Grammatical errors will be corrected on the morrow. 'Til then, enjoy.
JKS Control Arms - Full Installation Coverage
For those of you that don't particularly feel the compulsion to wade through all of the pleasant banter and informative, witty content that I work ever-so-hard to interject into my major updates, I'm going to break down the process of control arm removal and installation into three easy steps:
Step 1: Read Internet tutorials about the best way to install control arms.
Step 2: Stop reading the internet, ask the knowledgeable for suggestions, and locate your common sense.
Step 3: Replace your control arms one at a time.
There...don't ever say that I never did something the simple and easy way. Come to think of it, you can completely retard-proof the process by skipping the first two steps and going straight to the third one. However, it's worth noting that if you elect to go straight to Step 3 you'll not only miss out on my informative and witty banter, but you'll also trap yourself into some kind of temporal paradox because you're already reading an internet tutorial about the best way to install control arms
. You'll also miss out on a couple of genuinely-helpful tips and bits of advice that I learned the semi-hard way, yesterday.
Pictured: And you'll miss pictures of breakfast, too.
All semi-intentional chrono-spatial enmeshing aside, I'm dead serious about trying to offer up some helpful tidbits: I spent more than a few hours reading tutorials and builds and tech articles, and at the conclusion of those efforts I had found very little helpful and clearly-stated information on the subject of a stock-length control arm installation. Most of what I found was either uninformative or unrelated to the situation at hand...and that was kind of frustrating, because logic dictates that sixteen bolts and bushings simply cannot
pose that much of a problem. As it turns out, I was - for once - correct...but what can
be a problem is any single one of those bolts or bushings being seized up and resistant to movement. When that happens, you get this:
Pictured: Approximately one-quarter of an inch of free uptravel.
You can see by the tape measure that the tire is actually off the ground - that's why I put it there - and the most astute among you will note that the swaybar is disconnected; you can see that the link is a bit off-axis from where I shoved it out of the way. Also note that the jack is under the passenger-side lower control arm and is pushing upwards, and consider that what you cannot
see is the fact that I stopped elevating the jack when the spring and shock stopped freely compressing and the body started to move upwards as well. This happened at - I'm not kidding, here - about a quarter-inch of upward travel. I was watching the control arm bushings while I did this and they didn't want to move at all; the arm seemed almost locked in place, and I suspected that this resistance to movement might at least partially
responsible for some of the limited travel of the suspension. Thus, I started the removal here by taking the impact gun to the frame-side bolt...and that brings me to my first big tip.
Valuable Information: Even at rest, control arms are under an immense amount of pressure; this pressure makes removal of the control arm bolts dangerous and more difficult than it should be. Thus, it's wise to remember that taking the load off of a fastener makes its removal - and in this case, the removal of the entire control arm - much simpler and safer. If there's pressure on a control arm bolt I've found that it's best to loosen the nut and then find a way to lessen the pressure on the fastener before attempting to remove it.
If I had followed that little tip, the first arm I removed would have come out a lot easier and SAFER than it did. Take a look at the following image, which shows what happened when, instead of doing things the smart and safe way, I used an impact gun to remove the aforementioned frame-side bolt
without having taken the load off of the arm, first.
Pictured: Just so you know, the unplanned movement of the arm was accompanied by an earth-shattering kaboom.
In that image, you can see that the arm has pivoted downward by a half-inch or so, and it was only checked in its movement by slamming itself into the closed bottom of the frame-side bracket. This happened because I removed the bolt that held the arm in place without removing pressure from the arm, first. If I'd taken the nut off and then used something to alleviate some of the pressure on the bolt - a jack or a crowbar or a ratchet strap or the like - the bolt wouldn't have unthreaded its way out of the bushing/bracket and the arm wouldn't have suddenly decided that it was allowed to move towards my face. That's really all there is to it: loosen nut, relieve tension/pressure, remove bolt...lather, rinse, repeat. Doing it in this sequence basically allowed the other seven arms to safely fall out in a well-mannered and predictable fashion. I read a lot of tutorials about getting the entire rig in the air and also getting the axles fully supported under a combination of jacks and/or jackstands - and there are viable reasons to do this, in some cases - but in the end all that's really needed
to effectively pull a control arm bolt is a enough upward pressure to remove the load that will be keeping it in place. Of course, it helps if the bolt itself isn't completely frozen into the bushing, and if the bushing itself isn't seized into the adjoining bracket...
Pictured: But if that's the case, feel free to persuade as needed.
It's worth noting, here, that this end of the arm was so seized up that I could have pounded on the bolt until its threads were completely ruined, and I would likely have never moved it; by adding a bit of upward force with the jack I was able to extract the bolt from the bushing sleeve and bracket with comparative ease. When the bolt finally began to move I started to understand part of the reason that the lower control arm seemed locked in place when I tried elevating the tire, and why the other end of this arm had so much tension on it.
Pictured: Just wait...it gets worse.
This little f***** did NOT want to come out, and it wasn't just because of the rust; granted, the rust had a lot to do with it, but the greater cause of the resistance was the fact that the bushing sleeves were severely out-of-place within the bushings themselves. Here's a shot of what I'm talking about.
Pictured: WTF, Clevite Bushings???
As evidenced by the slot-shaped surface rust, this is the axle-side of the arm...and the interior bushing sleeve is a measured
.125" off-center. The medial hemisphere - is that the correct term? - of the bushing is dry-rotted, compressed and cracked; this was the case for all eight
of the lower control arm bushings. I'm honestly not sure why this happened or what it means, but in the example of this particular arm it was the majority cause of the arm itself being highly restricted in its movement; after both bolts had been removed this arm still had to be forced out of the axle-side bracket with a hammer. Upon removing it, I snapped not only the above image, but a second one as well; this shows an even more curious condition...
Pictured: I repeat: WTF???
Here, we can see that the bushings are showing a progressive compression along their outer surfaces, vertically, as the distance from the centerline of the bushing sleeves increases. Again, I really do not understand how this happened or what it means...but I can
say that I believe that this is the likely cause of the front-end shimmy that's been in-residence ever since I installed the OME springs and 35" tires last spring. My best guess is that this is nothing more than dry-rotted rubber showing the effects of the control arms' elliptical path of movement...but I don't know that for sure; regardless, from the amount of rust and corrosion that was found on the on the bushing sleeves, it's clear that the decay of the rubber was at least partially responsible for the difficulty I had in removing the lower arms. Be that as it may, after realizing what it took to quickly and effectively remove a control arm I managed to drop the other front lower arm in short order.
Pictured: And I really shouldn't have done so...
Remember how I said that the axles are under a LOT of tension? I wasn't kidding: as soon as I got one of the bolts removed from this arm - aided by the jack - the entire axle shifted forwards by about two inches. Had the jack not caught some of the weight of the axle itself, it may have moved more; I really don't know how far it would have or could have gone. So, this leads me to another tip...
Valuable Information: When removing control arms, remove them sequentially, in horizontal pairs...and remove them one at a time. Once an arm is removed, immediately install its replacement; removing pairs of arms removes the triangulation that keeps the axle roughly in-place, and forces you to use a ratchet strap or some other means of moving the axle back into its correct orientation. By only removing and replacing one arm at a time, axle movement is limited. If you WANT to move the axle - such as a pinion adjustment - then only remove the pairs of arms that are needed to make the desired movement.
And as evidence of fact, here's a shot of what you're going to have to do to install the new control arm, should you decide to pull a pair of arms at once without having the axle properly supported.
Pictured: Way too much f****** work, for realz.
Yet again, the astute observer is ahead of the curve, because he - or she - has noticed that the replacement JKS arm is already in-place in this photo. After the JKS lower was adjusted to the proper length - they were both 15.75", for those of you that care to know - and the axle was shoehorned back into place, the new arm bolted right up with no effort whatsoever...but getting it adjusted to the right length was a LOT more work than I anticipated. Consider the following shot, which shows the awesomely beef-tastic differences between a stock lower and the JKS unit -
- and see if you can figure out what's about to be very annoying.
Pictured: Hint: it has to do with paint and bearing tolerances.
Ah...yes...bearings; the JKS arms have two
of those wonderful devices inside of them - that's why they rotate so freely and smoothly - and as it turns out, these bearings are highly
intolerant of variations in the thickness of the shaft that they're supporting...so when I tried to shorten up the now-painted
arm by screwing the shaft into the bearing-filled housing, it quickly bound up and refused to move. I only put two coats of paint on the shafts, but that was more than enough to cause a problem; the arms couldn't be adjusted without the paint being removed.
Pictured: I just got finished making these things look all pretty and stuff, damn it...
Actually, I can't take credit for doing the tedious and likely-to-f***-up-a-seal paint removal: that honor goes to my friend Jen, who came over to help me with the swap. After picking up some paint stripper, she assigned herself the task of removing all of the offending and in-the-way paint from each one of the arms, and she did an exceptional job at it. I would have probably gone insane trying to do as well; you can see how clean they turned out in most of the upcoming images. To make this accomplishment even more impressive, I should point out that she managed all of this paint stripping while still helping me remove and install the control arms, one by one. Oh, while I'm on the subject of having capable assistance...
Valuable Information: Projects like this go a lot smoother when you have a capable person assisting you, and they go exceptionally smooth when said person also owes you lunch.
Whether it's working a jack, finding tools, manhandling a loose axle or troubleshooting an unexpected problem, capable help is the single best asset you can give yourself when jumping into unfamiliar territory under your rig
. So, after Jen got the necessary paint removed from the front lower arms and I adjusted them to length and got them loosely bolted into place, I moved to the uppers...and when I looked at the passenger-side upper arm I found something very curious...
Pictured: For the third time: WTF???
I have no idea about why the bushing housing is bent, how it got that way, how it didn't affect the adjoining control arm, and whether or not any of those things are in the least bit significant. What I do
know is that it didn't seem to have a negative impact on the bushing itself; in fact, all of the upper bushings were in much better shape than the lowers, and although the upper arms looked to be completely
occluded by steering linkages and the track bar they actually came out far easier than the lowers.
Pictured: Providing that you avoid the still-hot exhaust pipes, that is.
Since I only removed one of the uppers at a time there was much less free movement of the axles; all the same, the axle still needed a bit of ratchet-strapping in order to get the arms to easily fall into their proper place. I set the length of the newly-cleaned JKS uppers at 15.0625", which was roughly a thin 1/16" less than the length of the factory arms that they replaced; I figured that this might give me back a touch of the caster that I lost from the 2.5" OME coils. Once the ratchet strap was used to gently roll the axle back into location the new upper arm was easily installed...and when I say "easily installed" I mean exactly
that. To quote something that Imped posted after reading this article, and which is excellently said: "you should be able to adjust the arms so that the bolt floats right through. If you have to use a ratchet strap, you're forcing things and are creating unnecessary bind...Clevite bushings really don't like that."
Pictured: Happy bushings. Also note that Jen followed the weld line when she removed the paint on the upper arm shafts. Impressive.
The careful observer will note that in addition to my brake calipers needing a bit of repainting, there's an entirely non-mysterious silvery substance in residence around the control arm bolts: anti-seize compound. I used a liberal amount of this stuff on the threads of all of the bolts before spinning their nuts down with an air ratchet. Per the instructions, I left all of the fasteners somewhat loose and did not torque them into place until all of the arms were installed and the axles under full load, both front and rear...and speaking of the rear arms, the procedures there are basically a repeat of what is done in the front. I debated for several days on whether or not to try and grab an extra 1/4" of wheelbase by lengthening the rear lower arms to a full 16", and as it turned out Greta made the decision for me; when I removed one of the rear lowers the axle rocked about 3/8" rearward, so I set the length at 16.125", installed the arm, and repeated the procedure on the opposite side. After both arms were installed I checked to see that the axle was sitting square in its proper location, and we set to adjusting the pinion.
Valuable Information: When using stock-length arms and taller-than-stock springs your geometry CANNOT be perfect...so there's not a lot of reason to worry about it. Point the pinion at the transfer case output and have faith that your driveline is happier; worry about ideal suspension geometry when you are willing to do the work that it requires. Or, as Imped said in his later post: "When setting the axle's position, note that arm length really doesn't matter. The axles being 1) square to the frame, 2) square to each other and with 3) proper pinion angle and caster 4) while being laterally centered at ride height is what matters."
The simplest way to change the pinion angle is to place a jack under the pinion output and use it to support the axle while the upper arms are removed as a pair...and this is basically the ONLY time that a pair of arms needs to be removed at once, as the axle is going to be intentionally rotated. Once the axle is free to rotate the adjustment is easy to make...
Pictured: ...and things start looking like this. For now.
Once the pinion is at the desired angle the upper arms can be adjusted and fitted into place. Determining the proper length is no more difficult than taking a center-to-center measurement of the bolt holes in the frame and axle brackets and then adjusting the arm to fit the opening; mine ended up being about 13.75". The only "gotcha" on the rear are the brake lines that are mounted to the upper control arms with a set of large, obtrusive clips...
Pictured: Seems like overkill for a soft brake line, but, whatever.
JKS suggests that the brake lines be zip tied to the new arm, but the clips that held the lines against the stock arms are really in the way of doing so; I'm considering cutting them off entirely or finding a line without a clip, if possible. That's a future project, though; for now, simply tucking the lines up and out of the way will suffice...and once this is done the upper arms slip easily into place.
Pictured: Very sexy.
Once the upper arms were in place the torque-down process was completed, and since I used anti-seize the given torque values were reduced a bit; I'll drive for a day or two and re-check the torque, though...and if anything seems loose at any point I'll up the torque right back to the factory spec.
Pictured: Besides, I like using a torque wrench. It makes me feel important.
Once the torque-down process was completed I reconnected the front swaybar and gave the entire undercarriage a final once-over just to make sure that nothing was left unfastened or unattached before the test drive...and upon doing so I made a happy little discovery; a half-inch or so more clearance under the axle ends of the control arms!
Pictured: Yes! Party! Bonus!
The test drive was interesting, and not just because we were exhausted, slightly
inebriated and heading for the Waffle House; upon driving down the street I immediately noticed several differences in Greta's mannerisms:
- The suspension is a lot more predictable in corners; the "softness" is reduced, and I suspect that this is due to the fact that there are fresh bushings in place of the old, rotted stuff.
- The long-present 41- through 45-MPH front end shimmy is GONE. I was astounded that this happened because I was 156% sure that the vibration was coming from the front track bar, since vibrations in the low 40's are almost invariably track bar-related. Evidently this particular vibration was as much of a product of the rotted lower control arm bushings as was the cornering softness.
- The also-long-present random side-to-side wander in my hard braking has evaporated as well. I had always ascribed it to slight variations in the road surface, but - again - after seeing the lower control arm bushings it's starting to be clear that the axle itself was shifting enough to cause a random pull in either one direction or the other when the brakes are locked down hard. This hard braking, incidentally, is about the only thing I can come up with that would cause the peculiar compression of the lower bushings...but as to whether or not that's the actual cause, I don't know. Regardless, the braking is hard and steady and straight
each and every time, now.
- The suspension moves a LOT more than it previously did; the seized bushings that I found in the front are now gone, and a severely over-torqued upper rear bolt is now installed at the proper torque value. It's relatively easy to compress and lift both the front and rear of the vehicle; heretofore, doing so gave Beasley a wrist injury.
- Suspension "softness" at highway speeds is much improved. Some of the long-anticipated "float" has returned, and cruising at 65 MPH is downright pleasant.
- The low-speed "harsh" sensations are still present, so that tells me that I've got a spring or shock issue still in play...but overall, I'd say that these arms are a MAJOR improvement over the stock junk.
Pictured: One large pile of wrongness, no longer in residence underneath my favorite girl.
So, there we are...new arms installed, the vital information conveyed, and lots of back pain regained by Very Sincerely Yours. Special thanks go to G Beasley, Nurse Jen, Spyder6, the Pumpkinator, mrblaine, Imped and FJ Ryan...the latter of whom I will only begrudgingly thank because he ate WAY too many of my precious fudge-stripe cookies; incidentally, "too many" is any number of cookies greater than zero.
Also, I couldn't locate a grease gun OR any grease - shame on me - so I'm going to have to take care of filling the arms in the next day or so. I'll also have to re-torque the fasteners and give everything a bit more time to settle in, and I've supposedly got a set of front shocks on the way...so stay tuned for more from Site B.