1998 Plymouth Voyager 6 cyl Front Wheel Drive Automatic 102500 miles
I have a 1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager, and recently it has started making noises that are not normal, and it also doesn't accelerate smoothly. I have given the details below. Please help as soon as you can because I really need to go on a long drive with this vehicle.
When I turn my steering wheel, I hear noises that sound like a spring is being pulled, with a clunking noise as well. I can notice this especially when I am turning left or right at an intersection.
The second abnormal noise I hear when driving is when I apply the brakes. As I am braking to a complete stop, it sounds like some rubber or solid material is scratching something hard - something like a very soft roaring noise. Sometimes, I hear clunking when I am brakingto a complete stop.
Can you please tell me what these noises mean, and what I should get checked by the mechanic? Finally,
the other problem I notice is when I am accelerating. As I am accelerating and pass the 25 mph mark, and then passing the 55 mph mark, the vehicle shakes a little bit each time. Can you please tell me what this problem is and what I should get checked by the mechanic?
Hi mountain123peak. Welcome to the forum. The first noise is most likely binding upper strut mounts. They will often appear to be fine once the struts are removed because there is no weight on them. The easiest way to verify they are the cause is to lightly touch the upper part of the front coil spring while a helper slowly turns the steering wheel. They should turn smoothly with the wheels. If you feel the spring tension buld up, then they pop loose and turn, the mounts are binding and should be replaced. This isn't serious in itself and can wait until it's tme to replace the struts but you should mention this symptom to the mechanic so they don't get overlooked.
Any noise related to the brakes should be inspected right away. It sounds like the pads are worn down to the metal backing plates and are grinding metal on metal. This will lead to excessive wear on the rotors so they'll have to be replaced too. There is a legal minimum thickness they must be above after they've been machined to true them up as part of a normal brake job.
Have you noticed if the shaking occurs when the transmission shifts? The most common cause of a shudder during upshifts is use of the wrong type of transmission fluid. This is mainly an irritation and doesn't usually affect other transmission performance characteristics. The cure is to use the correct fluid at the next fluid and filter change.
June, 12, 2010 AT 2:51 PM
Thanks. I have several more questions I want to ask you: Is it expensive to replace the upper strut mounts?
I tested my brakes right now in my driveway by moving my van forward a little bit and then braking abruptly and doing the same for reverse. The noise right at the moment when the brakes stop the car is like a noisy sponge or something. Like a horn of some sort. I know this is not the best description, but it is not silent. Do you still think it's worn and I should get the brakes changed? Is it expensive to change the pads by themselves?
Yes, I think the shaking/shudder occurs when the transmission shifts. Since I have a Plymouth Grand Voyager, I am supposed to use ATF+3 or I think ATF+6, but when I went to the shop recently, I noticed that they put in ATF D/M on top of whatever was in there already. Is the wrong transmission fluid going to cause the transmission to wear out faster or do anything else that is going to be costly? How expensive is it to change the transmission fluid and filter, and how many quarts are needed to fill up the transmission to the proper level for a Grand Voyager van?
When I went to the shop recently, they said that my brake fluid, engine oil, and transmission fluid were low. So they said that since the engine oil was clean, they could add another quart or so. I think I have to get the trans. Fluid they added changed now by another shop. Do you think the brake fluid that they added might slow down the problem or even cure the problem with the brakes that I am having?
Finally, they also checked the vehicle and said that oil was leaking. I don't see any stains on my driveway, so whatever leaks there are must be slow leaks. The mechanic said that the two gaskets (one which was easy to reach and the other hard to reach) would need to be changed - that would cost about $500. Is this an urgent situation I need to deal with or can I leave it off for now without damaging any of my vehicle's components and fix it when I start seeing stains on the ground?
They also said that I might need to change the two hoses for the antifreeze fluid. Is it expensive to do this?
June, 12, 2010 AT 7:45 PM
Adding brake fluid definitely will not help the problem. I can't help with specific costs. That depends on how much the shop charges per hour, environmental charges they have to add on, whether they charge extra for gasket sealers, lubricants, and things like that, and whether they go according to flat rate or by the hour. Flat rate means they charge for the hours listed in the flat rate book for what each procedure should take, regardless if it takes them longer to do the work or if they get it done faster. Think of a barber. They charge the same price no matter how long it takes. The least expensive shop and the lowest cost estimate aren't always the best value. Some mechanics do the bare minimum to solve the problem in an attempt to get more business by being the lowest priced. Some shops do extra steps and perform more preventive operations to increase the long-term quality of the service. They rely more on customer loyalty and repeat business so they do what is necessary so you have as few problems as possible in the future.
As a former suspension and alignment specialist at a very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership, I replaced a lot of struts but that was over ten years ago. They are very easy to do on Chrysler products compared to other brands. As I recall, I think the flat rate guide called for.5 hours for each one plus the alignment. The upper mounts are removed as part of the strut replacement procedure so no additional labor is involved to replace them. I can only guess at the cost of the mounts. The auto parts stores have web sites where you can look up the parts and their cost. Expect to pay more for the parts from your mechanic. That markup covers their costs associated with replacing defective parts under warranty and stocking unsold parts.
Some suppliers are now also offering complete strut assemblies that do-it-yourselfers can replace without needing a spring compressor. You get new struts, springs, and upper mounts already assembled. The advantage is ride height is restored on older vehicles and installation time is cut to almost nothing. An alignment is still needed.
Driving the van with binding upper mounts won't hurt anything but it can be irritating, especially if it causes " memory steer". That is when the steering wheel stays where you put it instead of self-centering itself. You have to physically put the steering wheel straight ahead after cornering. That is less of a problem at highway speeds because road bumps and vibrations help the mounts to release and move.
Brake fluid should not be filled when it is low. It is low for only one of two reasons; there is a leak that must be located and repaired, or the disc brake pads are worn and due to be replaced. A piston in each brake caliper moves out to apply pressure to the pads when you push the pedal. The pistons move back in about the thickness of a sheet of paper to release pressure, but they move out further as the pads wear down. Brake fluid is behind the pistons. As the pistons move out further over months and years of driving, more fluid leaves the reservoir and fills in behind the pistons. That's why the level goes down over time. Most professionals inspect the fluid level during other routine service and they know to recommend a brake system inspection when fluid is low. They will not fill it because later, when a normal brake job is performed, the pistons have to be manually pushed back into the calipers to make room for the new thicker pads. That forces the fluid back up into the reservoir. If it was filled previously, the fluid will spill out and run down on painted surfaces. Besides eating paint away, it makes a miserable mess. Other than that mess, there is no harm in filling the fluid; it just normally isn't done.
Years ago brake calipers caused a lot of problems after the pistons were pressed back in so it was common to rebuild them. Dirt and moisture got past the dust boots and caused rust buildup or rings of crud on the pistons that caused them to stick and keep the brakes applied. That is less of a problem now but to insure a quality repair many shops still replace them. Professionally rebuilt calipers today can be found for as little as 20 - 30 bucks, some even come with the new pads already installed, called " loaded" calipers. They are a real good deal since just the pistons used to cost around 20 dollars in the 1980s. The rebuilding kits, not including the pistons, used to cost around ten dollars.
Some people just push the pistons in and pop in a new set of brake pads. It is important to understand what happens to the rotors. Over time grooves wear into the two sides of the rotor and the pads wear down to match those groves. That results in 100 percent of the pads' linings making full contact when applied. Every brake job involves machining the rotors to make the braking surfaces perfectly flat and parallel. Often, do-it-yourselfers skip this step because it requires taking them to a shop and paying for the service. Even when there are no deep grooves, the new pads will never match the old rotors perfectly so there will not be full contact between them until the pads wear a little. Normally that takes only a hundred miles or so and presents little problems. In severe cases, the braking ability is so reduced that excessive pedal pressure is required to stop. That can lead to overheating and brake fade where you push and push on the pedal but the van doesn't slow down. The fix for that is to just sit and let the brakes cool down, then drive off like normal. The biggest way professionals avoid this, even after machining the rotors or replacing them is to do a test drive that includes a few good hard stops to " seat" the pads. They are done with the test drive long before the pads have a chance to overheat. That break-in procedure eliminates a lot of complaints about squeals and poor braking performance.
When the pads are worn down to where the backing plates rub on the rotors, various different sounds can occur. Grinding is the most common. By that time the rotors are usually not able to be saved as they will be below the legal minimum thickness. There was so much extra metal on rotors of older cars from the 1980s and before that they could last the life of the car. Newer cars have very thin rotors to save weight for better fuel mileage so when they start making noise, they are already in need of replacement. The good news is the typical rotor for a front wheel drive vehicle that cost $99.00 in the mid 1980s now costs around $35.00. Many shops elect to replace rather than machine them. The cost of replacement cutting bits and the labor time involved makes it less expensive to just replace them.
Midas is about the most expensive place to have brake work done because they like to add on a lot of parts that aren't always needed. I did a lot of brake jobs at the dealership after we provided a second opinion after people went to Midas right across the street. We usually saved our customers a couple of hundred dollars. Due to the age and mileage of your vehicle, the rubber brake hoses should be inspected, but there is no need to replace them if the outer casing isn't cracked or weather-checked / dry rotted. Some shops will recommend replacing the brake fluid. This has always been ignored until a leak develops or hydraulic parts are replaced, but it is more important now on vehicles with anti-lock brakes. Moisture finds its way into the fluid leading to corrosion of metal parts and it lowers the fluid's boiling point. A lower boiling point can easily lead to a soft brake pedal and partial loss of braking power. Brake fluid boils at somewhere around 450 degrees. Water boils at 212 degrees. It is real easy for brake parts to reach well over 212 degrees, especially during city driving. If your mechanic doesn't recommend fluid service, it probably isn't necessary. Most manufacturers recommend replacing it at regular intervals but it's something no one actually does.
Using the wrong fluid in the transmission isn't likely to cause a problem other than the shudder. This has been explained two different ways to me. One person said there is a lot of slippage while the clutch pack is applying and the proper fluid helps them grab better as they apply. Another person said the clutch plates apply too aggressively and the correct fluid lets them slip a little so they engage smoother. The wrong fluid shouldn't cause a problem with the rubber seals or the valves.
The days of automatic transmissions lasting the life of the car are long gone. People today are accepting of transmissions that need to be rebuilt two or three times. Years ago we did a simple filter and fluid change that involved draining only the fluid in the pan. That removed about four quarts of the nine that's in the transmission. In response to the high transmission failure rate, the industry has developed a flushing system that replaces all of the old fluid. Many shops now offer this service that replaces 100 percent of the fluid. This involves adding a chemical that dissolves varnish buildup that can impede valve operation, then driving the vehicle for a few miles before using the new fluid to push the old fluid out. Many speedy lube-type places offer this service. I think it costs around $80.00 - 100.00.
The additives in transmission fluid last a whole lot longer than the additives in engine oil so replacing transmission fluid isn't as important. There is also some concern about doing this on high-mileage transmissions due to the thought that the clutch plate material has flaked off and is circulating in the fluid. That grit bites into the clutch plates and helps to prevent them from slipping. Supposedly if the fluid is replaced, that grit is gone and you're left with worn clutch plates. I'm not sure I believe this story because first of all, circulating grit will chew up the seals that hold the pressurized fluid that keeps the clutch packs applied. I think it's more likely the customer had a pre-existing problem that he kept secret, and requested this service in hopes it would solve it. When it didn't solve the problem, he could blame it on the mechanic or the service. To add to that, the instructor who shared this story isn't the brightest bulb. He never actually was a mechanic. I've never heard of this service causing a problem for anyone else, and it only happened to this instructor once.
To boil this down, I wouldn't worry too much about the fluid change yet. The normal recommended change interval is typically 36,000 miles. In the meantime, if the shudder is too irritating, visit your local auto parts store and ask them to recommend an additive you can use that will reduce the shudder. It must be a chemical that can remain in the system until the next fluid change. Some additives are designed to be drained after a short time period and should not be left in.
One quart low on engine oil is not really something to lose sleep over either, especially if that's as low as it gets between oil changes. Most engines use low-tension piston rings to reduce friction and increase fuel mileage. That lower tension allows a little more oil consumption than in years past. To reduce the number of associated complaints, most oil dipsticks are now marked with "min." And "max" instead of "full" and "add" . I haven't changed the oil in my '88 Grand Caravan in over eight years. I had my students replace the filter every other year, and I add a quart or two when the valve train starts to rattle! Now, obviously I'm not recommending that to anyone, but it goes to show how well some engines can hold up this abuse. It has 378,000 miles and I pull an enclosed trailer that's bigger than the van. Some engines, the 2.7L in particular, are known to develop a lot of major problems when the oil isn't changed at the proper intervals. For other engines, oils today are so good running a little low or stretching the time between changes is not a reason to panic.
Minor oil leaks are common. Yours could even be not worth noting except that your mechanic worked a little harder to find it in response to the low level. A former student chased oil leaks on my van for days. Each time he found one and repaired it, it leaked worse. Turns out the main leak was a pinhole rusted through the oil pan right where the oil ran past it on its way down. Every time he fixed a leak, more pressure built up in the bottom of the engine, and it's that pressure that was pushing the oil out of the pinhole. My only reason for bringing this up is to point out that replacing the easy gasket COULD inadvertently cause the other gasket to leak more. Leaking oil pan gaskets are fairly common too. Those can be messy but they will usually leave a spot on the ground. Whether to have a leak this small repaired is a judgment call based on cost, how fast it leaks, and how picky you are about such things.
As for the coolant hoses, you will have to ask your mechanic why he recommends replacement. It is good practice to replace them to prevent failure but they usually get ignored until one pops a leak. The antifreeze should be replaced every two years to get the acids out that naturally build up in the system and because corrosion inhibitors and water pump lubricant additives wear out in about two years. That's a good time to do the hoses while the coolant is already drained out. Hoses that feel unusually mushy are rotting from the inside. The real small curved water pump bypass hose seems to fail more than the others. It is fairly inexpensive but probably the hardest one to replace. Heater hoses don't seem to spring a leak very often. If you are careful, it is possible to nurse a car with a leaking hose a long way to get home or to a shop. The trick is to let the engine cool down which happens surprisingly quickly, then start the engine and get up to highway speed as quickly as possible, then shift to neutral, stop the engine, and cost for up to a mile. You won't have power steering and after two or three brake pedal applications, you won't have power brakes either once the engine is stopped. Under the best of circumstances, this will eliminate the need to call a tow truck.
June, 13, 2010 AT 10:31 AM
Thank you so much for explaining. Now everything is much more clear and makes sense to me. But I still have some questions I want to ask you, and want to make sure I am completely clear on how to make sure I drive safely without problems. Sometimes, I drive more than 90 miles per day, once or twice a week, to go to a place in which I work. I am just worried that on my trip, if something leaks all of a sudden or if my water pump goes bad or something else happens, I will be in serious trouble since I have to be punctual. So here are my other concerns: I just wanted to make sure, after the upper strut mounts replaced, one per side, I will definitely have to do a wheel alignment, right?
The fact that the mechanic I went to filled in the brake fluid should not adversely affect my brake system as of now, except that it might spill when the pistons are pushed back during a brake job?
Also, is checking the rubber brake hoses part of a normal braking system inspection? Not replacing the braking fluid going is not going to adversely affect the anti-lock braking system, will it?
I think I have two different types of fluids in the transmission system now. One is Mobil ATF D/M and the other may be some other type (it should be all ATF+6 or all ATF+3). Do I need to worry about a mixture of two wrong fluids (or possibly one right and one wrong) harming my transmission system? Why did the industry develop a system to replace 100% of the transmission fluid when having the wrong fluid doesn't really cause any problems in the transmission system, or is this the case just for the minivan that I have?
If I put additives in transmission system, won't that overfill the transmission system? I am also worried about dirt getting into the system when I add additives through a funnel. What course of action do you recommend in this case? If I add an additive, and a few hundred or a few thousand miles after the mileage at which I should have drained the additive pass by, will that adversely affect my transmission system?
It seems like oil has just soaked the bottom hoses and areas towards the lower portion of the car that I can see. There is nothing dripping, so I am assuming it is a minor leak. A mechanic I went to said that it costs $500 to replace both of the gaskets, but since I think the problem I have here is minor, I won't bother to do this until things get more problematic.
I do know that some vehicle problems can be sensed by symptoms that appear long before those problems become severe. However, what parts of the vehicle should I check to make sure I avoid problems that don't really show any symptoms before the actually problem becomes severe? I know that you mentioned that I should check whether or not the hoses are mushy, indicating that corrosion is happening from the inside.
Thanks again for your tremendous help. It helps me a whole lot in deciding what to do with my vehicle and what services to get done in the upcoming days. I eagerly look forward to your reply.
June, 15, 2010 AT 4:19 PM
Sorry for the delay. My miserable Verizon e-mail keeps going down for a day at a time so I don't always see the automated notices about your replies right away.
Disassembling the struts to replace them or any other related parts requires unbolting them from the spindles. That connection, which has two bolts, is the alignment adjustment point. Those bolts are loosened a little, then the top of each tire is pushed in or pulled out to set it to the specified setting. That's called " camber" and is the tilt of the tire as viewed from in front of the van. It affects tire wear on the edges of the tread and it affects which way the tire would like to roll. Each wheel must be set to within a specified range so the least amount of wear will occur, but it is equally important that both wheels be set the same so the pull they develop will offset each other and the van will go straight when you take your hands off the steering wheel.
The original struts on your van were set so precisely at the factory that the adjustment holes are not slotted and no adjustment can be made. Still, when reassembling parts, it is impossible to guarantee they will go back together exactly as they came apart. That's why the alignment is needed. In addition to the slight but unnoticeable changes in camber, that setting will also affect " toe" which is the direction each tire is steering. When camber has changed, even a little, it causes toe for that wheel to change also. That will affect tire wear on both front tires and it will affect steering wheel position unless it is also readjusted.
The filling the brake fluid issue is not even worth mentioning except some people get angry and blame the mechanic unfairly when he doesn't top off the fluid during other routine service such as an oil change. They don't understand that the mechanic is doing them a favor by not filling the fluid. Think of making some hard-boiled eggs. You would not fill the pot with water to the top, then drop the eggs in because there would be too much water and it would spill out onto the stove making a mess. That mess would not be catastrophic but it is easily avoidable. The brake fluid is exactly the same; messy but avoidable.
Most mechanics perform a quick visual inspection of brake system components that are easily visible. If the car is on a hoist, that includes looking for rusted steel lines, parking brake cables, and rubber hoses. If you ask and pay for a full brake inspection, they will remove the wheels and check everything much more in-depth. Changing brake fluid regularly is something almost no one does because they leave things alone that aren't causing a problem. Flushing and refilling the brake fluid will reduce the chance of corrosion forming inside the hydraulic system, but I have a 30 year old car that has never had brake work done on it and they work fine. You'll be lucky to find one person out of a thousand who actually asks to have his fluid changed. While it's certainly a good preventive maintenance practice, it is simply ignored by most owners and mechanics.
Different brands of transmission fluid can be mixed as long as each one is not harmful in itself. Type " F", in particular was used years ago in Fords because they needed a special friction modifier for their clutch plates to grab properly. That fluid would chew up rubber seals in GM and Chrysler transmissions. It's hard to find that type " F" fluid today because there isn't much call for it. With the advent of Chrysler's computer-controlled transmission in 1989 and GM' and Ford's in the late 1990s, clutch plate slippage was more of a problem as far as shift quality and feel were concerned. To reduce the number of complaints, such as yours, about chatter or shudder during clutch application, additives were developed to address those concerns. Your transmission fluid may not have those additives. The hydraulic system still works properly and all the gears work, but without those additives, you might experience that nuisance shudder. If you can live with it, just wait until the next time it is due for a fluid and filter change. If you can't live with it, adding a can of the right additive is far less expensive than having the fluid changed. The fluid level won't change very much by adding the additive. It isn't that critical anyway. A half a quart low or high won't be noticeable.
Friction modifiers are additives that you want to remain in the system to do their thing until the next fluid change which could be years away. Detergents are cleaning chemicals that break up and dissolve varnish and other contaminants just prior to draining the fluid. Those chemical are not meant to remain in the system any longer than it takes to do their job. That could take from a few miles to a few days. That's why you should specify a " leave-in" additive when you ask the salesman for a recommendation of which product to try.
The full-flush systems offered by some shops have been around for a long time but there was no market for the service because transmissions used to typically last the life of the car. For the last 20 years, transmissions have been cheapened to the point of needing two or three in the life of the car and people seem to think that's normal. The aftermarket industry is always looking for ways to improve something and the full-system flush is one attempt to increase the life of automatic transmissions. There are many additives in the fluid such as seal conditioners that prevent internal leaks and the friction modifiers. Some of those additives wear out over time. You get new additives with the new fluid. In older transmissions where you just drained and refilled about four quarts of fluid, you got four quarts worth of additives which was enough to keep the transmission happy. With the full-system flush, you will get around nine quarts worth of new additives which in theory should last longer. More important though than the additives, is that draining 100 percent of the old fluid out removes 100 percent of the contaminants that are suspended in the fluid and circulating around with it.
As for dirt getting into the transmission, there is dirt all around the hole where the dipstick goes in. It can fall in every time you pull the dipstick out to check the fluid level. Use a clean funnel with no dirt in it. I don't even try to wipe the dirt away from the hole because that will dislodge it and make it easier for it to fall in. The little bit that does fall in will easily be trapped by the filter. There is often a lot more stuff in the bottom of the pan already than you will ever knock in. A lot of metal chips will be embedded in the filter too and won't cause a problem.
Every engine is going to leak some oil. Usually is it just a residue that road dirt sticks to so it is easy to see. These kinds of leaks are ignored by mechanics because they could make a career out of trying to solve every one of these. The exception is when a customer brings it to his attention, then he is obligated to try to find the source. Most leaks of this type get worse so slowly they never cause a problem. Even if they could solve these little seepages, there are other things that can spring a major leak without any warning. The most common would probably be the sending unit for the oil pressure gauge or warning light. Even those don't leak oil real fast unless they are physically broken off. Mine leaked on my '88 Grand Caravan for three years before I decided to replace it. It caused an on-going terrible mess under the engine, but I never had to add oil between changes; that's how slowly it leaked. A quarter of a cup of oil will hardly be missed in the engine but it can make a huge nasty mess on the outside over time. By that time it will be leaving spots on the ground. Other gaskets and seals can leak engine oil too but they rarely leak so fast that you are left sitting on the side of the road. You will normally have weeks or months of warning in the form of a burning / hot oil smell or visible spots on the ground. There are a whole bunch of things that can leave you stranded on the side of the road, but none of what you mentioned falls into that category. The newer a vehicle is, the more complicated and unreliable computers are on it. That increases the chances of having problems, but it is noteworthy that we don't see a lot more vehicles sitting on the side of the road. I'll be taking my fourth 3000-plus mile cross-country trip in two years shortly and my three newest vehicles will stay home including one with just over 4000 miles. I'll be driving my most trustworthy vehicle that only has the one Engine Computer. That's my '88 Grand Caravan. It's not just the fact I don't trust all the computers on newer cars. It's the fact that I can't make repairs on the side of the road if I have to. That advantage doesn't apply to most people.
June, 21, 2010 AT 3:36 PM
After going to the mechanic today to get the spring stretching-like noise fixed and the brakes repaired, the front two brake pads, the front two rotors, and the strut mounts have been replaced. However, now my steering wheel feels somewhat tighter and more stiff when I am making turns. The spring stretching-like noise has been reduced, but I am still able to hear that mix of groaning and clicking noise. I can hear the noise especially in relatively quiet streets as I am parking my vehicle. Do you think the strut mounts caused part of the noise, and something else caused the clicking and spring stretching noise as well?
To add to my worries, now my wheels aren't aligned either, or at least I think that is the case. The vehicle went straight before with steering wheel straight as well. Now I have to hold the steering wheel slightly to the left to make the vehicle drive straight. I went back to the mechanic and told him about it, and he said that all he did was take out the shocks and put them back, and so wheel alignment should not have been affected. Nonetheless, the owner of the shop said that he would be able to align the wheels manually by hand on Wednesday, since they don't have a wheel alignment machine in the shop. Do you think doing it manually like this is a good idea? Do you think wheel alignment is the real problem, or is it really that the strut mounts haven't been installed correctly, and that the alignment point needs to be adjusted?
What do you recommend I do for all of these problems I am having? Should I go to another shop (because they don't know what they can do in the shop I already went to today besides just align the wheel manually) and ask them whether or not they would be able to detect the source of the spring stretching-like noise when I turn the steering wheel, or should I leave this off for now? Or should I go to another shop and ask them about aligning the mounts? I have a very tight budget and spent almost half a thousand dollars today. What should I do about the steering tightness problem? Is the stiffness going to go away soon, since new parts have been installed?
Please give me your opinion and advice. Thank you so much.
June, 21, 2010 AT 6:17 PM
As for the steering tightness, these vans are very sensitive to tire pressure. The label on the driver's door opening has to take into account any brand of new tire you might buy. What I always had better luck with was looking at the tiny writing on the tires' sidewall for their maximum pressure. If they are listed as 35 psi maximum, I made them 35 psi. If they are listed as 44 psi, I made them 40 psi. We replaced the power steering pump and rack and pinion for one customer who just bought the van new and complained it steered harder than the one he test drove. Nothing made him happy until I boosted the tire pressure a couple of pounds to 40 psi. We were both amazed at the difference.
I don't know what they mean by " setting the alignment manually" unless they're referring to making changes without using an alignment computer. If that's the case, run as fast as you can to a different shop that has the right equipment. Many shops can't afford the insanely expensive equipment that is needed for modern cars, but they should be taking your vehicle to another shop for the alignment after they do any work that requires removing the struts. Your original struts have two lower mounting holes that are round. The bolts hold the parts together and prevent them from shifting position, however, there is always a little play or sloppiness in them. No one can guarantee they will go back exactly the same as they came out. Also, the three smaller upper bolts that you can see under the hood go through oversized holes in the body sheet metal. They can slide sideways a good quarter of an inch. That too will change the way the wheel sits. A smart mechanic might look at the " witness marks" in the dust and dirt to see where the three nuts were sitting previously, and put them back in the same position, but those holes are so far back, it's impossible to see them that well, plus there is another variable. The new upper mounts are not necessarily exactly the same. Either one or both of them could be holding the strut in a slightly different position.
Of major importance has to do with installing new struts. If they put new ones in, one of the two lower mounting holes will be slotted instead of round. That is the alignment adjustment that takes care of all of the variables I mentioned. It is physically impossible to adjust those properly without an alignment computer. On older cars from the 1950s and even up to the 1970s, mechanical alignment equipment worked good enough. Two of the three alignment angles are measured in degrees. Visualize your tire laying on its side. That would be 90 degrees of " camber". 0 degrees means your tire is standing perfectly straight up. It is common for the specification to tilt the top of the tire out a little but too much will cause excessive wear to the outer edge of the tread. On the older cars, that measurement was measured in 1/8, 1/4, 3/8 degrees, and so on. Plus or minus 1/4 degree was not noticeable and wouldn't cause excessive tire wear. That kind of accuracy was easy to achieve with old, inexpensive mechanical equipment. Since the early 1980s, particularly with light weight front wheel drive vehicles, it is necessary to measure to plus or minus.01 degrees accuracy. That is no more posible with mechanical equipment than it is to measure the thickness of a sheet of paper with a ruler! I can tell you from 18 years of experience aligning front wheel drive vehicles, mostly Chrysler products, that misadjusting the wheels by as little as.06 degrees can result in a pull to one side when you let go of the steering wheel. That is an extremely tiny amount of change. Simply removing and reinstalling your old struts, even without replacing any of the parts, could easily result in a quarter degree (.25 degree) change. That is more than significant. The only proper remedy is to have an alignment performed with an alignment computer. Also, most shops will provide a printout that includes the before and after numbers so they can show you what they started with and what they ended up with. That will be proof an alignment was needed after the strut work was done.
To add to this, due to the geometry of the steering system, when either tire is tipped in or out on top, the steering linkage must be adjusted to match the new settings. Failure to do that will cause that wheel to turn left or right a little. You have to bring both front tires back to equal by turning the steering wheel. The result is the crooked steering wheel you noticed. That is proof posiitive your alignment is off after the strut service. Either wheel can be adjusted to bring the steering wheel straight, but that also affects handling and tire wear. Think of the fronts of the two front tires being closer together than the rear of them. That would be like a V-shaped snow plow going down the road. The van would be miserable to drive at worst, and there would be accelerated tire wear at best. Basically, the two tires are supposed to be perfecty parallel to each other for good tire wear, but most vehicles call for them to be slightly closer together at the front so they are parallel when road forces pull them back a little while driving. 1/16" closer in front is common. That's called " toe in". If BOTH wheels are misadjusted an equal amount, it is real easy to have way too much toe in or toe out but the steering wheel would still be straight. There would be real fast tire wear though.
The bottom line is the van MUST be aligned with computerized equipment. A tire shop or an alignment specialty shop are your best choices. If you really want to find a conscientious mechanic, ask if he " measures to the tenth of a degree or to the hundredth of a degree". Alignment computers can be set to either one. Adjusting to the tenth of a degree is faster because he doesn't have to set each wheel so precisely. Adjusting to the hundredth of a degree produces more accuracy but it takes longer. I always measured to the hundredth of a degree when I worked for a very nice Chrysler dealership. I was lucky that they never once yelled at me for taking longer with each car than was expected because they knew I had very few complaints. The little extra time it took to be more accurate was less than the time it takes to do the job a second time. There are a lot of conscientious mechanics out there but they have to have employers who are willing to let them balance a speedy job with a good job. (You also don't want to be sitting in the waiting room all day for an alignment). A good alignment with a test drive can be expected to take from an hour to an hour and a half. There are some new computers that take only minutes to set up so the entire process goes much faster.
Be sure to mention the previous work and the noises you're still hearing so they inspect the steering and suspension a little closer. Other than the lack of an alignment, don't put too much stock in anything they say about the previous mechanic not doing something correctly. Good mechanics don't have to cut other people down to make themselves look better. Unless something serious was done wrong or left in an unsafe condition, it's imposible to know why the previous person did something a certain way. Lack of a special tool, fear of breaking rusty bolts, or a previous bad experience are just a few of the things that make mechanics do some procedures differently.
June, 22, 2010 AT 9:23 PM
Some of the problems have been solved, but there is a new problem. Before I tell you about that problem, I want to tell you about my experience this morning.
I checked the tire pressure this morning, and it was about 40 psi for all four tires. The maximum listed on the tires' sidewalls is 44 psi, so I kept the pressures at 40 psi. The recommended for this van is 35 psi (based on the label on the driver's side door), but since you recommended that using the tires' sidewalls is a good idea, I will do that. This shouldn't cause any problems, should it?
I think the steering tightness I actually felt was really the drag the car was facing because of the misaligned wheels. After checking the tire pressures, I took the car to a place where alignment is done using an alignment computer. The job took about an hour. Now the vehicle drives much more smoothly. Someone told me that driving over potholes gradually ruins the alignment, so I will try to avoid potholes as much as I can.
Now I am facing a new problem, and I think this occurred before I did the wheel alignment today, but after getting the brake and strut mounts service done yesterday. The spring stretching noise when I turn the steering wheel seems like it completely went away last night, and during the daytime today, I heard a very, very faint noise that sounded like a spring was stretching again, when I made turns or was parking. It seems like this sound might appear and disappear, but I think since service was done and everything is still new, the sound should eventually go away. Is this right? It is much softer than it was yesterday. Can the temperature outdoors and heat from sunlight during the day play a role in producing this noise?
Here is the main problem. Only when I making a U-turn, upon completely turning the steering wheel, I hear what sounds like a soft, but loud, thump or boom or something that sounds like a very soft boom involving metal bars or metal components. This happens once when I am turning the steering wheel counterclockwise or clockwise for a U-turn. Then, when I am completing the U-turn, and turn the steering wheel the other direction, I hear the same noise, once again, and could sort of feel it very, very faintly. I can definitely hear it though. I am not sure what this problem might be - could it be that the mechanic didn't install the strut mounts correctly? Also, is this something that is urgent, or could I leave it off for 2 or more years?
Thanks again, and please let me know what you recommend.
June, 23, 2010 AT 1:54 AM
First the tire pressure issue. They can't list 40 psi as the recommended pressure because they don't know what brand of tire you might buy. If you buy tires rated at 35 psi maximum, and the label says " 40 psi", you would be over-inflating them. Normally the pressure is the important factor, not its maximum rating. It takes a certain pressure to raise the weight of the vehicle, hence the " square inch" part of " psi". Bigger tires have more square inches so a lower pressure will hold the vehicle up just as well as a smaller tire with a higher pressure. The issue here isn't that more pressure is needed to hold the vehicle up. A lot of these tires, Goodyears in particular, have relatively soft sidewalls that tend to bend or flex instead of turning the tread when you turn the steering wheel. That means you have to tug harder on the steering wheel to get the van to turn. Increasing the pressure stiffens the sidewalls forcing the tread to turn easier.
To find the noise, it might be necessary to raise the van on a drive-on hoist with the turntables used during an alignment. That will allow the tires to turn freely without making the scrubbing noise that will over-power the noise you're looking for. On the hoist you can feel the steering parts as a helper turns the steering wheel, and a stethoscope can be used to pinpoint noise sources. Most mechanics have a stethoscope, or you can buy one for about ten dollars at the auto parts stores. The way you described the noise, a lot of people probably wouldn't even hear it. I suspect it is nothing serious.
July, 2, 2010 AT 4:53 PM
I decided to keep the tire pressures at 35 psi since when I made it 40 psi (because the tires' sidewalls indicated 44 psi maximum) the van vibrated harder. I hope this is okay. The sluggishness is gone, but I think there might be one potential problem. I know that "toe-in" is recommended, but the two front tires on my van seem to have an angle that has a measure less than the angle the rear tires make with the ground (about 90 degrees). In other words, the upper parts of the tires in the front of the van seem to protrude away from the vehicle than do the lower portions of the tires, relative to the tires at the rear. I am pretty sure there is no problem with the tires themselves, but perhaps a potential problem with the way the tires are attached to the rest of the vehicle. Is this normal?
I also noticed that when I am driving over bumps, at slow speeds, there is this slight cupping or slowing noise. I know there are noises like this that are normal, but is this one normal? How do I tell whether or not the vehicle's struts and in genereal, the suspension system, have deteriorated to the point that the van's components (engine, water pump, radiator, etc.) Are absorbing the shock, getting damaged at a rate faster than they would normally?
Additionally, I wanted to ask you about the van's headlights and windows. What were clear headlights before are now developing frost/cloudiness on the glass of the headlights. Is there any way I can stop or clear this up? I also have a motor at for the rear left window that has gone bad, and now when I went to the local Strauss Auto Store they told me that I would have to pay a total of $300 to fix it. Is there any cheaper option?