, especially when the vehicle is driven over rough roads. The metal-on-metal clank can be quite disturbing and if this does not make you stop the car, we are not sure what will.
The more the sound is ignored, the more defeaning it can get. So, if there is a sound clattering from your wheels, stop and get your suspension checked.
Uneven steering alignment
One of the very first symptoms of a fault with the lower control arm can be felt through the steering. The wearing down of the bushings can easily affect the alignment of the steering. With this uneven setup, the vehicle can wander off to the left or right, constantly requiring driver input to travel in a straight line.
This can be a serious safety hazard as it reduces control over the car/truck. During events that require emergency braking or change in direction, this steering issue can create havoc.
Uneven tire wear
You must be familiar with the fact that misalignment causes uneven tire wear. It will also be useful to know that a deteriorated bushing or ball joint of a control arm can cause misalignment. Connecting the dots, uneven wear on your tires can hint at a possible issue with your control arm. All tires wear out naturally. But if your drives eat into your right tire more than your left tire, or vice versa, you should check them.
Vibrations under braking
Even though the control arm has no direct contact with the car’s braking system, it can cause troubles under braking. The ball joint is fastened close to the brakes of the car, and it will show the effects of a worn-out joint. The vehicles that have worn out control arm mounts will shake under braking. The front end may vibrate, especially under emergency braking. This can be an indication that it is time for your old control arm to part ways with your vehicle.
Now, this something you may not necessarily experience while driving. But when the vehicle is lifted on jacks, it is hard to miss too. The wheel will show a wobble when lifted off the ground and spun by hand. If there is considerable wobbling, it may be an indication of an improperly functioning lower control arm.
Age of your vehicle
If all other symptoms hint at a bad control arm, the age of your vehicle can let you be prepared even before it fails. No part in any vehicle is designed to live forever, especially the ones under constant movement. The lower control arm is one such part that gets constant pressure exerted on it.
This component is bound to fail at some point and the vehicle’s age can be a good indicator for knowing when. If your car has more than 100,000 miles on the clock, it is not a bad idea to give the lower control arm a check. It is an even better idea to get them replaced. Prevention is always better than cure. Is it not?
Accident or hitting a kerb
It is obvious that an accident that impacts the front tire regions will have damaged the lower control arm. But it can also take a serious hit if you bang on a kerb hard. In this case, you will start experiencing wobbles, vibrations and noises. It is highly recommended that you stop driving the car and get the lower control arm checked.
Manufacturers regularly announce recalls for many of their cars due to some faulty components in them. Your vehicle can be a part of a recall caused by a wrongly engineered or installed lower control arm. In this case, it is crucial that you follow the instructions issued by your manufacturer.
Check the NHTSA’s recall list to check if there are any recalls issued for your vehicle
If you are from Canada, head over to the Transport Canada website for your country-specific list
What happens if the lower control arm fails?
Well, we should be thankful that the lower control arm is not a component that fails with no warning. The gradual wearing of the bushings is a blessing in disguise, giving us enough time to prepare. We already know that the control arm is a key link between the wheels and the frame. A failure of this system can be catastrophic as the control of the vehicle will be lost.
When a lower control arm breaks, the vehicle may veer off in the direction of the tyres. This is obviously a hazard for the passengers, as well as the people on the road. The replacement of the lower control arm is certainly not the type of mechanical repair one can procrastinate.
Overall, it is no fun. The moment your vehicle gives you the first symptoms, drive right to the nearest garage and give it a check. This is especially true when you are driving an older car that is closer to a lower control arm failure.
Can I repair the lower control arm myself?
With labor costs soaring to $300 and beyond, there can be a certain desire for a DIY repair. It can cut down on the cost and give you a sense of satisfaction. But is it worth the effort? Can you really replace the lower control arm of your own? Or rather pragmatically, should you?
Just like almost all car repairs, yes you can replace the control arm by yourself. Do we recommend it? Depends. If you are an experienced person with several successful DIY repairs under the belt, yes. Else, no. For replacing the lower control arm, the car must be jacked up for better access to the part. If you have access to an elaborate tool kit and some experience in automotive repairs, you can pull it off.
But, this may not be the job for you if you have not had grease on your hands yet. The replacement of the lower control arm is an intermediate/advanced level of car maintenance. Hence, it is best left to an expert to take care of. He/she can bring a lot of experience into the mix, and this can mean a world of difference.
And even if you manage a DIY replacement of the lower control arm, you will still need a tires alignment. This anyway needs a visit to a garage, ergo hiring a professional for the whole procedure is the easier fix.
How does the lower control arm get replaced?
The replacement of the lower control arm is a tedious process. But with proper equipment and expertise, it can be pulled off in half a day.
The procedure for the repair includes the following steps.
- Use a lift or jack to raise the car/truck for better access
- Remove the front wheels
- Disconnect the sway bar from the lower control arm
- Carefully unhook the lower ball joint from the wheel hub
- Unbolt the lower control arm from the vehicle frame
- Slowly pull the control arm from the vehicle to completely remove it
- Install the new control arm at the same mounting points
- Torque the nuts based on the instructions
- Fasten the wheels back on
- Realign the wheels and, you are good to go.
It is quite an elaborate process that requires experience. Just winging it with a DIY YouTube guide playing in the background may not cut it. Instead of saving a few bucks, this can easily vacuum out your wallet in the long run. With an expert around, you can be rest assured that the lower control arm is not going to give up anytime soon.
The following YouTube video will give you a good visual idea about the whole process.
Aftermarket vs OEM parts
As is the case of any automotive spare part, OEM parts can be more expensive than their aftermarket equivalents. Choosing an aftermarket part sourced from a low-cost manufacturer can save you some buck at first. But, the new control arm may start making even weirder noises after a while. This will pave way for an even bigger expense. Not to mention the hassle of visiting a garage and stripping apart your car’s front end again.
The control arm is a key mechanical part and skimping on its cost is not a great idea. If your aftermarket part is made by a renowned manufacturer, yes, it is okay to go forward. But an unmarked box, possibly from China, will most probably not be a cost saver.
Different types of lower control arm bushings
Generally, the bushings of a lower control arm are made of rubber. Most stock cars utilize rubber for their bushings. Rubber being a soft compound, flexes more under load, smoothening the ride out. But this property of rubber bites it back too. The flexibility of rubber scores a hit on its durability. Rubber bushings of lower control arms can wear away quicker than other types of bushings, which we will talk about in a while.
But fret not, having a rubber bushing does not mean that you will have to replace your lower control arm every 10,000 miles. They really can last a long while.
Now, what if you are ready to sacrifice some ride comfort in favor of more durability? Then Polyurethane or PU bushings may be the right fix for you. These bushings are made of a flexible polymer that is more durable than rubber. Though flexible, a PU bushing in a lower control arm may not flex as much as that of a rubber bushing equipped control arm. This lower flexibility blesses the PU bushings with the ability to outlast rubber.
But the lower flexibility of PU bushings can take a hit on ride comfort. It will not soak up bumps as well as rubber bushings, letting some judders creep into the cabin. PU bushings, hence are good for a weekend blast of spirited driving but not your daily school run. If your kids laugh when fed with G forces, that is a different story.
And if you are completely deranged, you can add aluminum bushing. It gives absolutely no flex whatsoever but it can be as stiff as a rock, the perfect trait for a track machine? So if you have a project car in your garage waiting to be turned into a track rocket, you may want to throw a couple of aluminum bearings at it.
Wrapping it up
The significance of the lower control arm and its health must be crystal clear to you by now. It is extremely important that the bushings and ball joint of the lower control arm be kept in top condition. Any negligence in its timely replacement can cause a life-threatening injury, not just to you but also to fellow road users.
The repair bill of more than $150-500 may look like a steep hill. But on the other side, a massive mountain of accidental repairs and possible injuries awaits. So, it may be the best decision to keep an eye on its health and replace it as soon as it wears down.
The key to a proper repair job is to find an experienced mechanic nearby. A person who knows their way around automobile components will be a valuable asset for you. Not just for this replacement, but for the general health of your car.
Utilize platforms like Google, Yelp etc. to sift through your local garages list to find the one with the best reviews. If they are good enough to score a bunch of 5 stars from a bunch of people, it will be good enough for you.