Sunday, January 15, 2017

Game of Groans.

Raise your weapons high! photo source:

Who would have thought that finding the right spring compressor would be such a problem?

The Haynes repair manuals all proclaim proudly on the cover that each each volume is "based upon a complete teardown" Really?

Replacing the  lower control arms is pretty straight forward.  the most important thing is to keep in mind that you are dealing with some potentially dangerous forces, vehicle weight and that sinister, unseen force, compressed spring energy.  Like an evil genie in a bottle you want to keep it corked up until you are in a position to exert some modicum of control.  Unleashed unchecked it will wreak havoc on your health. Believe it.

The photo in the manual suggests using any of the commonly available inner spring compressor. I found one just like that at the local O'Reillys auto store. I paid the deposit and eagerly carried it home.

Sometimes car repair is just a numbers game. And sometimes the numbers are just stacked against you! The inner jaw is two inches wide, an inch thick and an inch and a quarter tall. The hole in the lower arm is just 1 1/4 inches. There is no way that you can insert through the hole with the hooks pointing up. Too wide.


You can try to put it in sideways with one hook pointing up and one down. except- there isn't enough room to raise the lower hook into position to grasp the coil. Maybe you can slide it horizontally between the upper coils, kind of like the supplied lower plate. I tried. I got the hook through but there didn't appear to be a way to get the center part through, even while prying between the coils with a pickle fork. I guess that an outside compressor might be called for.

I had a real nice set that was designed to compress the upper springs on a McPherson strut. Did you know that McPherson was a real guy? I believe that he was an engineer for Ford Motor Company working on a compact car for the European market in the late 1950s. Anyhow, these were too big to fit in the space between the spring pocket on the body and the top of the control arm. There is only about ten inches of space.

The cheap outside compressors from Harbor Freight have one very bulky double hook end and one single hook end. The threaded shaft is also twelve inches long and they cannot avoid the interference with the arm when positioned.


What do you do when you can't find what you need? What else, turn to the internet.

photo source: harbor freight

Yesterday after work I figured that I would make the rounds to see what was available locally. First stop Sears. Sears has fallen on hard times lately but they still carry a selection of good quality tools. The only had the McPherson strut type that I already had. I found a salesperson who used a computer to show me a selection of compressors that they never carry in stock. But, they would be glad to order them for me. I may be an Internet troglodyte but even I know how to order stuff on my own.


Next stop was Advance Auto parts. They also had the McPherson strut type tool but were out of the outside type compressors. A couple of burly fellows came in behind me carrying a dirty and rusty coil spring. I advised them that the store was out and that Sears didn't have one in stock either. They looked disappointed, but I told them that I was going to Pep Boys down the street next. I asked them if they had checked the Harbor Freight Tool store near the freeway. No, but we all agreed that their compressors were pretty crappy, but probably better than nothing. As I left the parking lot I was expecting to see them at the Pep Boys but I guess that they decided to give HF another try.

Pep Boys had both types of compressors available, but the outside types didn't seem like any improvement on the HF model. I was hoping to find the Eastwood style but was disappointed. Since it was on my way I decided to visit the O'Reilly store again. I told the counter person that I was going to bring the rented compressor back since it would not work.


It is possible to remove the springs without compressing the springs at all. First remove the brake caliper, support it, remove the rotor be sure to remove the ABS sender and protect the wire.Then  you unbolt the tie rod, loosen the ball joint nut and place a floor jack under the control arm, do not have the jack supporting any weight at this time, just raise it to within and inch of so below the arm. I would tie the spring to the steering knuckle to prevent the spring from escaping and causing any injury or damage. Then bang the side of the knuckle with the ball joint nut backed off, The ball joint should pop out of it's tapered seat but stop at the nut. Then raise the jack to support the arm, remove the ball joint nut and carefully, meaning SLOWLY, lower the jack. the spring will extend as the arm is lowered, releasing it's stored energy. At least that's how it's supposed to happen.

I once bought a used control arm at a wrecking yard because I thought that I couldn't afford a new ball joint. The yard man went around shaking the wheel hubs looking for a decent specimen. The cars were all supported by welded up rim stands. He found a car that already had the brake drums and tie rod end removed. He told me to stand back, while he removed the ball joint nut then banged on the knuckle with a large hammer. Suddenly the ball joint popped loose, the arm swung violently down,  and the spring shot straight down creating an explosion  of dust! This is not a recommended method!

The threaded shaft is too long, but that can be fixed.

I used the old control arm to locate the spring in the spring pocket and properly position the  compressors.

I decided that I could shorten the threaded shafts on the old Harbor Freight spring compressors that I had. I was able to place them in position and compress the spring. I figured that I didn't have to completely compress the springs, just relieve some of the pressure. I loosened up the ball joint nut be kept it flush with the ball joint stud. My plan was  to remove the pivot bolts and lower the arm with the jack and release the spring. Not a bad idea but I thought that I had better disconnect the ABS sender first. There was only one problem, the sender was held on by a type of bolt that I had never seen before. It looked like the end of a TORX screw bit. like this *. (but much bigger of course)


Now I had to buy a special socket to remove the bolt. Of course it was too late to go to the auto parts store to buy it since it was Sunday. Tomorrow I had to go to work, and tonight all my momentum was spent. This whole project was beginning to turn into a real bummer. The cut down compressor idea didn't work out exactly as planned.


I ended up using the cut down tool to remove the right spring. Then I bought the U-bolt tool to re-compress the spring for installation. It turned out that I had to compress the spring as best as possible for removal. Then I had to release the spring and re-compress it enough to get into place. Then I would put the floor jack under the arm. release the spring again, raise the arm arm higher to install the ball joint stud, attach the nut and tighten it. It sounds like a lot of repetitive work, and it was was.

It's easy to feel your enthusiasm draining away. Then your resolve starts to fade. Then of course "other matters" start to take precedence. It becomes very easy to see how so many cars become partially disassembled forgotten projects.

I found that starting a big repair project in the middle of the Holiday Season was not as good an idea as I had thought. Even if you have some extra days off, there is a lot of work to be done in preparation. Then you have family and guests over and your Wife would turn a dim eye to your choice of slipping away to the garage, to turn wrenches when you should be helping her and visiting with the family.

Photo source:

Still sometimes there  are jobs that have to be done. Today I decided that I had to spend a few hours in the garage or I was never going to get it done. I made some real progress. It wasn't really fun but I did get a real sense of accomplishment. I bought another spring compressor that seems to be working out, but I had to fiddle with another small compressor inside the coil to get the bottom of the spring to stay seated in the lower spring pocket. This lengthy discussion has probably gotten pretty boring, I know that I'm kind of tired of the whole mess.

Messy, Messy, Messy And this ain't the worst of it!

In some ways it seems kind of ridiculous that this job is taking so much time. My Wife has started hinting that maybe, maybe, I should have taken the car to my trusted mechanic. Perhaps, but I'm guessing that this would have probably cost over 500.00. (The two arms cost me over two hundred dollars alone.) I'm going to sell this car after I get it fixed. It's not like I can recover the costs of this repair in the sale. If I didn't do the work myself I might have just sent this car to the scrapyard.

photo source: OTC

Now, this is the tool that the job calls for. It wouldn't have eliminated all the crawling around, jacking and lying on my back unbolting a bunch of greasy, dirty parts. But, when I got to the part where I had to compress the spring for removal, (and later re-installation) I could have accomplished the task much easier, saving me hours of fiddling, fussing, modifying and shopping for alternative tools. The tool costs around 175.00 plus tax and shipping of course. For a couple of hundred bucks I could have ordered the tool on line (I never saw one for sale anywhere, and I looked at a bunch of stores) and it would have arrived within a couple of days, if not over night. 

So why didn't I just buy the damn tool? Because I was committed to the cheapest price fix. Like I said, I'm planning on selling the darn car as soon as it's roadworthy again and I didn't want to spend any more money than I had to. I will get the job done, but I did have to buy that other compressor and it cost me 55.00, so I had to shell out more money than I anticipated or wanted too. Penny wise and Pound foolish? Even a cheapskate like me puts some value on their time. 

Can you spell "short sighted"?

POSTSCRIPT: January 17,2017

In order to remove the front pivot bolt of the lower control arm I had to loosen the nuts holding on the steering rack. The right side had plenty of room to move but the same couldn't be said of the left side. Then I realized that the rack was attached to the steering column on this side! Not much movement. I was able to rotate the old arm and point the bolt down and remove it.When I installed the new arm the rubber pivot bushings were just too tight to allow any rotation. In frustration I drove the bolts into place and the flat washer portion of the bolt tore the rack boot. I tried to parch this with some silicon seal but it appears that these boots seal some oil that flows into them from the mechanism. I had noticed that there was an oil line that went through the end of each boot ahead of the clamp. I will do some more checking but I'll bet it's coming from the tear. On my old Datsun 280Z the boots only protected the u-joints at the end of the rack, they were to keep dirt out, not oil in. So I guess I will be replacing them. Hopefully they will be available individually, and not only with a new replacement rack.

I also noticed that the right side tie rod end boot was torn. I didn't want to replace the tie rod end so I bought one of those "universal "boot replacements. While I was removing the old torn boot I noticed that the edges were sealed into the body of the tie rod end. This is much superior to the old loose fitment, but means that the universal part really won't seal correctly. These "lifetime" rated components are well engineered and built but as the manual states, any observable wear (freeplay) should result in replacement. My car has over 200,000 miles so if these are the originals than I would say that they definitely had a long productive life.

On the positive side I rotated the tires on my truck today. I should probably do it every 5,000 miles or every year. I also started up my XJ6 yesterday without any problem, just a little squealing from the new belts, I hope they are just loose. I hadn't driven it in over two weeks, and it was terribly filthy (I have some very messy trees in front of my house) so a very thorough driveway wash made it look as good as ever. Wow, do I eally miss driving that car. I'm going to drive it to work while I investigate what the suspension needs. My Mustang needed a jump to start, as it's been sitting for almost a month. Restarted okay Today though.

So now I find myself with more work than I had anticipated. There's a Country song that advised (among other life's lessons) "Sell your old truck while it's still running!" Darn good advice.

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