Under the Hood: Mechanic is overselling danger or worn bushings

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Q: I went to the Toyota dealer for an 85,000-mile service of my 2013 Sienna, which is just tire rotation. They showed me the cabin and engine filters were needed, and they did a fuel induction and throttle body service.

They also showed me a video of the lower control arms, which look cracked.

Anyhow, after telling them that $3,500 for mostly labor was too much, they went down to $2,500, including alignment and rental car for two days. Is that still too much though? Other than an occasional braking noise, I haven’t experienced any other issues, but they said that this can be dangerous. Your opinion?

— Daniel

A: Based on the services you were sold, the pictures you provided of the bushings, and their use of the “D” word, I’d steer clear of this place in the future!

Control arm bushings are sturdy rubber couplings that insulate the connection between the lower control arms and vehicle chassis, somewhat similar in function to a human’s hip joint. Should the rubber bushing degrade, unwanted looseness begins to occur, somewhat affecting wheel alignment. If the bushing is severely degraded, you’ll hear a clunking noise when going over bumps or when turning. Joint retention would still exist, regardless of bushing condition. Symptoms of worn bushings include steering wander, excessive tire wear and possibly knocking sounds.

Your bushings showed surface cracking, which is to be expected over time. Besides a visual inspection, applying force to the unloaded joint with a tool such as a pry bar can gauge the snugness of the bushing. Based solely on the photos you sent, I’d say the bushings are still in very serviceable condition, perhaps degraded by 20%. A physical inspection would of course be better than what I can tell from photos. Deep cracks that allow excessive movement are more serious.

If you need to renew the bushings, there are several options. Perhaps the most convenient would be to simply renew the control arms (aftermarket kits are available containing both left and right complete arms for $100-150). Pressing new bushings into your existing arms can also be done. There is a second smaller bushing to contend with as well (parts are perhaps $50-75 plus specialized labor to press the bushings out/in). Labor time to remove and replace the control arms (left and right) is 8.2 hours (seems a bit generous) plus wheel alignment.

I have to say the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up as I read of the filters and throttle body/induction cleaning, prior to what you told me of the bushings. While perhaps needed and beneficial, these are profit generators of the first degree, and the recommendation of replacing what appears to be average condition bushings tells me — run from this place! There are plenty of other auto repair facilities around that will advocate for your needs first and their gross profit second.




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