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Understanding the suspension system of your car is vital, because it can be catastrophic if a part of your suspension system fails while driving. In the best-case scenario, if your suspension system isn't working well you are in for an uncomfortable ride. The worst-case scenario is that you may lose control of your car while driving. In some instances, if parts of your suspension system are not in working order, you won’t be able to drive.

Some lesser-known components of the suspension system are control arms. Understanding the role of this component in the suspension system and overall control of your vehicle can help you with the maintenance of your car.

What Does A Control Arm Do?

To keep it simple, the control arm is a link that connects the frame of the car to the wheel hub assembly or steering knuckle. Control arms can come in many different shapes in sizes, upper Control arms are often call “A” arms as they have a shape vaguely like a capital letter A. The control arm moves up and down in the event of a car hitting a bump or other road irregularity. This allows the tires to maintain contact with the road and, thus, control. The control arm is part of the suspension system that helps your car remain in full contact with the road at all times, that's giving you necessary control.

Essentially, the control arm helps you maintain control of the vehicle. If the control arm fails while driving, this is a very big problem and could cause an accident or injury.

You may wonder what happens if control arm breaks while driving. The bad news is that, in the event that the arm completely fails, you may lose the ability to steer while driving. Fortunately, there are a number of symptoms that appear when you need to replace your control arm. If you notice any of these symptoms, make sure to inspect your suspension or get your car to a trusted mechanic as soon as possible.

What are the Symptoms of a Bad Control Arm?

1

Popping Noise

One of the earliest signs of a failing control arm is hearing a popping noise when you drive over road irregularities. You may also hear a popping noise when you speed up or reduce the speed of your vehicle. It is possible that this means that your control arm is starting to fail. The control arm assembly is comprised of a metal framed body that houses bushings and ball joints. Often when you hear these noises that failure can be in these components as well.

2

Steering is Unstable

Another symptom indicating that your control arm may be experiencing problems is unstable steering. If the control arm is starting to fail, this affects the alignment of the steering and causes the car to veer either to the left or the right when the driver runs over a bump in the road. This issue becomes more apparent if the car is driving on uneven surfaces or unstable terrain. This symptom may also indicate that your idler arm or tie rods are in bad shape, as we will discuss later.
Consistent vibration throughout the vehicle is also an indicator that the control arm may be starting to fail. Given that the control arm absorbs a lot of the energy produced from driving over road irregularities, the vehicle may start to rattle when you drive it.

3

Uneven Tire Wear

Uneven tire wear is also a potential sign of a failing control arm. However, there are also many other things that may be causing uneven tire wear, including problems with the suspension alignment.

In sum, many signs of a failing control arm can be attributed to other problems with the car, but no matter what they are signs you need to inspect your vehicle or bring it to a shop. Particularly if you are not experienced with auto repair, it is important to get your car checked out regularly by a trusted mechanic in order to ensure that all components are working properly. If your car is rattling, for instance, that may be a sign of a failing control arm but it also could be a sign of other issues. Getting your car checked out at the first sign of trouble is the best way to avoid trouble down the road.

What is a Pitman Arm?

You probably hear the term pitman arm in conjunction with idler arm. The pitman arm and idler arm are found on conventional suspension systems. The pitman arm links the steering box to help translate steering wheel inputs to the direction the wheels are turned. The idler arm, on the other hand, acts as a support for the steering linkage.

A good way to ensure that you get every bit of life out of your idler arm is to make sure that you lubricate them every time you get your oil changed. Keeping your idler arm (and other suspension parts) well-lubricated is going to help it last longer and do a better job at supporting the suspension system.

What Should I Do if I Encounter Problems with the Control Arm?

If you are noticing any of the above symptoms, it is important to take your car to a mechanic to have it checked out. In the event that your control arm or another suspension link or arm fails while you are driving, you want to try to slow the car down and get it off the road if you can. Remember that in the event of a complete failure of the control arm that you may be unable to steer the car.

Replacement costs of a control arm or pitman arm depends on the make and model of your car as well as the general cost of mechanic labor in your area. A decent estimate is to expect to pay between $150 to $400 depending on what exactly is wrong with the suspension arm and your location.

Remember that you need to realign your wheels after you replace anything having to do with the control arm. This can add another $100 on to the cost of replacing the control arm. That may sound hefty, but having an out-of-alignment car is dangerous. Realigning the car helps ensure that the new control arm can do its job.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on AutoZone.com and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

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