For a vehicle to have stable steering and good handling, its tires need to have good contact with the road. This is made possible by the suspension system, which is also designed to evenly support the vehicle and reduce shocks from road bumps. It also helps make rides more comfortable.
A typical suspension system consists of many different components, including the tires, springs, linkages, bushings, ball joints, struts, sway bars, shock absorbers, and control arms.
As part of the suspension system, control arms help the wheels safely follow the contours of the road. They usually hold the steering knuckles, which support the wheel assemblies, and connect these to the frame of the vehicle. What the control arm does to assist the suspension system is to allow the wheels’ vertical movement and limit their surge, or forward and backward movement.
Depending on the design, a vehicle can have just one control arm on each side of the vehicle or both an upper and lower arm on each side.
Driving With Broken Control Arms: What Can Happen
Having damaged control arms and worn bushings or ball joints could cause suspension parts to become misaligned. When this occurs, you may experience issues with steering and handling.
In extreme cases, driving with bad control arms could lead to loss of control or inability to steer due to the wheel and tire assembly moving outward from the vehicle. If the ball joints break, the wheels could also fall off.
What Causes a Control Arm to Break?
Although control arms are usually made of metal, they can feature parts that are made of other materials. Usually, they include rubber or polyurethane bushings that can have metal sleeves, as well as ball joints that are composed of metal and rubber or plastic parts. These components are more susceptible to wear and damage from use, unlike metal control arms, which are most likely to be damaged by significant impact or collisions.
Over time, bushings and ball joints can wear out due to friction, heat, and stress from various loads and movement. They can also degrade from exposure to corrosive or abrasive elements such as road salt, mud, and automotive fluids.
Harsh conditions, like driving on rough terrain, can accelerate the wear and tear of control arm bushings and ball joints. Also, without enough lubrication, bushings can dry out and crack, while the surfaces of the ball joints can grind against each other.
Bad Control Arm Symptoms
Driving with worn or damaged control arms may lead to safety issues, so it’s best to make sure that control arms remain in good condition. Some signs that a control arm or its bushings and ball joints are starting to fail are:
When the bushings or ball joints have become worn out, the control arms may make clunking or banging noises when driving over bumps, or when accelerating or braking.
The misalignment of suspension components due to bad control arms can result in pulling or veering towards one side.
This issue becomes more apparent when driving over bumps or through rough and uneven terrain.
Failing control arm bushings and ball joints may not be able to hold the steering knuckles firmly, causing the steering wheel to shimmy or steering to feel unresponsive.
Irregular Tire Wear
In addition to causing steering issues, bad control arms can also throw the suspension system out of alignment, leading to irregular tire wear.
Control Arm Replacement
Replacing a control arm can be tricky, particularly if the vehicle’s suspension is already rusted or corroded. Steps like separating the ball joint from the control arm will also be challenging for someone who’s never done it before.
You may find it simple to replace a front lower control arm on a vehicle with a MacPherson strut suspension. But if you’ve got a torsion bar suspension, you’ll need a lot of mechanical knowledge in order to complete this job. Check out this article on how to replace control arms for a detailed step-by-step guide.
If you’re unsure about how to proceed, it’s best to have your control arm replaced by a professional.
Control Arm Replacement Cost
The cost of replacing your vehicle’s control arms will depend on several factors, including your vehicle’s make, model, and year, and the type, design, and material of the control arms. If you aren’t planning on replacing it yourself, expect to pay for labor as well.
At CarParts.com, aftermarket control arms can cost anywhere from $2.30 to $3,176. They can be purchased individually or in sets. Meanwhile, replacement parts by original equipment manufacturers are typically only available at dealerships and can cost around 60 percent more.
If you’re planning a do-it-yourself control arm replacement project, you’ll only need to spend on the replacement parts, related hardware, and any tools that you don’t have on hand.
Make sure that the new parts have an exact fit and that you carefully follow the vehicle-specific part repair instructions. Failing to obtain a compatible part and not doing the replacement correctly could result in further expenses.
Also, remember to take your vehicle in for a wheel alignment after replacing the control arms.
Should you decide to go to a professional to have your control arms replaced, expect to shell out anywhere from around $500 to more than $1000. Repairs can cost even more for high-end vehicles, depending on which automotive repair services shop you visit. In some cases, the shop might already include the replacement parts in its initial costing.