There’s a lot of components in your car that play a role in its handling and stability. This includes the suspension springs, the wheel bearings, the CV joints, and yes, the sway bar as well. While the sway bar is rarely talked about, it plays a major role in your car’s handling. The sway bar itself will last a very long time, but the sway bar links will go bad over time. When the sway bar link goes bad, your car’s handling will start to feel off and you will need to replace it. We’ll discuss the sway bar link replacement cost, how it works, and why you should replace a bad sway bar link.
What is a Sway Bar?
Before we get into the sway bar link replacement cost, it’s important to know how the component works. Sway bars, or sometimes called stabilizers or anti-roll bars, helps to keep your car stable during cornering. As the name suggests, it also helps to stop it from rolling over in extreme conditions. It does this by connecting the left and right suspension via the control arm and leveling them during cornering.
When one suspension goes up when cornering, the sway bar will produce a torque that forces the other suspension to go up as well. This is necessary because when a car corners, the suspension on the outer side will lower down. By using a sway bar, it helps to bring the suspension to a more equal level, making the car more level and stable while cornering. So, for example, if you’re cornering to the left, the left suspension will rise while the right suspension will compress and lowers down. This makes the car lean to the right and will make it unstable, as a lot of the weight and force is now on the right side. The sway bar will help to stabilize the car by raising the right suspension, making the car level and more controllable.
The sway bar is usually located at the front suspension, but some cars have a sway bar for the rear suspension as well. They’re usually very strong and will last a lifetime. You will only need to replace a sway bar when there’s major damage to it. Such as when you get into a terrible accident that affects the sway bar’s structure and strength. However, the sway bar links will need a replacement over time.
Watch this excellent video from Engineering Explained to learn more about how sway bars work:
What’s a Sway Bar Link?
The sway bar links are what connect the sway bar itself to your car’s control arm. The links usually have two ball joints at each end, one to connect to the control arm and the other connects to the sway bar. The sway bar needs these links since the sway bar themselves are not flexible, and the links allow for some flexibility that is necessary for the system.
As we know, ball joints will wear out over time. They will often become loose which lessens the sway bar’s ability to keep the car stable as it’s now less stiff than it was. Bad sway bar links mean they will move around more freely, which isn’t ideal for your car’s suspension assembly. Thankfully, sway bar links last quite a long time. There’s no exact estimate on how long they last, but it will likely last the car’s lifetime. However, because of the stress they endure, there will come a time where you will need to replace them.
Signs You Need a Sway Bar Link Replacement
As mentioned, sway bar links are likely to last the car’s lifespan, but they will inevitably need to be replaced. Here are the signs that you need a sway bar link replacement:
The Car Feels Unstable During Cornering
Since the sway bar plays an important role in the car’s stability, you will notice stability issues when negotiating a corner if you have a bad sway bar link. You will notice the car struggles to find grip at times. A bad sway bar link may also cause the car to lean more to one side than usual when you’re cornering. Additionally, sudden bumps and potholes may also upset the car’s handling when it normally shouldn’t.
While it’s not the only component in the suspension assembly that can cause this, it’s worth checking the sway bar and the links if you notice this.
A bad sway bar link may make rattling and squeaking noises as you drive along. This typically happens when you’re cornering or going on a rough road. This is usually caused by the deterioration of the bushings, which makes the links less stable and firm and more prone to rattling. When the links are in a really bad condition, you may even notice the noise as you’re driving on a smooth road.
Keep in mind that bad sway bar links are not the only possible cause of weird noises. Bad CV joints and wheel bearings may be the culprit rather than the sway bar links. In any case, your car really shouldn’t make any noise other than noise from the engine and exhaust. If you notice any unusual noises in your car, you should have it checked, find what’s causing it, and fix it immediately. Chances are it’s quite serious.
Car Swerves on its Own
When the links are in a really bad condition, you will notice significant changes in the handling even when going in a straight line. The car may feel unstable and the handling will be easily upset by the smallest bumps and potholes. In some conditions, it will swerve on its own even on slightly rough roads. This will often feel like the car isn’t well-put-together, as if there’s a loose connection between the steering and the wheels.
Visibly Worn Out
If you notice any of the signs above, it would be wise to visually inspect your car’s sway bar links. Thankfully, sway bars are easy to check as you won’t need to remove anything in most cars. Simply get under your car, remove the mudguard if necessary (this is usually true in SUV and trucks), and visually inspect the sway bar links.
Check for signs of damage on the links, see if there are any signs of wear and tear on the rubber bushings. If they become loose, you will also be able to easily move the links with your hands, which really shouldn’t happen. Also, check if the sway bar links are disconnected from either the sway bar or the control arm. If it is, you should immediately have it fixed as it can be very dangerous to drive in that condition.
Sway Bar Link Replacement Cost
When the sway bar links go bad, there are usually two parts you will need to replace which are the sway bar links and the sway bar bushings. As with any car parts, the cost will vary from one car to another. The average sway bar link replacement cost is usually between $125 to $160 including labor. The links themselves cost between $40 to $110 each, while the labor will set you back anywhere between $50 to $70. For example, a sway bar link for a 2005 Toyota RAV4 costs $43.50. If you need to replace both, then it will be $87 for just the sway bar links.
The average cost for the stabilizer bushing is also similar at around $125 to $160 in total. But the bushings themselves are actually much cheaper. For example, the front stabilizer bushing for a Toyota RAV4 is just $12.35 each.
So, if you need to replace both sway bar links and bushings, you will likely have to pay upwards of $320. If you need to replace the rear sway bar links as well, then you will need around $640. This sounds expensive, but most of the time you will only need to replace just one of the links. Additionally, when you do multiple replacement jobs for several components in one area of the car, you will often get a discount for the labor.
This goes without saying, but there’s a chance that these parts will cost more for luxury, performance cars, and trucks. Most of the time they don’t cost that much more, but it can be more expensive in some cars.
Reducing Sway Bar Link Replacement Cost: DIY
As always, if you want to save some money, you can do the replacement job yourself. However, because the sway bar assembly plays an important role in your car’s handling and stability, we don’t actually recommend doing this yourself. Unless you’re a professionally trained mechanic or sure of your DIY skills, you should just pay the labor cost and have a professional do it for you.
That being said, the process is actually quite simple and falls in the moderate to difficult category. If you have the right tools and you follow the guide, you should be able to do this on your own. Here’s how to replace the sway bar link yourself to reduce the sway bar link replacement cost:
What You Will Need
The tools and items that you will need to the replacement job yourself are as follows:
- Jack and jack stands
- Lug wrench
- A penetrating lubricant such as WD-40
- A ratchet
- A pry bar
- Socket set
- Wheel chocks
- Replacement sway bar links
How to Replace Sway Bar Links
- Engage the parking brake and set a wheel chock on the tire that won’t be removed to keep the car in its place.
- Loosen the wheel nuts, then raise the car and put it on jack stands. Once done, remove the wheel nuts and remove the wheel.
- Locate the sway bar you’re going to replace. There should be two lug nuts holding the sway bar link in place. Start by removing the top one first and then the lower one. If you see rust or the lug nuts are difficult to remove, spray it with penetrating lubricant. Wait for a few minutes and then proceed to remove the lug nuts.
- Once both nuts are removed, use the pry bar to apply pressure to the sway bar. Do this close to the sway bar link and it will help to remove the links.
- Use the pry bar once again to apply pressure and install the new sway bar link. Make sure it’s correctly installed as the ends of the links can look similar.
- Once the link is in place, install and tighten the nuts to the appropriate torque specification, you should be able to find this in your owner’s manual.
- Reinstall the wheel back on the car and tighten the lug nuts. Repeat the process for the other sway bar links you’ll need to replace.
How to Replace Sway Bar Bushings
While we’re at it, let’s discuss how to replace the sway bar bushings as well. Chances are, you will need to replace them alongside the links. Here’s how to do it:
- Park and raise the car, just like you would when you replace the sway bar links.
- Locate the sway bar bushings. They are typically located on the lower control arm and are mounted to the car’s chassis.
- Loosen and remove the bolts and screws that keep the bushing in place and remove the bracket. Afterward, slide the bushing off the sway bar.
- It’s recommended that you also clean the sway bar and mounts. Use sandpaper or a wire brush if necessary.
- Lightly grease the sway bar, bushings, and mounts. Then slide the bushing over the sway bar and finally cover it with the bracket. Tighten the nuts and bolts to the appropriate torque specification.
Keep in mind that some cars may have a different suspension assembly and the method to replacing the sway bar bushings will be different. Here’s a guide from ChrisFix to help you understand how to replace sway bar links and bushings:
Sway Bar Link Replacement Cost: Questions & Answers
Do I Need to Replace Both Sway Bar Links?
As mentioned, there are two sway bar links on each side of the car. When one goes bad, do you need to replace the other one as well? Usually no, but your mechanic may recommend that you replace both of them anyway. Since the two links wear out at about the same rate, it might help save some time and money to replace both at the same time.
That being said, as long as the other one is in good condition, you can get away with replacing just one of them. But we recommend doing this only when money is really tight, and you’ve verified that the other link is in good condition. Otherwise, replace them both.
Is Replacing the Sway Bar Bushing Necessary as Well?
As mentioned, the sway bar links are what connect the sway bar to the suspension assembly via the control arm. Meanwhile, the sway bar bushings are what connects the sway bar itself to the chassis of the car. These bushings allow the sway bar to float and react to the movement of the car.
They are usually made from rubber, urethane, or polyurethane. When they go bad, it will interfere with the weight shifting in the car, making the car unpredictable and difficult to control. So if they go bad, yes, you will need to replace them as well.
Signs of a bad sway bar bushing include squeaking and rattling noises from underneath the car, as well as sluggish or unresponsive handling. Check the bushings to see if they are still in good condition and replace them if necessary.
How Do I Pick the Right Sway Bar Links?
If you’re buying OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), that is the sway bar links that are made by your car’s original manufacturer, simply pick the correct part for your car model and year. It’s fairly straightforward and they will fit your car perfectly and work well without any problems.
If you’re buying aftermarket or third-party sway bars to save some money, then make sure it has the correct specification for your car. They will list this information on their website and you can easily check whether it fits your car or not. More often than not they will even list what cars that the part will fit.
We don’t really recommend this if you’re trying to save a few bucks. The reason is that some aftermarket or non-OEM parts may have questionable quality. Buying an inferior product may affect your car’s handling and they may not last as long. They’re usually aren’t that much cheaper anyway. However, if you’re adamant about buying aftermarket, make sure to read user reviews to make sure there are no quality issues. It would also be wise to find a seller or brand that offers a warranty.
Do I Need Performance Sway Bars?
Okay, so maybe you’re browsing for sway bar links and you found out that you can replace it for a performance sway bar. If you like, you can buy an aftermarket performance sway bar and links. These will usually help with handling performance. They are also adjustable, meaning you can adjust the stiffness of the sway bar so you can tune it to get the most performance. This will also help you to set up your car to fit your driving style and preference.
While they’re not that much more expensive, we generally don’t recommend using a performance sway bar. Unless you like to take your car to a racetrack or you want to improve handling, there’s really no need for performance sway bars and you should just get OEM parts instead. Even if you want better handling, there are other ways to do that and it may yield better results. Additionally, your sway bar is probably in a good condition anyway, so why replace something that isn’t broken?
This video from Donut Media explores whether or not performance sway bars are actually worth it:
How Long Will My New Sway Bar Links Last?
As mentioned, sway bar links typically last very long. It’s unlikely you will ever need to replace the sway bar links in your car. Especially if you have a relatively new car that’s less than 10 years old. So as long as there is no external factor that causes damage to your new way bar links, it should last until you have to sell your current car. There’s no need to worry that your sway bar links will fail anytime soon after you replace them.
Can I Drive with a Bad Sway Bar Link?
You can, but you shouldn’t. We’ve mentioned countless times that the sway bar assembly is responsible for your car’s handling and stability. A bad sway bar link won’t do its job properly and ruins the handling of your car. It may be fine in most conditions (if the damage isn’t too bad). But in extreme driving conditions, it can put you and everyone around you at significant risk.
To summarize, the sway bar is there to keep your vehicle under control, especially during cornering. It works by forcing the suspension on the outside corner of the car to level up, aligning with the inside suspension. The car will then corner flatter so it’ll have better weight distribution during cornering. The sway bar links are what connect the sway bar itself to the control arm. Meanwhile, the bushings mount the sway bar to the chassis of the car.
Sway bars typically last a lifetime since they’re not really a moving part, and will only need to be replaced when there’s an external factor that causes damage to the sway bar. Such as when you get into an accident. However, the sway bar links are a moving part and they will wear down over time, reducing their ability to keep the car stable and ruining the handling. If you have a bad sway bar link, we recommend immediately replacing it. Compromised handling and stability can put you at significant risk while you’re driving.
Sway bar links are relatively cheap to replace. Each sway bar link should cost no more than $160. So if you’re replacing both links, the total should only be at around $320 including labor. Hopefully, we’ve helped you understand what a sway bar link is, why it’s important, and hopefully helped you make an informed decision before fixing your car.