Alignment of suspension parts is vital for the smooth and safe operation of any vehicle. One of the components meant to keep your wheels and tires in the correct longitudinal and lateral position is the track bar. The track bar is used on vehicles with a coil spring suspension system and is designed to assist the other suspension parts and pieces to ensure reliable operation of the steering system. In theory, the track bar is one of those parts that should last quite a while; however, like any other mechanical part, it is subject to wear and tear and might even completely break.
When the track bar begins to wear out, it will have a serious impact in the way your vehicle handles, steers, and in some cases, accelerate and brake. One end of the track bar is attached to the axle assembly while the other end is attached to the frame or chassis. Most mechanics will inspect the track bar during a routine front end suspension alignment, as its adjustment is critical to having the front wheels perfectly aligned.
If the track bar begins to wear out, is damaged, or has completely failed, it will display a few warning signs or symptoms. If not repaired quickly, it can lead to excessive tire wear, poor handling, and sometimes create safety situations. Listed below are a few of the symptoms you should be aware that will indicate a problem with your track bar exists.
1. Vibration in the steering wheel
The track bar is a solid piece and typically doesn't have issues with the bar itself. The problem exists in the mounting joints, bushings, and support pieces. When the attachments are loose, it can cause the suspension parts to misalign and in some cases will cause the steering support brackets to shake. This will be displayed by a vibration in the steering wheel. Unlike wheel balance which typically begins to shake above 45 mph, this sort of vibration will be felt instantly when the track bar is loose. If you feel a vibration when you begin to drive your vehicle, and the vibration gets worse as the vehicle accelerates, contact a mechanic as soon as possible.
Some of the common issues of this symptom will include CV joints, stabilizer bar bearings, or track bar issues. Due to the multiple problem points, it's important for you to have the problem professionally diagnosed before attempting any repairs.
2. Vehicle drives loose
Since the track bar is designed to provide support to the steering system, it makes sense that a loose condition while driving may also be a warning sign. This commonly occurs when the inner track bar attachment on the chassis or frame is loose. In this case, the steering wheel will feel like it's floating in your hand and steering input will be reduced significantly. If you catch this issue quickly, it's very likely that a certified mechanic will be able to repair the track bar.
3. Noises from under the front end
When the track bar is loose, it will cause a vibration but also a noticeable sound. This is caused by the support brackets and bushings moving while the vehicle is steering or in forward motion. The noise under the vehicle will be amplified when you drive slow or over speed bumps, driveways or other bumps in the road. As with any of these symptoms, a phone call to an ASE certified mechanic should be the first thing you do if you notice them.
4. Wobbling at higher speeds
Since the track bar is supposed to be a stabilizer for the vehicle suspension, when it comes loose or has broken, it will cause the front end to float and create a "wobbling" sensation. This is a serious safety issue as it can cause the vehicle to spin out of control if it becomes uncontrollable. If you notice this warning sign, you should pull the car over to a safe spot and have the vehicle towed home. Once you arrive home, contact a local ASE certified mechanic to inspect the issue. More likely than not, the mechanic will have to replace the track bar then set the vehicle's alignment to ensure your tires don't wear out prematurely.
Anytime you experience any of the above warning signs, prompt action in contacting a professional mechanic can save you thousands of dollars in unneeded repairs. The local ASE certified mechanics from YourMechanic have the experience in correct diagnosis and replacement of worn or broken track bars.