1997 Saturn SL1 Front end noises: pops, thuds, clunks

Tiny
STEADYHAND
  • MEMBER
  • 1997 SATURN SL1
  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 136,000 MILES
I have a 97 Saturn SL1 with the SOHC and automatic transmission. For the past couple of weeks I have noticed a horrible noise from the front end. Sometimes it sounds like a rattle from behind the dash and steering column, but most of the time it sounds like a loud thud sound. I hear the thud or popping mostly when I turn left, but I have heard it when turning right also. The thud sound seems to come from the front passenger side area. Now I have already replaced the lower ball joint on the front passenger side because it was bad. I have also replaced both outer tie rod ends for both sides. I saw no reason to replace the inner tie rods or the lower ball joint on the driver side because they seemed to be functioning well. I have also replaced the strut and upper strut mount on the front passenger side area. This did not fix the problem; however, I did notice something that wasn't very reassuring. When I got the strut assembly off the car, I noticed the three holes in the fender well for the strut to mount were larger, as if the bolts that run through the holes had been rubbing against one side of the hole and acting as a file thus eating away at the metal and oversizing the hole. I mounted the new strut using larger washers and torqued the nuts considerably tight to prevent it from sliding. Anyhow, the noise still remains. I'm telling you it is loud. I also notice if I make a hard left turn at a slow speed the car will turn smooth at first and then it seems to suddenly "jerk" into the turn as if compensating for something. I'm certain all these noises are steering related but sometimes I can hear the rattle and thud sound while going straight. If I hit a speed bump between 5-10 mph I will hear the thud as well. This problem is throwing me off. I would think the popping sound when turning left would be a CV joint but the fact I hear it at certain times while going straight and hear it because I hit a bump makes me think suspension but since I already replaced the strut and strut mount on the front passenger side I have to lean more towards steering. I've tested the car sitting still and turning the steering wheel left and right but it does Not make the noise. It only does it when moving and is louder when turning or hitting rough bumps.

I've been at this for two weeks now and though I have suspicions I've only minimally encountered these problems since I don't make a living working on cars. I really need some ideas or opinions from people more experienced. Please tell me what you believe the problem may be. I have been under the car so many times in blistering cold weather and I can not visually see any problems. I'll get under the car again if I have to, I just need to know the best place to start. Thank you.
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Sunday, December 20th, 2009 AT 12:11 AM

2 Replies

Tiny
STEADYHAND
  • MEMBER
Ok, I happened to be looking under the car again and happened to notice something I have missed so many times before. I am not sure what to call it, but it looks like the whole front portion of the front frame dropped like 3 inches. It may not be the actual frame, rather it looks like a crossmember. It attaches to the frame behind the motor and travels under the motor/tranny to the front part of the car where it was suppose to attach to the frame again via a bolt and rubber bushing serving as a spacer I assume. I could be wrong on this because the fact is the bolt on both sides were missing as well as the bushings. I noticed the marks from where a washer once was and when I pushed up on the frame it raised up about an inch. This frame/bracket also serves as a mount or support for the radiator so the radiator has also dropped 3 inches and was causing some of the rattling. I don't know for sure if there was a bushing between this support and the frame above it but I would assume there would be or it would be metal to metal contact. This bracket is also where the sway bar mounts to so every time I make a turn this lower frame/support is shifting from side to side. This is not a good thing so the car will be staying parked until this is fixed.

My question is, does anyone know what this bracket/support/lower frame is actually called and can you verify whether a rubber bushing actually goes between it and the upper frame and where I might be able to find them? None of my local parts stores (autozone, oreillys, napa, etc) carry the part, or they just have less knowledge than I do about cars because they didn't seem to understand too well.

I would appreciate the help with this matter. Thanks.
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Sunday, December 20th, 2009 AT 8:55 PM
Tiny
STEADYHAND
  • MEMBER
Update: I lifted the frame today, bolted it into place and took it for a test drive. The majority of the rattle is gone, the car seems to shake less. However, there is still a rattling/popping sound when I turn left or right. It happens mostly when I make a left. The sound isn't as loud when I make a right, but either direction the sound still seems to come from the right passenger side. I've checked both wheels on the saturn and neither one wobble or have any noise from the bearings. Would you say this is a CV joint? If so, what is the proper procedure for removing the CV joint on the passenger side. Surprisingly I have decent room under the car to work. The CV joint runs into what appears to be a canister of some type, like a can. I am not sure how to disconnect the CV joint from this canister. The CV joint goes into one side of the canister and some type of a midshaft runs from it to the transmission.

If anyone knows how to disconnect/remove the CV halfshaft on the passenger side I would appreciate a run down on this and any possible problems I might encounter and should prepare for. I've been told this is fairly painless to do but I've been told that before and came out with broken bones ;) Thanks for the help.
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Monday, December 21st, 2009 AT 6:08 PM

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