There are a number of problems that can cause your car to have steering problems, but one of the most specific components you should be doing regular check on is your idler arm.
In parallelogram steering linkage systems, which are the most regular form that vehicle steering racks take, the idler arm is one of three pieces that fit between four tie rods to make up the parallelogram shape.
(While the parallelogram system is most frequently used, there are some vehicle steering linkages that use two idler arms. be sure you know how your vehicle is put made to be sure you’re checking for the cause of your signs appropriately.)
While the counterpart to an idler arm, the pitman arm, links to the steering gear and transfers the motions of the real steering wheel to the center link, tie rods, and ultimately the front wheels; the idler arm is a reflection of that actions. It works as a pivoting support on the passenger side of the car, so it attaches to the opposite end of the center link and transfers steering motion to the passenger side of the car.
Once you understand the great role that the simple idler arm plays, it’s easier to have an idea of where things can go south. If the following problems or changes occur in your vehicle handling, they could point back to an idler arm that is bad or malfunctioning.
- ROAD WALKING
This is also known as road wandering, this scary phenomenon happens when a car seems to wander or weave back and forth on its own. If you are being attentive and steady on the steering wheel but are noticing road walking, it will be very difficult for you to keep the vehicle straight.
- WHEEL PLAY
If you have fears that the idler arm is in poor condition, this sign can be tested under safer and easier conditions than road walking. While the vehicle is sitting still, try moving the steering wheel. If you can move the wheel considerably from side to side without so much resistance, your steering wheel has too great play. While you certainly don’t want your vehicle to be unresponsive when you make steering maneuvers, a wheel that has too little resistance is equally bad and a sign that the idler arm is the problem.
- FREE WHEELING
This symptom can only be checked and tested in a garage or mechanic setting, as the car must be raised such that the front wheels are suspended off of the ground.
- Be sure to use suggested and available safety equipment anytime you are working underneath a car.
While the vehicle is raised high, go to your front wheels and without touching the steering wheel at all, see if it’s possible to move the front wheels from side to side. If the wheels do shift back and forth, it’s an indicator that you should look into the idler arm.
It is true that because your car’s steering assembly is made up of so many interlinking components, problems can arise that are completely dependent of your idler arm. However, since the idler arm is such a specific component, it’s helpful if you can diagnose it as the problem on your own and save a mechanic the trouble and cost.
Even when you don’t envisage a problem with your idler arm, regular care will keep it working well. For example, idler arms are always installed with grease fittings. During routine oil checks, use that time to lubricate idler arm grease fittings using a grease gun.