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Question DetailsAsked on 1/28/2018

98 chevy Malibu has issues in front end clunking and steering

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Could be steering pump or steering gearbox/arm/rack (in which case usually it would make noise when turning the wheel but NOT rolling), damaged or broken steering linkage component, failing ball joints (which if they fail in many models the wheel falls totally off, so not a joking thing), or wheel bearings going out or loose lug nuts or broken lug bolts. Or could be failed/broken shocks/struts. Could even be (if 4WD) a problem in the front differential or failing constant velocity jointor front drive line. Can even be a brake problem.


You need to get it to a full-service Auto Service shop (your Search the List category to find well-rated and reviewed mechanics for this work) - or a GM/Chevy dealer if under OEM warranty. And generally a vehicle making sounds like that should not be driven any more - should be towed to the shop, at least if drive to repair facility is more than just a mile or two on very slow back streets. Check with the shop when you call - if you ask up front, many will tow for free, or waive the towing charge if the total bill comes to around $500 or more.


Obviously can't diagnose from probably a thousand or two miles away, but here are some very rough thoughts on common causes - and ways you can perhaps roughly test for cause.


If only makes noise when turning, then steering mechanism or ball joints are most likely but not only cause. Constant velocity joints going out will also make grinding or cracking noise or even cause front wheel dragging during sharp turn - especially if in 4WD lockup. If CV joint, commonly when backing up in a sharp turn (like backing into your drive) the front wheels will feel like they are (or may evenn be) dragging or you feel a distinct change in rolling resistance as you back up.


If makes noise when rolling straight ahead without any turning wheel bearings or loose lug nuts or broken lug bolts is a common cause - generally noisier at low speed than at speed. IF you can jack the front up and try wiggling the wheels, if a lug nut/bolt or wheel mounting issue, and generally also if a ball joint problem, you will be able to wiggle the wheel in and out. (With that corner jacked up, and being careful not to get any part of your bod in under the car or tire, grab and push/pull in and out - front and back on the tire at 3 and 9 o'clock positions. There should be no noticeable "play" in the wheel.


If it makes noise when turning the steering wheel back and forth just sitting still, then steering pump or steering gear failure or low fluid can be a cause, as can a broken steering rack or broken/loose steering linkage. If makes noise only when engine is running during this test, likely steering pump/gear low fluid or failure. If has play in the system or makes noise turning the steering wheell with engine off, most likely a steering gear or linkage problem. Ditto if you can move the wheel back and forth (when sitting still) without feeling wheel resistance or there is significant movement before you feel the wheel turning resistance - indicating excessive slack in the steering linkage.


If clunk occurs only when you start up from a stop, like a single clunk or clank, front differential slack or constant velocity joint (in 4WD cars) failure would be a common suspect. As would a failing drive line bearing.


Noise combined with a wobbling or sloppy steering when driving can also indicate failing tie rod linkage (especially if car tends to wander on the road or require oversteering), or failed or loose tie rod or ball joints. If you craewl in under the front, the tie rod (the about 3/4" rod or bar connecting the two wheels) should have no play or slack in it it you push and pull it front to back and also sideways.


Thunks or clanks only when you hit a bump or pothole, but fine otherwise, would normally indicate a shock absorber/spring or front strut failure (in the shock absorbing system or broken mounting bolt). But failing ball joint, cracked ball joint bracket, or failing wheel bearings or loose wheel can also do that - though usually other symptoms and sounds when driving and turning in those cases, not just when you hit a dip or bump.


Brake problems normally have a dragging or squeeling sound also if they are clunking, but not always - for instance, a broken mounting bolt on the brake caliper can cause a clunk only. If the noise changes significantly when braking, would normally be a brake or loose wheel or bad wheel bearing issue - something at or in the wheel assembly.


Good luck. Can't say anything about cost, because could be quite low if it is just low fluid level in power steering pump or gearbox (though if low fluid, source of the leakage should be found, because these units do not loose fluid without a reason). At the other extreme, could be $1000 range or even more if a serious problem like failed differential, CV joints, or ball hoints.


You might also check, before taking it in, checking on the NHTSA website for recalls would be a good idea, to know in advance if a certain thing should be fixed for free by a GM/Chevy dealer:


https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls

Answered 9 months ago by LCD




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