If my front-end starts to go, will I have any warning this time?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I, too, once owned a Dodge Dart, and it was a very good car, giving me 146,000
miles of relatively trouble-free driving. However, one day, as I drove down the
freeway, the front end gave out. The ball joints let loose and the front wheels
just laid out flat! So there I was, sliding down the freeway, promising God that
I would be a very good boy from now on.

Fortunately, I hit no one, and all the other drivers managed to avoid me. But
this incident has left me psychologically damaged, not to mention leaving a
nasty stain on the upholstery. Now I have a 1991 Honda Civic. It has been
serviced every 7,500 miles, just like Honda suggests. It now has 110,000 miles
on it, and my problem again is psychological. For the last 10,000 miles I have
been nervous about the front end. Since I haven't been all that good a boy since
the last time this happened, and since the Honda upholstery is still in pretty
good shape, I'm wondering if I'll have any warning this time. Will the front end
just let go, or will it give me some kind of signal? If not, will my mechanic be
able to spot any danger signs when my car is serviced?
So far, the dealer, who has been very good at finding even the slightest things
that need to be replaced, hasn't mentioned anything about the front end. But I'm
still nervous. what do you suggest? -- Dean

RAY: We suggest professional help, Dean. Unfortunately, the average driver won't
notice the warning signs of bad ball joints.

TOM: But your mechanic -- if he's doing his job -- certainly will. And that's
why we insist that our readers who own older cars get their front ends
thoroughly inspected on a regular basis (cars with four-wheel independent
suspension have rear ball joints that need to be inspected as well).

RAY: And it's very easy for your mechanic to inspect the ball joints. He can
compress the joints and measure the amount of play. If it's out of spec, it's
time for new ones. He can also check the boots and see if they're torn. If they
are, they should be replaced.

TOM: And with 110,000 miles on the car, you should have them checked -- along
with the rest of your front-end components -- every 7,500 miles when you go in
for service.

RAY: So that's our prescription for you, Dean. Regular front-end inspections by
your mechanic. and some ScotchGard for the upholstery just to be on the safe

* * *

TOM: Hey, do you think you're taking good care of your car? Are you sure?

RAY: If you're like many of our customers, you may be ruining your car without
even knowing it. Yes, even you! Find out how.
Send $3 for your copy of our informative pamphlet, "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining
Your Car Without Even Knowing It!"Include a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed
No.10 envelope and send to Ruin No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

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