Rattling, clunking noise in front end

Tiny
CAROLANNHAYES
  • 2001 FORD ESCAPE
  • 125,000 MILES

This noise is driving us bonkers. When we hit a rough place in the road, the front end rattles or clunks. If we are on a gravel road, the nose is horrible. Sounds like the front end is falling out. We replaced stabilizer links, but no improvement. New struts did not help, either. We do not know what to do. Mechanics are puzzled, and we are ready to sell it, soon. Please advise.

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Friday, November 15th, 2013 AT 1:27 AM

9 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
  • 28,976 POSTS

Lower ball joints are the most common cause but you have to know how to support the car to inspect them. Outer tie rod ends are also common, but they usually do not cause much noise. Ford front-wheel-drive cars already have miserable tire wear, and a worn tie rod will make that even worse.

Here is a guide to help you:

https://www.2carpros.com/articles/popping-noise

There is a tool you might be able to borrow or rent from an auto parts store that borrows them called the "chassis ear". It is a set of six microphones, a switch box, and headphones. You clip the microphones to suspect points, then drive around while listening with the headphones. You can move the microphones around to zero in on the source of the noise. Be aware that many mechanics have never seen or even heard of this tool. Suspension and alignment mechanics use it to find rattles, squeaks, and other noises.

A brake caliper can have worn mounting hardware too. Although that can cause a horrendous rattle, it usually is not a serious safety problem. If that is the cause, the noise will stop when you hold light pressure on the brake pedal. Steering and suspension parts cause a dull thud-type of knocking. Anti-sway bar links will cause a metallic banging noise and center bushings usually cause a thumping that is best heard at low speeds. Noise from the center bushings will stop whenever the steering wheel is turned a little to one side. Do not overlook a deteriorated rubber exhaust hanger that is allowing two metal pieces to rub on each other. Loose heat shields will rattle when the holes around the mounting screws corrode away. Bang on the catalytic converters with a rubber hammer to check for a catalyst that is broken free and rattling.

All manufacturers seem to be having more trouble with control arm bushings than in the past. If one is worn, the steering wheel will shift position slightly as the arm shifts position, or the car will steer a little to one side intermittently and you will have to constantly correct the direction of travel. Those bushings also cause a dull thud.

If you can feel the knocking in the floor, suspect a loose rack and pinion mounting bolt, or wear inside the assembly.

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Friday, November 15th, 2013 AT 2:26 AM
Tiny
STANGGID
  • MEMBER

I have been in the automotive service industry for thirty eight years and this is the best website I have ever seen! I love 2CarPros!

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Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 AT 9:19 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
  • 28,976 POSTS

I was one of the suspension and alignment specialists at a Sears Auto Center in the 1980's. Every Wednesday we got in a shipment of parts made by Moog, and branded with Sears part numbers. Each shipment included one or two tie rod ends or ball joints for import cars, one or two for Chrysler products, about a half dozen tie rod ends and idler arms for GM rear-wheel-drive cars, and forty outer tie rod ends for Escorts, Tempos, and their Mercury twins. By Saturday we were always sold out of the Ford parts and had to buy them from local auto parts stores. We begged the corporate office to send us more, but forty was all they would allow for a store our size.

It is well-known that at the manufacturing stage, if an employee figures out a way to save a penny on the production cost of a car, they will likely get a bonus because that translates into thousands of dollars in savings over the run of that model. In the mid 1970's someone figured out you could leave four grease fittings off the car, at a cost of about a nickel a piece. Build a million cars, you save four million nickels. So what if those parts fail prematurely. That is an opportunity to sell more parts and services later.

We were all familiar with the lawsuit after we inspected a mid 1980's Thunderbird, found no problems, and a ball joint separated seven hundred miles later in the hills of Tennessee. They admitted the suspension developed a squeak over bumps less than one hundred miles before the crash. Since then it has become standard practice in the industry to inform owners to have their Fords inspected as soon as they hear an unusual noise. The same advice is valid for all cars and trucks, but no other brands have a history of this type of repetitive failure.

I am familiar with the outrageous alignment specifications of the Ford-built Escorts and Tempos. The left front called for well over two degrees of camber meaning the wheels were tipped out really far on top. If you were lucky, you might get 15,000 miles on a pair of tires but the salesmen never told potential buyers that, did they? Since the tires were riding on the outer edges, the cars rode much smoother than those of their competitors, so they sold a pile of them. It is tricks like that which help them sell so many cars.

A similar trick is to list the cost of maintenance as a fraction of that of their competitors. Oil changes are recommended every 7,500 miles under the "normal service" schedule. However, if you drive on dusty roads, in rain, at slow, city speeds, at highway speeds, etc, you fall under the "severe service" schedule which is the only one anyone can adhere to.

You must also be familiar with Ford's "rubber-bonded socket design for their outer tie rod ends. No other manufacturer in the world has ever used that disaster. The ball of the joint is dropped into the socket, then molten rubber is poured in to "glue the two parts together. Every single steering maneuver twists that rubber until it tears free and the part fails.

Most DYI are not aware of the damage they can cause when they replace a part with a rubber bushing, such as a lower control arm, and tighten the mounting bolts while the car is jacked up and the suspension is hanging down. Once the car is back down on the wheels, and the suspension moves up to its normal position, those bushings are clamped in a permanent twist. That greatly reduces their life expectancy. Now, compare the number of degrees of rotation that bushing goes through as the car goes up and down on the road, to the number of degrees a tie rod end s ball and socket goes through. I would suspect that tie rod is going through six to eight times the amount of rotation that design does not hold up.

You know camber is responsible for tire wear and pulling to one side. Every manufacturer includes some means of correcting camber to account for the effects of mildly-sagged suspension, hitting potholes, and other normal occurrences, except Ford. What stroke of genius made them think their little tin box would hold up any better than everyone else s tin boxes? Those settings are critical and must be set very precisely. That is why we have computers that can read those values to.01 degree of accuracy. Most cars call for a camber setting of 0.00 degrees to around 0.75 degrees. Every alignment specialist rolls his eyes when he sees the 2 7/16 degrees specified for the Escort. He knows that will tear up the tires, and his natural response is to want to fix it, but he cannot. The rear wheels are tipped in a real lot too, but at least there are aftermarket products that allow us to fix that design problem.

Another fact that you want to be aware of is you could not get a mileage warranty from most tire stores when those tires were going on a Tempo or Escort. They knew their tires could easily last 40,000 miles on any other car, but not on the Fords. All you could get was a road hazard warranty, and that expired when cords started showing on the outer edges, typically in 13,000 to 15,000 miles.

Of all the Ford classes I attended, no instructor would ever admit there was a problem, and their response to correcting a pull was to replace worn parts . I learned from a friend working at a Ford dealership what was the common practice. To correct a pull to the left, that was to break the taper on one or both of the outer tie rod ends, turn the steering system to the right, then re-tighten the tie rod ends! That put the rubber-bonded sockets into a permanent twist when the steering system was straight ahead. They tried to straighten out which meant turning to the right. That was supposed to counteract the left-hand pull. What kind of names would you call me if I recommended someone tie a rubber bungee strap between the body and the steering linkage to correct a pull? Well, that is how those cars were being fixed at the dealerships.

In the 1990's I was the suspension and alignment specialist at a new-car dealership for ten years. We had a few recalls related to suspension parts, but never anything that would lead to a crash or loss of control. A large part of my daily routine was repairing and aligning trade-in cars. One memorable truck was an F-150 that was only a few years old. The rubber-bonded socket on the drag link separated and the guy went into the ditch. The truck was towed to our dealership where he traded it on the spot. I never saw these problems on GM vehicles, unless clunks and rattles were ignored for a really long time. I never saw so many problems on Chrysler products, or imports. It was only the Aerostar's with broken rear coil springs. Only the Escorts and Tempos with worn ball joints and tie rod ends on almost every one we traded in. Only the F -series that gave us the really tough twin I-beam suspension that came standard with accelerated and choppy right front tire wear. That could be reduced, but again, only with aftermarket parts. Only Ford that recommended tire pressures that were so mushy as to cause numerous failures, so now the politicians insist we all have to pay for a monitoring system whether we want it or not. Only Fords that did not have grease fittings where they should have been used. At that time Ford was the innovator with puny little rolled-up sheet metal suspension links to hold the rear wheels in place on Tempos. What an embarrassment. And they listed them as the points to hook to when pulling that model out of the ditch. The rear wheels would fold up like airplane landing gear, then you hauled it to the body shop. This is one place where the Escort deserves some credit. Their rear links were a lot beefier than those on the much heavier Tempo. And what genius put the twin I-beam suspension on a Bronco II and Ranger? Look at the camber changes as the suspension goes up and down. Try to get any kind of decent tire wear out of that.

I taught Automotive Technology in a community college for nine years, and as such, had the opportunity to attend a lot of high-level classes, and manufacturer-sponsored classes. One was a two and a half day Moog school in St. Louis, MO. They have a number of display cases showing the parts they developed to address the design flaws of original equipment, and the vast majority of them were for Ford products. That is not because there are more Fords on the road. As much as I do not like GM s business practices, I have to admit their vehicles do not need a lot of suspension design improvements. Chrysler buys most of their parts from outside suppliers, so if there is an improved design, I suspect they will already have it. NAPA suspension parts are Moog parts with their name on them. If Moog parts are good enough for NASCAR, I think they are okay for your car too.

As I told my students every year, you are welcome to like any brand of car you want to, just do not tell me yours is better than mine unless you can tell me why . Well, I just scratched the surface, but now you understand that my comments are indeed supported by facts. I had no preconceived opinions about any car brand until I started working on them and I saw how they were built and designed. Today there is no car of any brand that I would want to own.

Every manufacturer has problems because, after all, they did not ask me first, but a lot of what I shared here comes from listening to other professionals.

Steering or suspension parts on them that is a common failure item that leads to loss of control and crashes. The closest I can come is that Blazers eat upper ball joints, and replacing them every two years is common, but they just make noise. They do not typically come apart. They have had some terrible steering system designs, but they do not lead to loss of control. Why has the Toyota not recall you mentioned been in the news? If there is a safety concern, I would have heard about it from my friends who are still aligning cars.

There is the supporting facts you wanted, but those are not what Carolannhayes asked about, nor are they going to help with the current problem she wanted addressed. This is a conversation between the two of us. You are welcome to add your thoughts too if it helps solve the immediate problem. If you look at what she posted, you will see that this is much more serious than a simple little rattle, and I have to stress that an inspection should be done immediately. There is no way to say that gently when someone s safety is concerned.

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Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 AT 5:21 PM
Tiny
JEN1977
  • MEMBER

Did you ever get your Ford Escape fixed with ten left front rattle? And what was the cause? I am having the same issue.

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Monday, November 28th, 2016 AT 12:11 AM
Tiny
2CARPROS KEN
  • ADMIN
  • 11,727 POSTS

Hello,

Yes the problem with these cars is the lower ball joints and control arm bushings. Here is a guide to help you see what you are in for when doing the job.

https://www.2carpros.com/articles/lower-control-arm-bushing-replacement

Purchase the entire arm its easier to and get both sides. Image (below)

Please let us know if you need anything else to get the problem fixed.

Cheers, Ken

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Saturday, June 17th, 2017 AT 7:29 PM
Tiny
FLYBOY165
  • 2003 FORD ESCAPE

2003 Ford Escape six cylinder two wheel drive automatic 75000 miles.

Have a clunking noise under the front end when driving and hitting small bumps. Twenty five MPH and a small bump like hitting a manhole cover is all it takes.

Spent several hours under the car but nothing obvious appears to be wrong. Does not appear to be the exhaust system either as all the hangers are in tact.

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Saturday, June 17th, 2017 AT 7:29 PM (Merged)
Tiny
DALE68
  • MEMBER

Check either the sway bar links or the control arm bushings both super common on the Escapes.

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Saturday, June 17th, 2017 AT 7:29 PM (Merged)
Tiny
  • 2003 FORD ESCAPE
  • 190,000 MILES

Clunking noise from front end replaced struts but clunking noise is still there when I hit small bumps on rough road.

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Saturday, June 17th, 2017 AT 7:29 PM (Merged)
Tiny
2CARPROS KEN
  • ADMIN
  • 11,727 POSTS

Hello,

Here is a guide that can help you find the problem and get it fixed.

https://www.2carpros.com/articles/popping-noise

Please let us know what happens, we are interested to see what it is.

Cheers, Ken

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Monday, June 19th, 2017 AT 4:19 PM

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