1989 Ford Thunderbird Repair Question
1989 Ford Thunderbird Defective New Ball Joints?
1989 Ford Thunderbird 6 cyl Two Wheel Drive Automatic 271000 miles
Only 750 miles ago I bought new upper and lower control arms that come with ball joints and bushings to replace my creaky, wornout ball joints.
Last year my mechanic replaced the front struts, rear shocks, sway bar links and tie rod ends. So those are in good shape
But when my mechanic said my upper and lower control arms needed replacement I got the bright idea to buy them from autopartswarehouse.com where I had bought a lot of other parts while refurbing my 89 T-Bird and the cost was about 1/3 what my shop was charging for the control arms.
So my mechanic agreed to install them even though I bought the parts myself. But when I got them they said "Made in China" and maybe I should have stopped right there and bought Moog instead.
So shortly after installing the new control arms I heard a "pop" once in awhile when turning a corner or backing up and turning. Now I still often hear a "pop" when turning but now I also hear a rattle from up front that isnt that loud yet but I can hear it on surface streets and not so much on the freeway.
Autopartswarehouse says they have a one year warranty so I would exchange for Moog if the ball joints are defective but I've got to eat the labor cost unfortunately to redo them again.
Before I go back to my mechanic and hear him say "I told you so" (for buying cheap parts) HOW can I test the control arms to find out if the pops and rattles are coming from a defective ball joint that was just installed? Is there way I can test the newly installed upper and lower control arms when the car is parked and jacked up?
Hi PeterMDR. Welcome to the forum. "Made in China" does not necessarily mean junk, but I have attended schools at the Moog facility and toured their research and development center and can tell you about the quality of their replacement parts. There is a reason parts can be made overseas and shipped here and still cost less than domestic parts, but if safety were an issue, distributors would stop selling them. They lose money every time they have to replace one for free.
While I wouldn't be terribly concerned with safety, I would expect the cheaper parts to require a little more work to make them fit, and they probably won't last as long as their higher-quality counterparts. For the record, I wouldn't expect original equipment parts to last as long as Moog parts either. Everyone who's been in the business for the last 20 years has replaced dozens, perhaps hundreds of Ford Escort outer tie rod ends that often separated leading to a crash. Any replacement tie rod end from ANY aftermarket manufacturer was better than the original part.
It was nice of your mechanic to agree to install your parts. Many won't for fear of being blamed if the parts fail. Also, this is like bringing your own food to a restaurant and asking them to cook it. But rather than assuming your mechanic is thinking "I told you so", I would be thinking, "thank goodness I didn't order those parts and risk my reputation by selling them to a friend / customer". First of all, you can't even be sure your new ball joints are causing the noise. Second, ANY new part can cause unexpected problems, otherwise they wouldn't need a warranty. When you pay the higher price the mechanic wanted to charge for his parts, you are paying in advance to help cover the labor cost of replacing a defective part. The mechanic made his profit up front. He can't charge you again when his part fails. You simply gambled that one of the new parts wouldn't fail. Had you won the bet, you'd be money ahead and you would have cost the mechanic just a tiny fraction of his potential profit. If it turns out you lost the bet, you aren't going to be out much more than if you had just let your mechanic sell you the parts. In fact, even by paying extra to get Moog parts from a discount supplier, you might STILL be a few bucks ahead in the long run. Plus, your mechanic will likely be thinking he has a future customer who "learned his lesson" and will be a better educated consumer at the next visit. "Learned a lesson" is much stronger language than I intended, but I think you understand my meaning. Educated consumers are much easier to work with as a team in diagnosing and repairing cars.
The easiest way to find the source of the noises is by using a tool called the "Chassis Ear". Many mechanics have never even heard of it and won't know what you're talking about. It is a set of six microphones that plug into a receiver you carry inside the car. You switch between them and listen with headphones while driving. You can zero in on the source of the noise by moving the microphones around. The new version of this tool has four wireless microphones and two with wires. This tool is available from the Mac Tools truck, part number ET6600. I'm sure it is also available from Matco, Cornwell, and Snapon. Cost is $199.99. If you want to try this yourself, ask at the local auto parts stores that rent or borrow tools to see if they have one.
Since you've already replaced all of the suspension parts that are likely to cause a rattle, I would suspect a problem with rusted, missing, or broken anti-rattle hardware on the front brake calipers or pads, especially if the rattle stops when applying light brake pedal pressure. Also, if you live in a state where they think road salt makes winter driving safer, inspect exhaust system clamps to see if any are rusted away and dangling on a pipe. Use a rubber mallet to bang on the catalytic converter too to see if the substrate inside is lose. That will cause more of a knocking or thumping sound. The exhaust clamps and brake pads will sound more metallic.
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Thanks for the tip about the Chassis Ears. I have an idea for a "poor man's" chassis ears. I have a small digital tape recorder with small wired microphone and I am going to wrap some duct tape around it to attach the tape recorder near the upper control arm ball joint and then move it to the lower control arm ball joint, and repeat on the other side. I'll do it 4 times and see if I get some rattles out of my new chinese ball joints. I also discovered that the front bumper cover is loose all along the bottom, as if someone did some work and didnt reattach in all places, and my front license plate is mounted in a plastic frame that also is loose and "flaps" and rattles against the front bumper. I dont think this is the source of all the rattling/popping since it got worse after getting the new ball joints but the loose bumper cover/license plate frame may be part of the rattling. I will also check all the bolts and make sure the arms and other suspension parts I've had replaced since last year are tight. If the ball joints are defective I will definately follow your suggestion to return them on 1-year warranty to the discount online supplier I bought them from and get the Moog control arms. Lesson learned and like you say, I wont lose much money since I got the discount from buying the parts myself and now I will end up paying about as much as if I had let my mechanic buy the upper and lower control arms and charge me a lot more in the first place!
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