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Feature Article

Rebuilding Your Front End Part 1- by Mark


Here are the parts, Idler Arm (left) and Drag Link (right)
Safety first.  Hearing protection and eye protection
jackstand.jpg (15419 bytes)
Make sure the car is stable and use strong stands.removebolts.jpg (11359 bytes)
First we remove the nuts.remover.jpg (10303 bytes)
The "Enforcer" see text.
tighten.jpg (11043 bytes)
Reverse operation, now we put the nuts back on.idlerarmbolt.jpg (10860 bytes)
Here is the hidden bolt head inside of the frame member
Replacing a Center Drag Link and Idler Arm

I guess the first thing I should speak on is Safety. When working under a car ALWAYS wear safety glasses. I know from experience that all sorts of loose stuff can get in your eyes when you are under there working. Secondly when you are going to be hitting things it is a good idea to wear ear protection too.

Now on to the project. As my Cutlass is approaching 150,000 miles the steering is getting a bit loose so I decided to tackle the problem in three parts. First I am going to replace the main Drag Link that connects the Tie Rods, Idler Arm and Steering Arm and at the same time I will replace the Idler Arm too. This is the subject of this installment. Secondly I plan on removing the steering box and either rebuilding or having it rebuilt. Finally I plan on replacing the upper and lower Ball Joints.

My experience in the past is that the Drag Link and Idler Arm are the first suspension member to wear out and therefore should be the first thing you replace when trying to improve your steering response. The Tie Rods typically do not need replacing unless they have not been maintained. However if you don’t mind taking the car in for realignment it can’t hurt and will probably improve the steering response too.

The tools that you will need in this first project are as follows: Hydraulic Car Lift, Jack Stands (Sturdy), a forked suspension "Enforcer" (pictured), a 3 lb hammer, small flat tipped screwdriver, a torque wrench, needle nose pliers, and appropriate sized wrenches and sockets.

Jack the car up a high as you are comfortable with, place a couple of sturdy car jack stands on the car frame where they will be stable and let the car down on them. Be sure to make sure the car is stable before crawling under it and I would always advise to have a friend nearby in case something were to go wrong ( I just like the company). An alternative to this is to use car ramps, they will not provide quite as much working room for you but will give an extra margin of safety. In any case Safety should always be first. Never work under a car unless you are comfortable with the work situation.

Now that the car is up, it’s time to remove the nuts holding the Drag Link on. There are 4 nuts on the Drag Link. We will remove 3 as one is connected to the Idler Arm which is also being replaced. First start by prying out the cotter pins with your small screwdriver. Next remove the cotter pins with your needle nose pliers. Now you can remove the nuts with a socket drive or a wrench. My nuts were 11/16th.

Now comes the fun part. Separating the Drag Link from the rest of the suspension. This is where the "Enforcer" comes in. The suspension is pressed together so it takes considerable pressure to separate the parts. Slip the fork of the "Enforcer" between the Drag Link and the Tie Rod and using the hammer drive the fork in until the two separate. Be careful not to puncture the seals on the Tie Rods. Repeat on the other Tie Rod and on the Steering Arm.

Now that the Drag Link is free it’s time to remove the Idler Arm and the Drag Link that is still attached to it. The Idler Arm is held on with two bolts that are accessed through the frame. Mine were inch bolts. You will need an extension to get your socket inside of the frame and a wrench to hold the nut. The nuts are held on with a locking thread compound so it takes a bit of time to get the nuts off. Now that the nuts are off you can twist the assembly out from under the car. Be very careful not to push the bolts back into the frame cavity, but if they do fall in as one did for me, just use a screwdriver to push them over to where you can grab and pull then out.

Basically the next step is to reverse everything you just did. First I put on the Idler Arm and cinch up the bolts. I found that upon re-installing the Drag Link I needed to push the Tie Rod ends through before pushing onto the Steering Arm shaft and Idler Arm shaft. It is a bit tricky but not to difficult. Be sure that the seals are in place on each of the shafts. Once everything is in place you put on the nuts and torque them to manufactures specifications. In the case of my car it was 40 ft lbs on the Tie Rod shafts and 35 ft lbs on the Idler Arm shaft and Steering Arm shaft. Install the cotter pins and lube the chassis.

Now drop the car down and test drive it. I found that my cars response was improved but on the freeway the steering gear was still to loose. So my next step will to be to remedy that mater. Stay Tuned.

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