91 Civic Lower at Dr. Side Front...

... by about two inches. Car has 175k miles on it and engine seems in great shape and is maintained pretty carefully IMO by yours truly. The non-levelness is noticeable when
standing 30 feet or so from the car. Bounce test (pushing on one side than the other of the front bumper) yields about one or two cycles.
I will take off the front dr. side wheel today and inspect the suspension spring (for breakage) and damper (for leakage). I haven't heard clicking when turning, so I don't think a CV joint is necessarily broken. A few questions as I troubleshoot this, using my manual, Tegger's site covering various suspension components' replacement, and the net:
-- If I replace the front dr. side spring and damper, I really should do the pass. side, too, right?
-- Could someone please rattle off where I can get a new damper? (I know this is in the archives... ) My recollection is OEM is not at all critical here, right? I don't want performance. I want a damper that acts the same as when my Civic's dampers were new, at a good price. Napa? Autozone? There is a junkyard not far from whom I got a strut before.
-- Other things I can check to confirm, say, a broken ball joint or other causes of the non-levelness? I see Tegger's site's comments on this but the car doesn't have any braking problems suggestive of a broken ball joint.
I am using http://www.askmehelpdesk.com/advice/index.php/t-6582.html . Note that my manual indicates there is no torsion bar adjustment on my 91 Civic.
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Elle wrote:

One to two bounces sounds about right. Though it might be a little soft. On my '88 Civic, I push down on the fender and it just comes back up without any residual bouncing.

I would suspect a bad spring. Control arm bushings can also affect the ride height but they would have to be pretty worn to get two inches out of them and then you would surely notice derivability problems.

Struts are usually replaced in pairs to keep your car from bouncing unevenly side to side which could negatively impact the steering.

The bone yard might be ok for springs but I would avoid any struts there. I've found that KYB GR-2 struts work pretty well. You can get them from http://www.tirerack.com . They might be a little stiffer than stock but they drive pretty good, not too hard and not too soft. It might be a good time to do all four if you're going to do the front two. I've had a set on my '88 Civic for years now and they still work fine. The the only spec I could find in my Helm manual is for the ride height. It's 25.3 in. for the front and 25.8 in. for the rear as measured from the ground to the top of the wheel well when parked on a level surface.

Broken ball joints would surely cause a derivability problem but you should check them, both upper and lower, routinely.

Correct, if I remember correctly, the torsion bars were last seen in the '87 Civic. I don't know if they have ever returned.
Eric
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Eric, thanks for sharing your experience. It helps.
I checked again, and my 91 Civic is indeed much more like what you describe with your 88 Civic.
Also, the difference in heights is closer to 1 to maybe 1.5 inches.

Yesterday I managed to remove and inspect thoroughly both front suspension strut (that is, damper and spring) assemblies. I also looked at the ball joints (upper and lower) and checked for play in the upper ones. I took measurements, too, at one point resting the car's weight on a jack beneath the lower control arms. I couldn't find anything near an inch off.
I note that, unlike the bolts in the rear lower control arms, the bolts in the front lower control arms were a breeze to remove and looked in pretty good repair. I only sprayed a little PB Blaster on all bolts/nuts and waited ten minutes. The bushings, at least at the lower control arm, look okay, but I am not prepared to excuse them yet. I am still thinking about how the loads transmit and so what could cause the 1 inch or so drop in height.
I tried switching the strut assemblies but quickly found I'd have to make more adjustments to them to get them to fit in the opposite sides. This would require a coil spring compressor, from what I can tell.
I think I'm going to buy a coil spring compressor today and check on whether shims exist for the damper assembly.
I am contemplating changing the lower ball joints but see the nightmare stories about separating them, at least without the best or near best tool available to do so (which admittedly might be had for $30 at Autozone) , so I am hesitating until I have more evidence that one is really, say, mashed/messed up. Tegger's photos of the car with the broken front ball joint are inspiring, to say the least.
I think this is going to be a multi-month process, for budgeting reasons and to enjoy, rather than become frustrated. Lately I'm thinking that, if anything really dies on this car, it will be an important suspension component. This 91 Civic was driven in the northern U.S. for about half its life and the rear suspension bushings for sure reflects this. (But I've been over the rear suspension nightmare already, both hands on at from discussion here at the newsgroup.)
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Elle wrote:
[snip]

The front struts are sold separately for the left and right sides. I do not believe that they can be swapped from side to side. The rear struts are different. Those are the same part numbers for left and right unlike the fronts.

The upper ball joint is part of the upper control arm which is about $60. The lower ball joint is pressed into the steering knuckle (I don't know the cost for replacement). You should check them for free play before you decide to go through the hassle and expense of changing them. The upper ball joint can usually be checked by squeezing it in the vertical axis with a large pair of ChanneLock pliers. If you can see the joint move up and down as you squeeze it then it should be replaced. With the lower joint, I usually check it by jacking up the car, putting it on stands, and grabbing the tire between the 4 and 5 o'clock positions. Try pulling the tire in and out and feel for free play. If you do find some, then you'll need to confirm that it's isolated to the ball joint and not the wheel bearing by having someone repeat that procedure while you watch the joint.
Eric
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It did indeed look that way except I thought I could forego the brake line clamps for my brief swap (during which I would do no driving but instead just take measurements) and, if I could get the damper assembly apart, rotate certain parts to make the swap work.
But since they're different part nos., I understand your point.
My Chilton's manual gave checks for the ball joints similar to yours.
About the springs: What's odd to me is that both under load and with the strut assembly removed, the spring lengths were the same.
Uncompressed, the dr. side control arm bushing is cracked. I think the pass. side one was too. But I didn't take measurements or inspect how they appeared under load, so that seems like a good next step.
I found today that Autozone will loan me a spring compressor that may fit on Honda's tiny coil springs. No charge; just a refundable deposit.
Thank you. I think I'm on my way to better understanding what I might need to do at some point soon. I am trying to avoid nightmares brought on by violation of the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule. Plus I am ambivalent about spending too much money on a car this old, much as I want to take it to at least 250,000 miles.
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Elle wrote:
[snip]

By "under load" do you mean with the car jacked up and the strut extended? You need to compare the free length of the spring when it's uninstalled from the strut assembly to the free length of new springs.

A worn bushing might give a " or so. I replaced both the front and rear lower control arm bushings as well as the rear upper control arm bushings on my Civic about a year ago or so. It made the car drive a lot smoother. My front lower control arm bushings were also cracked.

My Civic is at about 243,000 miles and I'm hoping to drive it to at least 300,000 or so. The paint's not in the greatest shape but that doesn't affect how it drives.
Eric
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I took three measurements of the coil spring lengths: 1. Car front supported at customary jacking points (the frame beneath the front doors) for changing a tire (wheels off, of course) 2. Car front supported beneath lower control arms (wheels off) 3. Strut assembly fully removed from car and laid on ground, side by side.

I understand. As I mentioned, having no spring compressor yet, I haven't done this. I would also have to go after some new springs... But I see where you're going.

Where did you have the bushings removed and then pressed into place?
Finding a shop that will do this for me is a bit of a hurdle to get over. I think I can deal with separating the lower ball joints, once I cave and put the money into the right tool, per Tegger's site. I separated the ball joints in an auto shop class once and get the basic idea, as well as some of the precautions to take. Also I see the warnings in the archives.
I am still tempted to go down to the one junkyard I know that has a lot of old Civics and see if I can just find a couple of front control arms in good repair and use them. The one, new rear control arm I installed (under great duress, not having very good tools or knowing much about bolt busting beyond PB Blaster) had only about 5000 miles on it IIRC and had a bushing(s) that was (were) much better in appearance than the old one(s).

That's encouraging!
The superior ride you're getting is also incentive. This is definitely something to consider for a summer project. That's what this is right now: After looking everything over, feeling it was safe enough, and seeing the height difference wasn't as bad as I thought, I can live with it. I was walking into the parking lot the other day and saw this glaring tilt for the first time to my Civic and felt it was time to take a look at what was happening in front.
I bought some Armor All today and sprayed some on the upper ball joint rubber boots, wiping them down. Without thinking about it, on my next trip out, I swear I felt smoother steering, especially on turns. I know that doesn't make sense, unless the Armor All soaked in and around the boot a bit and drove out some of the crud there.
I'll have another go at it all come Monday or so.
Thanks again.

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Elle wrote:

I took them to the shop I used to work at and they let me use their hydraulic press. If you have experience using a press, then it's pretty straight forward, i.e., press the old bushings out and then press the new bushings in using appropriate press tools such that you're only pressing on the thin outer sleeve of the bushing and not on the center while keeping the arm supported such that you're pressing perpendicular to the arm and not off at some angle. However, any good machine shop or auto shop with a press should be able to do them for you. Call around for prices and avoid the cheapo car repair places.
Eric
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Re having old suspension control arm bushings pressed out and replaced:

Sounds good. I'll start making gentle inquiries.
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Would this 12-ton shop press be sufficient for removing old control arm bushings and pressing new ones in place? (Assuming I study like mad and secure everything properly.)
http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/Displayitem.taf?itemnumber 67
(Describes a Central Hydraulics A-frame shop press.)
I was at the salvage yard today, where some second hand front lower control arms with pretty good looking bushings went for $40 each. Hm. Then I started thinking about having a shop do them, and what a hassle that is, since I'll have to bike back and forth between the shop to get my Civic's control arm bushings replaced. And I sure would like to go at the rear arm bushings sometime...
At Harbor Freight today, picking up my $7 special coil spring compressor, I noticed the shop presses and though, 'Ya know, for $100, if I could do this all myself... "
I'm googling and it seems a press this size will work. Just want more exacting experience at this point on this particular size of press when used for bushings.

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On Wed, 12 Apr 2006 20:20:34 GMT, "Elle"

I would think the press would have plenty of muscle. The trick, I think, would be accumulating all of the bushings and spacers and chucks and stuff to fit the various applications. But if you did that one piece at a time, the cost would probably still be less than having it done at a shop I may order one too, since I will soon need to press off and on new rear axle bearings for my Chevrolet van.
Elliot Richmond Freelance Science Writer and Editor
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If you do much mechanical work you will quickly wonder how you got by without a press. I have a slightly larger Harbor Freight press and have used it for all sorts of things, including driving bushings.
My bench vise really appreciates no longer being tortured into attempting these jobs as well!
John
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Elle wrote:

20 tons, $80? sounds like itd work just fine.
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12 tons. Plus I have a coupon for 10% off May 1-8 that might apply, too. :-)
Thanks for the input. Hopefully within a year I'll photo-document (love that digital camera) the effort. I think I'm going to switch the front suspension's springs in the next few days and take measurements. I don't expect a change; J. Beam has some long posts on the longevity of the springs in general (from much of his own work on them) and, with my experience with the rears, I doubt the springs are messed up. Eric's theory on the bushings is the one towards which I lean right now.
I've also been studying Tegger's site on ball joint separating tools and seeing what's available out there. Ebay doesn't promise much. I am leaning towards the second-third tools Tegger, with input from others, lists. I found one of these for around $20 on the net. Or I'll check out Autozone's rental.
A friend of mine has a 99 Civic on which I took measurements yesterday. It too is lower on the driver's side, but the difference is closer to a half-inch. She's only driven the car out West, very little snow area.
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I did some more careful measurements today, ground to top of front wheel wells. The difference in heights from driver's side to passenger's side is 11/16 inch and holding.
I now think it's the bushings, possibly a bit of spring sag, and maybe a bit of wear on the ball joints.
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Elle wrote:

If the bushings are not visibly compressed (checked with the car on the ground) or cracked, then they're probably OK. I still suspect a bad spring. If you get one from the wrecking yard, you'll need to know the free length of the stock new spring and bring a tape measure with you to measure the new springs. http://www.hondaautomotiveparts.com lists 4 different part numbers for the front springs with prices varying from $48.88 ea. to $136.14 ea. I would give them a call and try to find out what the differences are between the springs as you may be able to use the less expensive units.
By the way, it might be better to rent a spring compressor for a day rather than purchase it.
Eric
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As of yesterday, I successfully, though laboriously, replaced all the front lower control arm bushings. I had previously replaced the front suspension's coil springs. About a 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch height difference still exists between driver's side and passenger's side, using my crude measurement techniques. The car does seem to handle better. It seems to take road bumps with smoother bounces rather than some clunkiness prior to the new bushings.
For the front passenger side lower control arm bushing outer sleeves ( = second side I did), the new air hammer-chisel I purchased wasn't enough. Nor were the new diamond cutting wheels used on the air die grinder. Instead, I mostly hand sawed and hand chiseled about one-third of each bushing outer sleeve, constantly applying PB Blaster. The PB Blaster was being sucked into the crevices between sleeve and arm; I think it helped. Had I more time, I would have let the PB Blaster sit over night. Hammering against a well-fitting socket (with outside diameter almost exactly that of the outer sleeve) seemed to finally shake the remains loose. All together it took hours to remove the two old, bushing outer sleeves. I think the smaller one was the tougher one, perhaps because its small size means it has less "springiness" to it.
I beat up the smaller control arm bushing hole pretty badly from my efforts. I filed a bit and cleaned both control arm holes with emery paper.
I heated the control arm for an hour in an oven set to 200 degrees F. I also froze (overnight) the new bushings. I started the larger bushing by manually hammering against a well-fitted socket, making sure the bushing was going in straight. Then I used the socket-bolt-nut-washer method to press it in. This worked well. While it did not just "slide in," progress was steady, noticeable, controlled, and much less labor intensive than whacking repeatedly with a hammer. I do think the heating and freezing helped. The larger new bushing was installed within an hour or so.
By the time I finished installing the larger new bushing, the control arm was about at ambient outdoor temperature again. For the smaller bushing, I did try heating the arm again but hesitated to leave it in the oven for too long with the new, larger bushing already installed. I do not think 200 degrees F is enough to destroy the bushing, but I was a bit worried about degrading the rubber somewhat.
I was on schedule for finishing the one control arm within a day (12 hours). But then installing the new, smaller bushing became a problem. I think the control arm hole just had too many nicks and burrs in it. I could not get the new, smaller bushing to line up straight for quite awhile. Eventually I got it started. I used the socket-bolt-nut-washer set up, and saw some progress. But pressing it in was taking more force than usual, perhaps because of the aforementioned nicks and burrs. I was using a roughly five-foot pipe extension throughout. After getting the bushing in about one-third of the way, I had stripped the 3/8-inch, fine thread, Grade 8 bolt/nut.
About the force required to push a bushing into place -- Not having access to a hardware store at 7 PM at night, I gave up on the socket-bolt-nut-washer method for the evening. I did try (1) a vise (which seemed to be working but also seemed to be breaking the vise); (2) a C-clamp (same); (3) rigging my car, with a jackstand for backup protection, to apply about a quarter of its weight (about 0.4 ton) to the bushing. This weight did not budge the bushing.
In the Usenet archives I read about a guy who used the weight of the "back end" of a Cadillac to press in a control arm bushing. I googled for Cadillac weights and estimate the typical Cadillac weighs a bit over twice as much as my Civic (3.6 tons vs. my Civic's 1.6 tons), so this guy applied maybe 1.8 tons or more. The guy wrote the Cadillac nearly lifted up before the bushing started moving.
The 3/8-inch bolt never yielded in tension (that is, pulled apart). This suggests the force the socket-bolt-nut-washer setup applied to the bushing was probably less than 7 tons, by my calculations using various, basic bolt formulae and theory. The bolt/nut threads are not supposed to strip until about 9 tons are applied. I figure I had tilted the nut somewhat when tightening, causing the stripping to occur. The washers and other doughnut shaped items beneath it were in fact yielding (= bending) somewhat, = causing things to get a little uneven. (The sockets by contrast held up well.) So with the nut under load and tilted relative to the bolt axis, at high enough loads, the threads would strip.
The next morning I went to the hardware store and bought two more 3/8-inch, fine thread, Grade 8 bolts. The second attempt with a 3/8-inch bolt advanced the bushing further, about 3/4 way altogether. Then this bolt and nut stripped. I finally got the bushing fully into place with the last 3/8-inch bolt.
I think if I had taken more care to keep the socket-bolt-nut-washer setup straight, the two bolts might not have stripped. New and tougher washers, or bolts of easier lengths with which to work with the sockets I had, might have prevented stripping.
To me the lessons here are (1) For a younger car driven in a non-corrosive environment, either a 12-ton shop press or the socket-bolt-nut-washer method might very well work to remove old bushings. This is not necessarily so for an older car driven in a corrosive environment such as the Midwest or Northern U.S.
(2) A 12-ton shop press would likely successfully and easily install new bushings. I do not think a two-ton press would always be enough, based on my experience and calculations and reading about others trying two-ton presses.
(3) Even if one goes with the shop press, one will have to buy the sockets or other bushing press accessories.
(4) Based on my calculations of the tons of force required, I have doubts about the wisdom of using any hammer to beat bushings into an older control arm already scuffed up from bushing removal. One has to possess a great deal of upper body strength and a lot of endurance, not be susceptible to heart attacks(!), etc. OTOH a newer control arm not beat up by the bushing removal effort might be a piece of cake.
In other words, perhaps if my 91 Civic were only around seven years old (vs. 15) and had not been driven in a corrosive environment for most of its life I would not have had so much difficulty removing the old bushings.
If I had to do this over for an older, rusty bushing sleeved-car, I would strongly consider buying used control arms with not more than a 100k miles on them from a nice low humidity, non-corrosive climate etc. part of the country. I'd replace the bushings in these arms at a casual pace. Remember that the old bushings in the bent junkyard control arm (the one I used to work out a methodology) came out much more easily. I think an air chisel would have had those out pronto. My hammer and old screwdriver worked fine.
Buying spare control arms would keep my car available. Then I'd just swap the arms.
Buying new arms with bushings already installed IIRC is also an option. The rear arms for a 91 Civic are less expensive than the front ones. Considering all the trouble to which I will go to cut rear control arm bolts out, I think I might go this direction for at least one of the rear control arms. The other rear control arm is already a junkyard one whose bushings may press out easily. From previous work on it a few years ago, I think the arm's bolts will come free pretty easily.
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