Very Bad Things
A case could easily be made that suspension is the most important system on your 4x4. It is suspension that gives your rig the ability to drive over any road in comfort. It is suspension that allows you to traverse extreme terrain while keeping your tires on the ground. It is suspension that allows you to safely carry a load and still navigate a twisty road. Quality suspension also protects other systems on the vehicle from excessive shock and vibrations. So what do you do when your suspension develops a problem? How do you know when is a squeak just a squeak, and when does it become a life-threatening problem?
Diagnosing suspension problems can be frustrating, expensive, and time-consuming. It doesn’t matter if you have some clapped-out old ride or a high-dollar trail rig, no vehicle is immune from the problems associated with suspension. To help you understand the issues your rig faces, we compiled this general list of common suspension-related problems you may find on your 4x4.
Whether you are currently narrowing down suspension issues on your rig or not, it is important to remember to always inspect, re-torque, and grease your suspension components after every outing. This proper maintenance is the key to prolonging the life and durability of any suspension.
Bent Shock Shaft
What They Do: Shock shafts are part of the suspension system that damps wheel movement before it reaches the vehicle. The shock shaft, or piston rod, carries the shock piston on one end and provisions for mounting it on the other.
Symptoms: A bent shock shaft can cause a loss of shock travel, leaking seal (but not always), and a stiff ride depending on how severe the bend is.
Why They Go Bad: Common reasons for a bent shaft include hitting it against an object, improper suspension geometry, improper mounting or excessive misalignment, or over-articulation.
How To Fix: Usually this will require replacement of the shock, although most types of racing-style shocks can be rebuilt. The repair should always come with proper understanding of why the failure occurred in the first place.
Bad Ball Joints
What They Do: A ball joint is a spherical bearing that connects the steering knuckle to the control arm or axle. Ball joints allow the steering knuckle to be turned by the tie rod smoothly and without binding and are the pivot point between the wheels and suspension. On IFS-equipped vehicles, a ball joint has the additional duty of moving in a vertical plane with the control arms.
Symptoms: Early symptoms of a ball joint going bad could be wandering and/or clunking. In severe cases, the ball joint can completely fail causing the separation of the steering knuckle from a control arm. This would result in the driver losing control and crashing.
Why They Go Bad: Ball joints are made in both serviceable and non-serviceable variations. Serviceable ball joints need to be lubricated on a regular basis and non-serviceable ball joints become an issue once the seal breaks, as the joint will dry out and begin to rust. From there it is only a matter of time until failure. Other issues that can cause ball joint failure are larger and heavier wheels and tires, increased wheel backspacing, and on IFS rigs, overextension of the suspension.
How To Fix: Heavier-duty replacement ball joints are available in the aftermarket. Look for high-angle versions if you have an IFS rig.
Track Bar Hijinks
What They Do: Laterally locates the axle on solid axle suspensions with a link-coil design.
Symptoms: Track bars take a lot of load and an improperly adjusted, damaged, or loose track bar can cause the axle to sit off-center, cause clunking or popping when steering or going over bumps, and can cause the steering wheel to be off-center. A telling sign that there is a problem with a front track bar is a front axle that moves laterally with the steering wheel.
Why They Go Bad: Track bars can bend or break after suspension modifications or improper installation techniques. Improper grade bolts can break, while the wrong-sized bolt can oval-out or otherwise damage a bushing. Common hardware failures result from failure to re-torque after install. Normal wear and tear can also take their toll on track bars.
How To Fix: Track bars that suffered from a hardware failure should be properly reinstalled and torqued to spec. Failed track bars should be rebuilt or replaced, depending on the type of damage to the bar.