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Front end mystery clunk


PathyGig12
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I figure this deserves its own thread to reach the most people. 
 

I posted a while back in the build thread that I’ve been getting a front end clunk but it’s gotten worse lately and I’m pulling my hair out trying to locate it. 
 

It happens when the wheels are turned (even slightly) and there’s a weight shift at the same time. Originally I would only get it while reversing close to full lock, but now it happens even while cornering at speed if there’s any braking or acceleration, especially on uneven roads. 
 

I’ve looked around the front of the truck while someone else backed up and tried to induce the clunk but never found a definitive source. Most of the times it wouldn’t happen or it was too soft to pinpoint. Today I removed the entire sway bar and end links to rule out anything in that area, but nothing changed.


Im leaning towards either steering components or strut components but not sure where to start. Is it possible that the spring top hats are not catching the coils like they should be, allowing slippage while turning? Or maybe it’s the strut bearings? I used OEM and I know they were installed properly because they worked for well over a year before this problem came up. 
 

The only other thing I changed before the the problem happened was the manual hubs. I was running warns then switched to the mile markers. Seems unlikely to cause clunking though 

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Difficult to pin down when you can't make it make the noise! Doesn't sound like steering to me--if you had a TRE going out I'd expect it to creak whenever it was loaded, not just when you're changing speed in a corner. If your rack mounts were shot, you'd probably know it by the mushy steering feel and center position that moved around. Good thinking ruling out the sway bar. Seems unlikely that the hubs have anything to do with it, though you could try driving with them locked to see if the noise changes.

It sounds like a strut top thing to me, but I haven't done much with struts and I don't know how they're held together off the top of my head. I'd check the fasteners you did up when you replaced the strut bearings, maybe something worked loose? If that doesn't show anything, try jacking it up to unload the suspension and see if anything moves that shouldn't.

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7 hours ago, Slartibartfast said:

Difficult to pin down when you can't make it make the noise! Doesn't sound like steering to me--if you had a TRE going out I'd expect it to creak whenever it was loaded, not just when you're changing speed in a corner. If your rack mounts were shot, you'd probably know it by the mushy steering feel and center position that moved around. Good thinking ruling out the sway bar. Seems unlikely that the hubs have anything to do with it, though you could try driving with them locked to see if the noise changes.

It sounds like a strut top thing to me, but I haven't done much with struts and I don't know how they're held together off the top of my head. I'd check the fasteners you did up when you replaced the strut bearings, maybe something worked loose? If that doesn't show anything, try jacking it up to unload the suspension and see if anything moves that shouldn't.

Thanks for the response. 
 

My passenger side TRE has had a busted boot now for months because the shop that did the alignment twisted the boot as well....idiots...

 

Anyway, I keep thinking that could be the cause because it’s super gritty in the ball joint right now, but the thing I can’t figure out is why it would be such a loud clunk. And you’re right, it should creak whenever I turn , not just during weight shifts. Stationary I can crank the wheels left and right with no sounds at all

 

So yeah I think you’re right to suggest strut components. I’m just really not happy to hear that because I hate removing struts and messing with compressors. I’ve been trying to rule everything else out first 

 

The steering rack mounts could be possible, my steering is quite vague in the middle and I’ve noticed a questionable centering sometimes but chalked it up to uneven roads. How would I check the mounts? 
 

One more thing, locking the hubs doesn’t seem to make a huge difference but I think there IS a slight one. The problem is I can’t tell for sure because the only time I checked was during a snow storm and the locked hubs meant that I was doing everything a lot more slowly so the change was most likely due to the lack of large weight shifts. If I had the time I would remove the front shaft to rule out the CVs (it would also help me source that weird highway vibration I still haven’t found), but I can’t seem to get the bolts loose and I didn’t feel like working at it for hours 

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I have a similar issue also. I had replaced my front control arms, ball joints, inner and outer tie rods, sway links, and new kyb struts but used back the old springs as they are relatively in great condition. No sagging or bouncing so didnt change them.

 

But very occasionally on the driver side you get a clunk and in similar motion to what you describe. Also when going around a turn and there's a rocking motion you hear a metallic noise whenever the from shifts. I haven't changed the sway bar bushings in several years so I dont know if its that.

 

One way to tell if you have bad steering rack mount bushings is if you make a turn in one direction and when the steering comes back straight the vehicle doesn't drive straight, but if you turn in the opposite direction and straighten the wheel back the vehicle runs straight. For example when my rack bushings went a few months back and they practically fell apart into the skid guard, when I would make a left turn and then straighten the wheel to continue driving, in order for the vehicle to drive straight the wheel would be cocked to the right by a noticeable amount. But then if I make a right turn and then straighten up the vehicle would drive normal or be cocked in the other direction. 

 

But the most definite way to check is just have someone rock the steering wheel back and forth while you look at the rack from underneath. You will definitely see it moving from side to side if they're bad. And the damaged bushings themselves would be very easy for you to catch just by observation. Odds are if you never changed them its most likely time to. 

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Wow awesome info, thanks

 

Ill have my girlfriend rock the wheel tomorrow and I’ll take a peek at the rack. Those mounts have never been done as far as I know. 
 

Do you know how hard they are to swap?

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They shouldn’t be difficult. Just have a breaker bar in case of stubborn bolts. Mine weren’t hard to come off however. Had a breaker bar, a ratchet, I believe it’s a 21 or 22 bolt. But don’t quote me exactly on that. And a long screwdriver to pry very easily against the rack to fit in new bushings in. 
 

It was about a 30 min job honestly. Basically there’s a bracket that sits over each bushing with two bolts each. The driver side bushing has a different shape and holds the most pressure. The passenger side is round. The bushings have a cut in them and you just fit it over and put clamp back ontop then bolt down. 

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I'd suggest jacking the front end up and using a pry bar to check the suspension and steering joints for movement, if you haven't done this already. If you can detect any play the part is probably bad as driving will put much more force on it than you can with a pry bar.

 

Good idea to check the rack bushings, as others have said. I'm running Dorman bushings and have been happy with them. I tried some eBay poly bushings first but they weren't thick enough to hold the rack tightly.

 

How are your diff bushings? I was getting a lot of clanking when mine were shot, but it was really only noticeable off-road.

 

A loose fitting axle (as in need of a thicker snap ring) or a bad axle makes a hell of a racket too, you can certainly hear me coming down the trail lately ?

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Some great ideas guys, thanks a ton

 

The diff bushings are something I’d definitely like to take a look at, never checked those before. And poor axle fitment is actually possible as well.  I’m using the original snap rings but I recall there being a bit of in and out wiggle room for the CVs inside the hubs so maybe

 

Ill see what I can find today and report back

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Hey just gave this thread a read and awesome stuff! I've been trying to pinpoint the clunk in the front that comes from mostly going over bumps and uneven roads. Was in the garage today trying to pinpoint, I found that trying to bounce the driver and passenger side didn't have any noise, but rocking laterally did, sounded like it was coming from the sway bar bushings. 

 

Unfortunately, being a student, I don't have much expendable money to try and fix the issue, so I am hoping it is the bushings since that is a quick and cheap fix. If it is the steering rack mount bushings, any idea on how much would that run a guy?

 

Thanks

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Just checked the front diff mounts and the bushings all have significant play. I’m not sure if this is the cause of my clunk but I’m thinking at the very least it’s the cause of my highway vibration. Just sucks that each mount is 100 bucks

 

I also checked for movement in the strut top nut while bouncing the front end and verified the torque is correct. All good there. 
 

The steering rack bushings are solid as far as I can tell. No movement when I crank the wheel back and forth. But I did notice a slight play in one of the control arm bushings nearest to the crossmember that the rack is mounted on. I doubt this is causing the clunk though because I couldn’t get any sound out of it while moving it around 
 

My first step will be swapping out the diff mounts and then if that doesn’t work I’ll replace the tie rod that has the busted boot. And then lastly I’ll look into removing the struts to check for correct spring seating and make sure the mounts and bearings are not compromised

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12 hours ago, AR97Pathfinder said:

Sorry, but where are the bushings located on the rear diff?

 

Im not sure Ive looked at that yet and how would you change those out? 

I could be wrong but doesn’t the rear diff not have any bushings? It’s just attached to the axle

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4 hours ago, PathyGig12 said:

Just checked the front diff mounts and the bushings all have significant play. I’m not sure if this is the cause of my clunk but I’m thinking at the very least it’s the cause of my highway vibration. Just sucks that each mount is 100 bucks

 

I also checked for movement in the strut top nut while bouncing the front end and verified the torque is correct. All good there. 
 

The steering rack bushings are solid as far as I can tell. No movement when I crank the wheel back and forth. But I did notice a slight play in one of the control arm bushings nearest to the crossmember that the rack is mounted on. I doubt this is causing the clunk though because I couldn’t get any sound out of it while moving it around 
 

My first step will be swapping out the diff mounts and then if that doesn’t work I’ll replace the tie rod that has the busted boot. And then lastly I’ll look into removing the struts to check for correct spring seating and make sure the mounts and bearings are not compromised

Do you have any vibration/shimmy in your steering wheel while driving?

 

When its clunking it has over 4000lbs of truck pushing on it, I doubt you'll be able to replicate it by hand unless it's totally shot. It'll also move significantly more while driving than you can move it by hand. I'd start by replacing the control arm as that's the only component with play in it that you've found. Also sounds like a likely culprit based on the conditions you've described, at least from my experience.

 

 

 

16 hours ago, AR97Pathfinder said:

Sorry, but where are the bushings located on the rear diff?

 

Im not sure Ive looked at that yet and how would you change those out? 

 

Front diff/axle

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5 hours ago, DesertKyle said:

Forgot to say if your hubs are disengaged the diff bushings shouldn't be causing any symptoms on the road. Bad control arm bushings will cause a vibration though.

 

Have you checked your wheel bearings lately?


The diff bushings are still in play with the hubs disengaged because the front shaft still spins due to drag in the clutch plates, so yeah the bushings can still be responsible for the highway vibration. 
 

The control arm bushing that had a bit of play is definitely something I’d like to get sorted but it had a LOT less play than the diff bushings so I’ll start there first. The other thing to mention is that my control arms are new as of about a year ago so I doubt they went bad already

 

I also changed my front wheel bearings several months ago when I was trying to figure out the vibration issue, so I know those are brand new and solid

 

Oh yeah and to answer your other question, no I don’t have any shimmy in the steering wheel while driving, either straight or turning 

Edited by PathyGig12
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2 hours ago, PathyGig12 said:


The diff bushings are still in play with the hubs disengaged because the front shaft still spins due to drag in the clutch plates, so yeah the bushings can still be responsible for the highway vibration. 
 

The control arm bushing that had a bit of play is definitely something I’d like to get sorted but it had a LOT less play than the diff bushings so I’ll start there first. The other thing to mention is that my control arms are new as of about a year ago so I doubt they went bad already

 

I also changed my front wheel bearings several months ago when I was trying to figure out the vibration issue, so I know those are brand new and solid

 

Oh yeah and to answer your other question, no I don’t have any shimmy in the steering wheel while driving, either straight or turning 

Interesting, I didn't realize that was the case with the electronic t-cases. Sounds like you're on the right track then, whenever I've had bad control arm bushings I could feel it in the steering wheel. Good luck! ?

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2 hours ago, DesertKyle said:

Interesting, I didn't realize that was the case with the electronic t-cases. Sounds like you're on the right track then, whenever I've had bad control arm bushings I could feel it in the steering wheel. Good luck! ?

Thanks man, I appreciate you taking the time to toss some possibilities out there.
 

Originally I was going to just drop it off at the shop and see what they thought but I realized I would just end up paying for an hour of diagnosis to hear them suggest something I’ve already tried or shrug and vaguely indicate some mounts that MAY need to be replaced. 
 

NPORA saves me a lot of repair money, that’s for sure! But then again it also drains my wallet seeing all of the sweet build ideas lol

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On 11/8/2020 at 6:23 PM, PathyGig12 said:

Thanks man, I appreciate you taking the time to toss some possibilities out there.
 

Originally I was going to just drop it off at the shop and see what they thought but I realized I would just end up paying for an hour of diagnosis to hear them suggest something I’ve already tried or shrug and vaguely indicate some mounts that MAY need to be replaced. 
 

NPORA saves me a lot of repair money, that’s for sure! But then again it also drains my wallet seeing all of the sweet build ideas lol

No problem, hope it helps! I feel ya, between the maintenance and the mods it never ends lol. Keeps me busy though!

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On 11/8/2020 at 1:52 AM, PathyGig12 said:

Just checked the front diff mounts and the bushings all have significant play. I’m not sure if this is the cause of my clunk but I’m thinking at the very least it’s the cause of my highway vibration. Just sucks that each mount is 100 bucks

 

Damn, I didn't know they were that expensive! That does suck. Hopefully it fixes the problem, though.

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I found it!!

 

I had my girlfriend back the truck up at full lock over a bump and saw that the clunk was noticeable in the strut but was coming from lower down, so I went behind the wheel and watched the control arm. Sure enough, the clunk was coming from the three studs that attach the ball joint to the control arm. You could visibly see it shifting as the clunk was happening. So I went and checked the torque on the nuts and of course they were super loose. Torqued them down properly and the clunk is 100% gone now. I’m just glad nothing failed catastrophically! Yikes

The only question now is whether it did any damage to the ball joint itself or the control arm while going over pot holes and rough terrain? I think it’ll be fine but I’ll keep an eye on it. My current theory for how things got so loose is the anti-seize we used on the bolts during assembly. My dad was helping me and insisted it would help make them easier to change the next time. Well maybe it made them just a little too eager to come out lmao

 

I also got excited because I thought maybe it tightening those nuts could have fixed my highway vibration issue as well, but no luck there. I’m still thinking that’s coming from the bad diff bushings. Oh well, I’m just happy that stupid clunk is now gone

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15 hours ago, PathyGig12 said:

I found it!!

 

I had my girlfriend back the truck up at full lock over a bump and saw that the clunk was noticeable in the strut but was coming from lower down, so I went behind the wheel and watched the control arm. Sure enough, the clunk was coming from the three studs that attach the ball joint to the control arm. You could visibly see it shifting as the clunk was happening. So I went and checked the torque on the nuts and of course they were super loose. Torqued them down properly and the clunk is 100% gone now. I’m just glad nothing failed catastrophically! Yikes

The only question now is whether it did any damage to the ball joint itself or the control arm while going over pot holes and rough terrain? I think it’ll be fine but I’ll keep an eye on it. My current theory for how things got so loose is the anti-seize we used on the bolts during assembly. My dad was helping me and insisted it would help make them easier to change the next time. Well maybe it made them just a little too eager to come out lmao

 

I also got excited because I thought maybe it tightening those nuts could have fixed my highway vibration issue as well, but no luck there. I’m still thinking that’s coming from the bad diff bushings. Oh well, I’m just happy that stupid clunk is now gone

Glad you found the issue for the clunking noise. 
 

I tried that also for the same noise you were getting and I was able to tighten some more but it didn’t help the issue. 
 

Not sure where the noise is coming from. I have new control arms, ball joints, sway links, tie rods, tie rod ends, new strut. 
 

Only items not changed during my suspension replacements were the spring, strut mount, sway bar bushings. 

I get the clunking over bumps sometimes. I could go over rough road and big bumps at times and not get anything. But then some subtle bumps or turning in driveways would make the noise.

 

Something just doesn’t feel solid on that one side.

 

Any ideas? 

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Do the sway bushings first just because they are so cheap

 

Maybe then go through the other areas recently replaced and retorque then to make sure everything is super tight? 
 

Did you check the top center nut on the strut? If it’s not tightened while the vehicle weight is on the wheels it may have some play in it 

 

edit to add: could also be a strut bearing going bad

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2 hours ago, PathyGig12 said:

Do the sway bushings first just because they are so cheap

 

Maybe then go through the other areas recently replaced and retorque then to make sure everything is super tight? 
 

Did you check the top center nut on the strut? If it’s not tightened while the vehicle weight is on the wheels it may have some play in it 

 

edit to add: could also be a strut bearing going bad

Okay, I’ll try out those sway bushings first. Would I be able to change without removing end links? 
 

If not, I’ll go back through and retorque everything. But everything looked fine today when I tried tightening things. 
 

I did not check the strut center nut. Will do also. I did not retorque after installation. I torqued it when I put the strut together off vehicle.  
 

And wouldn’t the bearing make noise when turning? No noise per se when turning. I could get the clunk going straight over bumps without turning wheel. 

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The sway bushings don’t require taking off the end link. You just have to undo the brackets that support the middle of the bar and slip on the new bushings. 10 minute job

 

You’re right about the bearings, I think you’re hear them while turning. Maybe the strut mounts are more likely
 

 

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