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New front end popping/crunching


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What I'm working with:

  • 2002 4x4
  • Lifted 1 year ago
  • Reused struts and strut hats
  • 1 yo OEM strut bearings
  • 1 yo AC coils
  • 1 yo Camber adjust bolts
  • 1 yo Inner tie rods
  • 1 yo outer tie rods
  • 1 yo steering rack bushings
  • 1 yo ball joints

Wheeled all summer on those fresh components and everything was great. My last wheeling sesh was August.  Early 2021, I developed a popping/crunching sensation in the steering. I assumed it was the ball joint so I replaced both ball joints. The issue remained unchanged. For troubleshooting, I set the front end on jack stands and prompted the noise by having somebody turn the steering wheel. Best judgements of sound and feel by hand led me to the tie rods. Struts didn't have much of a output on feel or sound, nor did cv axles or ball joints. This led me to do the following:

 

After replacing ball joints (which were actually still good btw) I replaced the following this month:

  • CV axles
  • Wheel bearings (inner and outer) and both sets of races
  • Inner tie rods

Outer tie rods seemed really solid, almost like new and the grease boot didn't see compromised so i reused them.

I took it to the shop for an alignment. The same guy that aligned it last summer aligned it again and said the alignment procedure was smooth and typical. After getting it from the shop, Everything feels straight and aligned but the popping/crunching is still there. 

 

I can create this by low speed tight turns such as cutting the wheel to pull into a parking spot or follow a drive thru path. It seems that the low speed + hand over hand turning of the steering wheel causes this. This does not occur if you drive straight or if say you cut the wheel for a slow turn and hold it steady at an angle. It's the action of turning the steering wheel that causes it.

What's weird is this occurred months after I last wheeled it. The only abnormal abuse my front end takes is that there is a 3" step transitioning from my driveway to my street. This transition is always taken at turned angle whether backing out or pulling in. (not good for steering components). My street is a main street so occasionally my approach home from the speedy street is a bit hot which causes strut top out with those old struts on new AC coils. 

I guess i'm leaning toward aiming the parts cannon at the strut bearings and strut hats. Anyone have any thoughts on this before I drop another $100+ on parts and labor?

 

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I've never had a strut suspension to bits, and I've seen a few threads about strut top issues, but I'm not sure I'd fire the parts cannon just yet. Having it still make the noise when it's on jackstands makes me think it's not load-related, which isn't what I'd expect for either a strut top or a TRE. I'm also noticing you said both tie rods seemed like they were making the noise. Maybe both outer TREs failed prematurely, at the same time, or the noise is transferring really well from one side to the other, but noise on both sides of the rack has me wondering about the rack.

I'd pop the outer TREs out of the knuckles and repeat your jackstand steering test. If it doesn't make the noise, steer the knuckles by hand to check the strut tops, and if those seem fine, check it again with one tie rod, then the other. If on the other hand the steering still makes the noise when it's not moving the knuckles, that suggests an issue with the rack, steering shaft U joints or rag, steering transfer box whatsit, or possibly the column. I would double-check the rack bushings, too, though again that seems like a long shot given how little load they're under with the truck in the air. If the feel-stuff-while-it-makes-the-noise test fails, disconnect things one by one until you find the problem. Obviously be mindful of the clockspring while doing this. I think the shafts are keyed so you can't reinstall them cockeyed, but I would still put a paint pen mark on them before pulling them apart just to be safe.

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4 hours ago, Slartibartfast said:

I've never had a strut suspension to bits, and I've seen a few threads about strut top issues, but I'm not sure I'd fire the parts cannon just yet. Having it still make the noise when it's on jackstands makes me think it's not load-related, which isn't what I'd expect for either a strut top or a TRE. I'm also noticing you said both tie rods seemed like they were making the noise. Maybe both outer TREs failed prematurely, at the same time, or the noise is transferring really well from one side to the other, but noise on both sides of the rack has me wondering about the rack.

I'd pop the outer TREs out of the knuckles and repeat your jackstand steering test. If it doesn't make the noise, steer the knuckles by hand to check the strut tops, and if those seem fine, check it again with one tie rod, then the other. If on the other hand the steering still makes the noise when it's not moving the knuckles, that suggests an issue with the rack, steering shaft U joints or rag, steering transfer box whatsit, or possibly the column. I would double-check the rack bushings, too, though again that seems like a long shot given how little load they're under with the truck in the air. If the feel-stuff-while-it-makes-the-noise test fails, disconnect things one by one until you find the problem. Obviously be mindful of the clockspring while doing this. I think the shafts are keyed so you can't reinstall them cockeyed, but I would still put a paint pen mark on them before pulling them apart just to be safe.

This is brilliant! I’ll definitely be trying this the first chance I get. Thanks! 

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Looks like the issue is the steering rack or linkage. With the tie rods disconnected, it still pops when you turn the wheel. The driver inner tie rod twitches when it pops but the rack doesn’t move so it’s like the internal part of the rack is screwed ip possibly

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Does sound like something's gone wrong inside the rack. I'd still pull the rag joint off the rack to rule out the rest of the linkage. I'm curious what would've gone wrong inside the rack. Sounds like debris in the gear rack, but there shouldn't be debris in a steering system. Maybe a seal spring popped out or something?

A while ago I picked up the rack, angle box, and shafts from an '02 QX4 at the wreckers with hopes of making them fit my '93. Would you believe that didn't pan out, and it's been on the shelf since. Not sure where you are/if shipping would make sense, but it doesn't owe me much and I wouldn't mind seeing it go away.

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Hoss was popping and crunching when I got her, check my build post to see what I found when I pulled my struts apart, chances are it your strut bearing, but worst case is you could have what I found. Go have a look at my build thread HERE might help you understand your issue.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I had the rack isolated from the wheels a second time and was able to replicate the popping and crunching sound. So that should eliminate anything to do with the strut, ball joints, bearings and tie rods. 
Pulled a steering rack from a clean 2001 qx4 and swapped it to my 2002. I bought brand new rack bushings, and used those, torqued everything down properly and moved my fresh tie rods over to the new rack. It still pops, even when the tie rods are disconnected from steering knuckles. I’m now suspicious of the transfer gear box above the steering rack. If the gear box was damaged, it could feed the popping harmonics into the steering rack since it’s right there. Nissan says the replacement for this is ~ $800 and is from production dates 08/2001 thru 07/2002. I could only find one replacement in salvage that fell within those dates but it’s broken. Could I use a transfer gear from another year say like 2003? I just want to make sure spline counts and steering ratios are the same. Hoping somebody might know a bit more than I do on the subject. 
https://1drv.ms/u/s!AsTQm6L1QIoAhO5qgOxyrgRgCnpt8g

 

https://1drv.ms/u/s!AsTQm6L1QIoAhO5p05neQUfu45RBYw

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Damn, that sucks. At least you know one more thing it isn't!

I'd pull the box and see if it's got a tight spot if you spin it by hand. That plate on the front of the box comes off, so you could open it up, wipe some of the grease out, and check the gears for broken teeth or something jammed in between them. Does seem like it's gotta be the box at this point, but it would suck to go down the rathole of which box will fit, and swap it, and still have that damn pop.

 

Not sure about the year range for the box. There might be something in the SDS at the end of the ST section of the service manual listing the ratio, though I doubt it would give you anything regarding the spline count. I would check whether the joints are the same for other years. If they are, you know the spline counts didn't change, even if the gearbox itself was revised for some reason.

 

The one on my shelf has a 28 spline input and output, same diameter (same joint fits either side). 1:1 gear ratio. Marked NSK, L (presumably short for LHD), and 0033 down by the gasket line. Looks like the one in your wrecker picture, except it's not borked. Dunno if that helps.

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  • 1 month later...

Ok, issue resolved. I like to get in the habit of documenting solutions for others in the future. So the issue was the driver's side control arm bushing. It was the front bushing. This was very odd because I've never had a bushing pop before. I've had them creak before on other vehicles but popping is new to me. If I thought popping/clunking would ever be possible, I would have assumed it would be with suspension articulation and not steering related. The popping did transmit sound and shock down the entire front end of the subframe, but didn't really transmit it to the other end of the control arm though. I have two r50s, so I decided, I'd swap things around piece by piece until I found it. Ended up swapping the whole rack and tie rod assembly from my 2001 over. After that didn't make any difference, I swapped over the driver control arm. I've put about 50 miles or so on it and haven't heard any popping. 

 

This has been quite the rabbit hole for my 2002 and now, I've refreshed the front end of my 2001 since I've confirmed my suspicions that the tie rods and ball joints were shot. Also donated my 1 year old rubber rack bushings from my 2002 to it also. I'm definitely not looking forward to paying for two new alignments while the barrel of the parts cannon is still smoking but I digress. 

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Weird. I worked on a Ford a while ago where a bad LCA bushing left the arm resting on the frame, which made a whole lot of noise, but of course that only acted up on bumps. I guess a loose fastener might've let the bushing shift around in its bracket, which could conceivably have made a creaking noise, depending on how it was loaded. I don't see how that would've been loaded in any direction with the truck parked and the outer TREs disconnected, though.

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