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Maintaining the Suspension and Steering

 

Today's suspension and steering systems are relatively dependable and trouble-free; however, there are a few things you should do to keep both in good working order:

·           Lubrication

·           Repack the wheel bearings

·           Check the power steering fluid level

·           Regular inspection

·           Alignment 

In most cases, you'll only want to check the power steering fluid your­self. The other services usually require a lift and other equipment and are more suited to being done at a repair shop.

 If the fluid is low, you'll have to add some. Most auto parts stores carry power steering fluid, or you can use automatic transmission fluid. Be careful not to overfill the pump. If the fluid level gets too high, it could push out the top when you turn the wheel hard and spray all over the engine.Once you have the level set properly, reinstall the cap or dipstick. That's all there is to checking the power steering fluid. 

Lubrication 

This is the "lube" part of the "lube, oil and filter" that you're supposed to have done at least four times a year. It involves pumping fresh grease into the ball joints, tie-rod ends and other rotating components in the steering '• and suspension system. Failure to have the suspension and steering lubed regularly can cause the components to wear and eventually fail. 

Some cars have sealed suspension and steering systems from the factory. These systems usually have small plugs installed where the grease fittings normally go. If your car has plugs instead of grease fittings, have your repair shop install the grease fittings so they can lubricate the suspension and steering properly. 

Repacking the Wheel Bearings 

Wheel bearings are ball or roller bearings that hold the wheels straight on the axle while allowing them to rotate. On drive axles, those bearings usually are either lubricated by the axle oil or are sealed components and won't require service unless they fail. 

On most non-drive wheels, the wheel bearings will need to be repacked occasionally. Repacking the bearings means removing and inspecting them, forcing, or packing, new bearing grease in between the bearings and races, replacing the seal and adjusting the bearing tension. The bearings that usually need to be repacked are the front-wheel bearings on rear-wheel drive cars and the rear-wheel bearings on front-wheel drive cars. 

On front-wheel drive cars, the rear-wheel bearings don't get exposed to a lot of heat or load. In general, you should be able to get away with repack­ing them when the brakes get replaced. But on rear-wheel drive cars, the front-wheel bearings take quite a bearing. The additional heat from the front brakes, combined with the extra load caused by turning the wheels, really puts a lot of stress on the wheel bearings. 

Inspection 

Most state inspection programs include a suspensions and steering check.  This involves checking the ball joints, tie-rod ends, and other components for looseness or wear, and a visual examination of any bushings and other components.  And it usually includes a bounce check for the shock absorbers or struts. 

If your state requires this type of inspection, great.  In most cases, that should be all you need to make sure your car’s suspension and steering are in good working order.  But if your state doesn’t have a safety inspection program, or it doesn’t include this level of inspection, you should take your car I and have it checked at least once a year.  A good time to do this is right before vacation, to make sure your car’s suspension and steering will handle the additional miles without leaving you stranded. 

Wheel Alignment 

A few years ago, this was called “front-end alignment.”  But today, an alignment involves much more than just the front end.  On most cars, an alignment means aligning the rear wheels with the centerline of the car and then aligning the front wheels to the rear wheels.  This brings the whole car into alignment to provide additional tire life and better handling characteristics. 

Depending on the shop you use, this type of alignment will carry names like thrust angle alignment, or four-wheel alignment.  In general, these terms mean the same thing: aligning all four wheels to the center line of the car.  

How often should you have your car’s alignment checked?  

You should have it checked if you notice any of these conditions: 

·           Unusual tire wear 

·           A pull or drift to one side – that doesn’t mean you should take your hands off the steering wheel.  Different levels of road crown will cause that type of drift.  But if you feel the steering pulling one way or the other, have the alignment checked. 

·           You hit a severe pothole or curb, and the steering feels different than it did before.

 

Remember to explain the reason you want an alignment checked so the repair shop knows what to look for.  In addition, you should have the alignment checked when you get new tires. This is just an insurance policy to help make sure you get the most miles out of your new tires. 

Most manufacturers also recommend you get your wheels aligned at least once a year.  This isn’t a bad idea, and it will help keep your tires in good shape.  However, it isn’t necessarily a cost-effective consideration.  If you do decide to have your wheels aligned yearly, a good time to do so is right before your vacation, so your car will handle properly during the miles you’ll be driving.

 

Also see

Your Car's Mechanical Condition

No Monkey Business Allowed Here!- Steps for Choosing a Mechanic  -some must-know questions to ask before choosing a mechanic.

Putting the Stop to Your Brakes -is your car exhibiting any of this potential warning signs?  Find out more.

Oil Change Every 3000 Miles - Good Advice or Just a Sales Pitch? -do you really need to change your oil every 3000 miles?  The answer may surprise you.

Best Auto Repair Manuals for the Do-It-Yourselfer -are you the fix-it-yourself type?  Find great sources for your manuals.

 

This webpage is brought to you for general information purposes only and there are no warranties as to accuracy, completeness, or results obtained from any information posted on this or any linked website.


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