Steering and Suspension
Collapsing suspension due to coil spring failure seems to be a growing problem – caused by a combination of recent harsh winter conditions and weight-saving designs.
AA patrols have reported a significant increase in the number of broken coil springs – in the year to February 2011, we saw more than 21,000 breakdowns related to spring failure.
The number of broken springs in January 2011 was 25% higher than in January 2010. Figures from 2012 show no signs of the problem going away.
On older cars with reasonably small diameter and narrow wheels, the damage was usually confined to the spring itself when one broke.
Modern cars fitted with much bigger/wider wheels for better looks and handling, but the penalty is that the tyre sidewall is much closer to corrosion.
Most often, coil spring failure seems to be caused by corrosion, accelerated by salt applied to the roads in winter.
The corrosion exposes the material’s microstructure to the atmosphere, which makes it susceptible to a process known as hydrogen embrittlement of the spring. If a spring breaks, tyre damage is much more likely.
Prevent Suspension Corrosion
During winter and early spring, a regular clean underneath the car with a hose or pressure washer may help extend spring life.
Uneven Tyre Wear
A common symptom of worn ball joints is uneven tyre wear. This occurs when the suspension and wheels are misaligned, leading to the tyres not meeting the road properly.
Instead of being centred with the weight of the tyres in the middle of the tyre, the tyres wear on the edges or possibly the centre of the tyre.
This is visible because the tread of the tyres will wear at a greater rate at specific points of the tyre than others. In some cases, the tyres wear so much that the threads stick out.
The most common pattern of tyre wear associated with a defective ball joint is camber wear. This is a tyre wear specific to one side of the tyre because of the uneven suspension.
Suspension And Steering
One of the most dangerous conditions that could occur from worn ball joints is problems with the steering.
If a ball joint is worn or damaged, it will not allow the steering mechanism to turn the wheels fluidly in response to the driver.
This makes steering difficult and makes driving the car dangerous, especially if the driver needs to take sudden evasive action.
A worn ball joint can make the steering feel either too loose or too tight, depending on how the ball joint and socket are wearing.
If the ball joint and socket are wearing out together, the ball joint will become smaller while the size of the socket gap will increase. This will increase the tolerance in the joint and make the steering feel loose or sloppy.
However, a worn ball joint can also cause tight steering, making it hard to turn the car quickly and feel like the car is losing power steering.
Loud Noises From The Steering
A ball joint will make loud noises as it begins to wear. These noises can start as minor clicks felt in the steering wheel. They gradually increase to loud thumps and clunking as the ball joint’s damage gets worse.
The noise can be especially noticeable when the car’s weight shifts too and from the wheel with the foul ball joint, such as when the vehicle drives over a pothole.