Control arms, otherwise known as A-arms, are an important part of the suspension system in your vehicle. The control arm is a crucial component of a vehicle’s suspension system, and it plays a significant role in maintaining proper wheel alignment and control. They control how the wheel moves, allowing you to have a smooth ride. But what happens if the control arm breaks while driving? Are you in danger or are you OK to keep going?
As with any part of your vehicle, parts break down over time due to general wear and tear. Control arms and bushings are no different. They need to be maintained and replaced as needed to make sure that the vehicle will run smoothly and safely. Understanding what a control arm does and what happens if it breaks is important so you can stay safe and avoid costly repairs and damage.
Functions of a Control Arm
Different makes and models have variations in the number of control arms. There could be two or four in a vehicle. When there are only two, the control arm is called a lower control arm. Some cars and most heavy-duty vehicles have four control arms – two upper and two lower.
Control arms are suspension links that connect the vehicle frame to the assembly (the steering knuckle) that attaches the front wheel. They have flexible rubber bushings that connect the control arm to the vehicle’s actual framework. The control arm moves up and down when the vehicle hits a bump, such as a pothole or speed bump. This allows the tires to move as needed. The arms play a significant role in keeping the vehicle’s wheels on the ground when driving. When the control arm is working well, you get a smooth drive.
The bushing and ball joints are part of this system and help how the control arm works. The wide end of the triangle that is linked to the frame of the vehicle moves the bushing while the opposite end of the joint is connected to the steering knuckle and moves the ball joint.
The control arm, the bushing, and the ball joint can all break down and cause problems for the vehicle. Any part that is worn out or damaged is not safe.
Warning Signs that the Control Arm is Damaged
If your control arm is damaged or has too much wear and tear, there are clear signs. Always be mindful of them so you are not caught by surprise when a part fails. Some of the warning signs are:
1. Popping noise
If you hear something like a “pop” when you hit bumps or potholes in the road or when you are speeding up or slowing down, that may be a clue that the control arm is beginning to fail. This includes the failure of the bushing or ball joint, too. The parts pop when you accelerate or slow as well as going over bumps so its important to have the control arms looked at if you notice this sound.
2. Steering Feels Off
If you are having issues with the control arm then the steering won’t feel normal. The alignment goes off and makes the vehicle pull to the right or left. The pull is even more noticeable if you are driving on a rough road or braking hard. Your ability to steer the vehicle becomes more difficult than usual. It might also clunk when turning.
3. Driving performance suffers
The control arm bushings are supposed to help absorb the bumps in the road while you are driving. When it is broken or needs to be repaired, the vehicle vibrates while on the road. You feel the shake in the steering wheel and the performance is noticeably off when you hear the metal sleeves of the control arm rattle loudly. You will hear clunks coming from the front wheel area.
4. Tire wear changes
The tire tread changes and becomes uneven if the control arm breaks and you keep driving. The control arm is supposed to free the tire movement up and when it is no longer able to do this, the tires become unevenly worn.
These various symptoms of a damaged and broken control arm are not always easy to detect. Having them checked regularly by someone who knows about vehicles is important. Staying on top of checks and maintenance is important.
Control Arm Repair
If the control arm is broken, then you are going to have less weight support and the stability of the car is compromised. The shift and sway that happens with the vehicle mean you can lose control or worse. Be smart and get the car to a mechanic or somewhere you can do the proper repairs right away.
Control arm replacement isn’t extremely pricey. It ranges from $200 to $460 depending on the make and model of the car, the amount of damage done, labor costs, and the mechanic you use. Note: we have updated these cost estimates for 2023.
You do not need to replace all the control arms at once but be aware that if one has failed, the others may not be far behind. Your vehicle may also need the stabilizer bar line and bushings done as well if the whole assembly has the same wear and tear.
Once the repairs have been completed, make sure you have a wheel alignment done. If you don’t, you may end up with uneven tire wear which costs more money if you have to replace the tires. Have the control arms looked at regularly so you know that both your vehicle and safety are not compromised. Regular vehicle maintenance and inspections can help identify potential issues with the suspension system before they become a safety concern.