How To Maintain Your Auto Chassis
Your vehicle’s chassis, which includes the steering and suspension system, is full of components that are constantly in-motion. Because of this, many of these components consistently need servicing in the form of lubrication. Traditionally, vehicles of old often had 20-30 different lubrication-points on them, leading to the phrase “Oil and Lube” for the frequent oil changes and lubrication needed. Over time, many of these components on modern automobiles and trucks were designed to be sealed systems, requiring no lubrication, but many serviceable components still remain. Understanding which components on your vehicle need lubrication, and following this schedule every six months is the best way to keep these components functioning properly, and from failing prematurely. Be sure to follow your vehicle’s service manual or online information on what chassis components under your vehicle are serviceable (greaseable), and plan on tackling them every 6 months, or 2 oil changes.
KNOW THE CHASSIS LUBRICATION POINTS
Chassis lubrication not only covers the actual lubrication of these components, but also a visual inspection to determine that the lubricant is staying where it should. Here are some common lubrication points on vehicles.
- Sway bar bushings and end-links
- Control Arm Bushings
- Ball Joints (King Pins on older vehicles)
- Tie Rod Ends (Inner and Outer)
- Drag Links, Idler Arms, some Pitman Arms
On vehicles using U-joints in the driveshaft, many of these are greaseable and should be considered when doing chassis lubrication.
HOW TO LUBRICATE CHASSIS PARTS
Once you have identified all the locations you will need to lubricate, you need to make them accessible. Since the chassis parts are mostly accessible from the underside of the car, that means it will need to be put up on jack stands or hoisted on a lift. If you are working without a full lift, remember to use secure jack stands and braces, not just a hydraulic jack. The weight distribution and secure placement you get with proper stands is a vital safety measure.
Next up, you’ll need to load your grease gun. Here’s how that works if you’ve never used one before:
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HOW TO LOAD A GREASE GUN
1. LOCK YOUR GREASE GUN
Pull back the plunger on the grease gun and lock it into place. You should feel a click when it locks. If you aren’t sure that it has locked, lower your draw pressure without letting go and see if it tries to retract. If it does, keep pulling. Some grease guns take a little muscle to lock open.
2. OPEN THE BARREL
Unscrew the main barrel that holds the grease. If you started with a loaded gun and you are reloading, remember to clear out the old grease tube.
3. OPEN THE CARTRIDGE
The new cartridge has a pull tab on one end to open it. That tab goes on the pump head side. The other side has a plastic cap, that goes on the plunger side.
4. LOAD THE GREASE TUBELOAD THE GREASE TUBE
Remove the plastic cap and pull tab, then seat the grease tube in the barrel. If your old tube had any extra left, pack it in to the new one
5. PUT IT BACK TOGETHER
Screw the barrel together, and give the grease gun a few pumps to insure you are getting grease out of the connecting coupler. Some grease guns have a draw handle that must be pulled back when installing a new cartridge, so check the manual for your grease gun to insure you are loading it properly
Now you’re ready to climb under the vehicle and lubricate the points you already identified. Of course, they can look a lot different once you are under the vehicle than they did when you were planning things out. Make sure you have an automotive maintenance manual on hand or search online for your exact lubrication points. Any serviceable component on the vehicle that can accept grease will have a grease zerk on it. This is a small nipple that accepts the grease guns connector, snapping onto it and allowing for grease to flow from the gun into the component. It’s important to wipe off the zerk from dust and dirt before hooking up.
Once you snap onto a zerk, begun pumping the grease gun. Your grease gun lever should pump with minimal resistance and after 2-3 pumps, you should begin to see grease being forced out of the joint or dust boot. Once you see this, you can stop once you see fresh grease being forced out. Use a paper towel to wipe the excess off, and unhook the grease gun connector. Now, you can move on.
Should you encounter a component that will not accept grease, meaning, once connected, you pump and are getting massive resistance, the chances are the grease zerk has frozen shut. You will need to replace the zerk, which unscrews just like a small bolt, with a socket and replaces easily. Replacement zerks can be purchased at any AutoZone, along with the grease you’ll need.
Remember, not all of you lubrication points will have grease fittings. Many modern day components are built with sealed components, meaning, they are greased at assembly, and sealed. For polyurethane components, like bushings that aren’t greaseable, a sprayable silicone can work, or an all-purpose grease. For metal joints and bushings, that have no zerk, you will need to disassemble the component, apply grease directly to the contact surfaces, and then reinstall it.
INSPECTING THE UNDERSIDE OF YOUR VEHICLE
Before calling the project complete and lowering the car, it’s good practice to inspect the components you just serviced and make sure nothing needs replacement. A common fail-point, for example, are tie rods and steering components that have a dust boot covering the joint. These boots protect the grease, but fail over time by cracking and falling off. Inspect each dust boot carefully, and inspect the bushings you are greasing for cracking as well. Be sure to grab steering components and attempt to move up and down, along with side to side, and twist. You are looking for any major play in the components that could indicate you need replacements.
Remember, U-joints on rear-wheel drive vehicles require spinning the drive shaft to reach many of the grease zerks, so the vehicle needs to be in neutral. While you are spinning the joints, take the time to see if it has any play sliding fore and aft. If it does, that’s a pretty good sign the u-joints need replacing.
For Front-Wheel drive vehicles, CV joints should always be inspected to insure none of the boots are cracked, and are leaking out their vital lubrication grease. If you find a cracked boot quickly, you can often replace / regrease the joint, but if it has been cracked for too long, often replacement is needed.
Taking the time to lubricate your chassis components is vital to keeping your car driving and steering properly, and avoiding costly replacements. If the job appears too hard, remember to check out one of our Preferred Shops in your area, that can help with not only an oil change, but proper lubrication. If you want to tackle the job yourself, your local AutoZone has all the grease supplies, and advice you’ll need to get the job done.