Owners Tips

Goof of the Month: A Wheel Bad Repair

Welcome to Goof of the Month! Every month, we ask for stories from our network of mechanic pals which highlight the need to understand one’s vehicle, how to maintain it, and how it works. We read the submissions, check out the stories, and pick the winner, announcing the monthly Goof in our regular column about the most mechanically declined folks on the road today.

This month’s story comes to us from Nick Labrie, a mechanic in Sudbury, Ontario.

In the past, we’ve heard stories where a costly repair bill is averted with some simple maintenance, usually for a customer who feared the worst. This is not one of those stories.

For this installment, Labrie reports a client having his vehicle dropped off at the shop, on a tow-truck, with “the wheel about a foot away from where it was supposed to be.”

The Complaint

The customer brought in few-year-old Tucson on a tow truck, since it had suffered complete control-arm failure, wrenched the front suspension out of position, and become undriveable.

The Mechanic

“This gentleman knew there was something wrong for a while,” said Labrie. “He chose, literally, to turn up the radio and ignore the noise, probably for months. He laughed about it a little, but this was an expensive repair, and could have caused an accident.”

Apparently, the failed control arm finally let go when the customer was backing out of their driveway, and (thankfully) not on the highway.

“There would have been squeaking first, as the bushing wore out, as the first sign. Then, there’d be banging and clunking, which is a really strong second warning that something is wrong, and you need to get it looked at. It’s just a bushing: they wear out, and they’re usually cheap and easy to change.”

Bushings are a part of every mechanic’s day-to-day work, especially in locales with nasty roads.

The Diagnosis

The issue was a direct result of the owner’s failure to replace a worn-out bushing in the front suspension. The bushing, a small rubber isolator, wore through and disintegrated, allowing metal-on-metal contact. That metal on metal contact wears away and weakens the areas affected, and ultimately results in total failure of the part.

The Outcome

The customer wound up with a $1,200 bill to replace an entire control arm (complete with brand new bushings!) axle and CV joint, and other components which had been damaged. The tire had worn excessively, too, though it was still safe to use.

“You almost feel bad for the customer in a situation like this,” Labrie says. “This could have been, literally, a $100 repair bill, if he’d taken it in to me when the noise started. Instead, his bill was 12 times that much. That’s unfortunate, especially this close to Christmas.”

Lesson Learned

If you hear a noise that wasn’t present before, get it checked out.

“We could have at least diagnosed this noise for the customer, in a matter of minutes,” Labrie mentions. “We have free Wi-Fi and coffee. Many shops do. We want to be a comfortable place for the customer, so they’re comfortable visiting us, even if it’s just for a quick inspection of a small issue. But you have to get your vehicle to us!”

As we’ve learned from our mechanic correspondents in the past, healthy vehicles don’t make unwelcome noises. When they do, they need some attention, sooner than later. Ignoring an unwelcome noise from your driveline, suspension or other vehicle system is a bad idea for a number of reasons – including the likelihood of a huge repair bill.

Lead image by Esquisse, of a Toyota Land Cruiser control arm showing similar damage