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  • How to fix a car's clunks, rattles & suspension noise

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    • This guide describes how to quickly and easily identify what is making your car clunk, rattle, rumble or clang from the type of noise it makes, and then what you need to do to fix it. Most procedures described here are easily within the grasp of a competent home mechanic, but working on your suspension and drive train can be dangerous (especially replacing springs) if done incorrectly, so please read this disclaimer (click here) anyway.
    • Introduction
    • When your car develops a clunk or rattle when going over bumps in the road or starts to make an odd sound when driving, often the biggest issue is identifying which drive or suspension component is causing the noise so you can replace it. In the past I have spent some considerable time and money gradually testing and replacing parts until I eventually found the "bad" one and fixed it. Many years on, I've found that there is an easier way.
    • This guide will help you track down the failed part using the 'LIT' process, which has three simple steps - Listen, Inspect, Test. If you have ever heard an engineer ask whether the cause of a problem has been "lit up", it is this test he is talking about. Although there are only a few types of suspension and final drive out there in cars, there are many different implementations of each type. So while this guide will show you how to identify which part has failed, it does not tell you how to replace the broken part as the approach will be dependant on the make and model of your car.
    • Is it safe to drive my car? How much will it cost to fix?
    • How long is a piece of string? The good news is that the most common unusual noises your car can are usually fairly cheap and easy to fix yourself in many makes of car. In addition, the most common noises that are caused by general suspension failures are usually not critical to your immediate safety - a car's suspension is designed to fail safely because it takes such a hammering on the road. For example, most people will have driven for 6 months or more by the time a routine service identifies that a component has failed and replaces it. However, just because most people are clueless it does not mean you should be. You should NEVER just ignore suspension noise as:
    • (1) until you have inspected the suspension, drive and brakes you have no idea whether it relates to something more serious.
    • (2) if left unfixed over a period of time, catastrophic component failure will eventually happen anyway with potentially life threatening consequences.
    • To fully identify your car's problem you'll need to visually inspect the components. Once you have done this and identified what is making the noise, you can now make an informed decision about whether you can continue to drive the car until you get it fixed. This guide gives you my opinion on how safe it is to drive, it is just what "I" would do with most cars, it doesn't mean your car is actually "safe to drive". Whether or not it is "safe" will depend on how badly the component has failed as well as on the type of suspension mechanics and geometry used. Also, "safe" is a relative word. If you drive like a loon, with your pedal pressed to the metal, any suspension or general failure is "unsafe to drive". In all cases drive carefully (if you intend to drive at all) until you have your car's problem fixed and never drive if you suspect a brake caliper related failure.
    • How to identify what is causing your suspension noise through the LIT process
    • The table below shows you how to Listen, Inspect and Test to identify the broken component that is making the unusual noise. Note that not all cars will have all the components listed in the table within their specific type of suspension or general structure. The table has 3 main "LIT" columns. Start with Listen column and identify the location (front left, rear right, centre of car) and type of noise, this is the first step in narrowing your search. Next visually Inspect the listed components for the damage described. Finally, carry out the Test shown in the table on any damaged components to confirm whether they have failed. You should also be aware that the Listen column describes the most likely noise failure of a component will make and is there to help you narrow down the cause, it is not a definitive test as failed components can make a variety of noises depending on how much they have been degraded.
    • Component & Suspension Noise Identification Table

      Listen Inspect Test

      "Tunk" or "Clunk" noise only when braking. It sounds like something heavy is banging a wheel.

      STOP DRIVING IMMEDIATELY

      Brake caliper - immediately stop driving and inspect your brake caliper for loose and missing caliper bolts. This failure is rare, but happened to me and is potentially life threatening should your caliper fall off the hub spider. No test is required as inspection will reveal if the caliper has become loose or partially detached.
      Heavier dull "Clunk" sounding noise only on large bumps.

      Lower suspension arm bushes - look for perished rubber and signs of excessive play or slippage.

      Use a tyre iron or crowbar to lever the joints up and down at the bushes to test for play. On most vehicles more than 1/4 inch of play indicates failure.

      Upper suspension arm bushes - look for perished rubber and signs of excessive play or slippage.

      Use a tyre iron or crowbar to lever the joints up and down at the bushes to test for play. On most vehicles more than 1/4 inch of play indicates failure.
      Ant-roll bar (sway bar) bushes - look for perished rubber and signs of excessive play or slippage. Use a tyre iron or crowbar to lever the joints up and down at the bushes to test for play. On most vehicles more than 1/4 inch of play indicates failure.
      Lighter, almost rattling, but dull "Tunk" sounding noises over uneven roads and bumps. Sounds like something is loose. Noise reduces or disappears at higher speeds.

      Drop links - look for snapped anti-roll bar drop links and worn/perished rubber bushes at their ends.

      Jack up the car and safely support it on axle stands. Disconnect the drop links on both sides of the anti-roll bar from the suspension arms and securely tape them up. Go for brief and careful drive over some bumps. If the noise has gone, the culprit was the drop link. However, be careful and do not drive at speed as your car will exhibit more body roll around corners without the drop-links.
      Dampers (shocks)- look for worn/perished bushes at the ends of the dampers. Look for excessive corrosion on the body of the damper which may have led to a leak in fluid or gas. Open the bonnet and boot of the car and inspect the top seats of the dampers for corrosion and loose mounting bolts. Jack up the car and safely support it on axle stands. Grab the damper by its body and give it a solid shove up & down and back & forth, movement indicates possible failure. Open the bonnet and boot of the car and while repeating this test inspect the top seats of the dampers for movement. Movement indicates possible rubber bush failure or loose mounting bolts.
      Almost ringing "Clang" or "Tang" or "Clung" sounding noise, over large bumps and/or when jacking up the car and unloading the suspension.

      Springs - inspect the springs for cracks and breakages. Make sure you look carefully in each spring seat (top and bottom) to see if the spring has broken at the end.

      No test is necessary as a broken spring can easily be identified on sight.

      Lower suspension arm bearing - look for signs of a seized bearing like excessive "red" rust around the bearing.

      Jack up the car slowly at the corner where the seized bearing is located. As the suspension unloads watch the bearing closely to see if it operates smoothly rather than suddenly unloading.
      Upper suspension arm bearing - look for signs of a seized bearing like excessive "red" rust around the bearing. Jack up the car slowly at the corner where the seized bearing is located. As the suspension unloads watch the bearing closely to see if it operates smoothly rather than suddenly unloading.
      Clicking, popping or snapping sound over bumps. May also occur when stationary as you turn the steering. Progresses eventually to a "Clunk" sound if left unfixed.

      Lower ball joint - inspect the rubber gaiter around the ball joint for splits and signs of perishing that have allowed dirt into the joint

      Use a tyre iron or crowbar to lever the joints up and down at the ball to test for play. Any play indicates failure as the ball in the joint should not move vertically.
      Upper Ball Joint - inspect the rubber gaiter around the ball joint for splits and signs of perishing that have allowed dirt into the joint Use a tyre iron or crowbar to lever the joints up and down at the ball to test for play. Any play indicates failure as the ball in the joint should not move vertically.
      "Creak" sound as you turn the steering, which disappears or reduces when driving at speed. Note that this only applies to cars with McPherson struts. McpHerson strut seats - check the seats for signs of "red" rust and wear. This is usually fairly conclusive of failure. Get a friend to turn the steering as you listen for noise at McpHerson strut seats. Jack up the car, support it on stands and firmly grasp the McpHerson strut and attempt to move them laterally. Excessive movement at the seat indicates failure.
      General rubbing, grinding or rumbling sound when driving from one side of the car. Wheel Bearing - No inspection is required, proceed to the test section Jack up the car, grab the wheel at the 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions. Attempt to waggle the wheel back and forth. On a front wheel drive car any loose movement indicates failure. On a rear wheel drive car there will be a little play, but this should not be excessive.
      Regular and repeated "Click" or "Tunk" only when turning a sharp corner and loudest at very low speeds. Usually only occurs when turning in one direction. CV Joints - The sound a failing CV joint makes is usually distinctive and conclusive. However, inspect the CV rubber gaiters for splits as this will confirm a likely failure. If you are unsure of which CV joint has failed then you can get a friend to slowly drive your car while making sharp turns. During these manoeuvres listen to each wheel to determine from which side the noise is coming.
      "Shhhh-sh-shhhh-sh" light intermittent rubbing sound from one side of the car. Brake disc guard and brake caliper - inspect the dust guard and caliper. Check for loose caliper bolts . Check that the dust guard isn't bent and fouling the brake disc. Note that a bent dust guard isn't a major concern, but that a loose caliper is extremely dangerous and must be corrected immediately. Note that inspection is enough to identify this fault. However, you can also take the car for a drive and apply the brakes gently and progressively. If the rubbing sound stops then a loose caliper may be indicated although this is not conclusive. Note that driving with a loose caliper is extremely dangerous and you should stop and inspect the car immediately.
       
    How to identify what is making the strange sound or causing suspension noise in your car  @ www.jamesandtracy.co.uk

    Quickly and easily identify what is making the unusual noise in your car. Fix those - clunks rattles and rumbles!

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