Dear Car Talk:
We have a 2011 Toyota RAV4 with 34,000 miles on it, and we live in an area where the roads are salted in the winter. I have never done a wheel alignment on the car, and the original tires have worn beautifully. However, soon it will be time for a new set of tires, so I had the dealer perform a four-wheel alignment.
The report came back indicating that the rear adjusters were corroded, frozen in place, and could not be broken loose. To correct the problem, both rear control arms would have to be replaced, at a cost of almost $800. To be fair, the mechanic indicated that the current setting is just over the edge of the spec and that, if it were his, he would leave it alone -- which I did.
My questions: Is there any way that the adjusters can be freed up -- heat, extended soaking with penetrating oil, etc? Should I be going elsewhere, like to an independent shop that might be able to save or replace just the adjusters without replacing a major portion of the rear suspension? -- Jim
Yes, and yes.
I also live in the great frozen swath of the country where the roads are saltier than potato chips. And our shop has one particular alignment specialist that we send our customers to. I'd say at least one out of three times, they'll send the car back to us with a report from the technician that says "couldn't loosen the adjusters." We always get them loose. And we do exactly what you suggest: We use heat, penetrating oil and, our secret ingredient, interest in fixing it.
It takes some work. We'll gently heat it up with the acetylene torch, and as it cools down, we'll hit it with some penetrating oil. We may have to do that three or four times. We sometimes even have to leave it overnight and work on it again in the morning.
I think the guy at your dealership was just being lazy. He probably doesn't get paid well for the time he spends waiting for penetrating oil to soak in. So he's disincentivized from using his time that way.
On the other hand, he knows that replacing the rear control arms nets him five hours' labor. Fortunately, he had a pang of guilt at the last second, and advised you to leave it as is.
So, yes, you should take the car to an independent shop that is willing to spend some time futzing with it. We maintain an online database of mechanics that our readers and listeners have recommended over the years. It's called the Mechanics Files (www.mechanicsfiles.com). You can enter your ZIP code and read the reviews of shops that other people like in your area.
And if any of you reading today have a mechanic you absolutely love (I know, that's a rarely used sentence fragment), please enter him or her in our database and let other people know about the shop.