Front suspension general maintenance

Hey guys, I’m writing again about my old 96 Mercury Mystique, 73000 miles, 2.0L Zetec, ATX. After driving down enough bumpy dirt roads, the rear suspension has started squeaking when I go over speed bumps, and doesn’t seem to be damping like it should when I push on the bumper. It seems like replacing struts, shocks, and mounts on the rear end is fairly simple, and I think I can do that myself with the quick-strut assemblies (plus I just bought an impact driver and a big ol’ torque wrench that haven’t gotten used enough!).

But this got me thinking about the front end, which also has 20-year-old components in it. The car seems to handle fine, but I can’t help but think that some preventative maintenance is in order. I was wondering what sort of things you would prioritize, and what sorts of things you would recommend that a novice try out. Shocks and struts seem like they’re at the top of the list, but also tie-rod ends? Anything I should take her to a shop for to get checked out or replaced?

I’ve poked around, and it seems like everything’s in good shape – no rust, CV boots in good shape (though I admit I don’t really know what to look for). No handling problems or weird sounds either. Should I just leave well enough alone, or is my tinkering worthwhile?

By the way, y’all have been super helpful in the past – got the timing belt installed fine, replaced the IAC valve, and done a lot of other maintenance that you guys recommended, and the car’s running great. So thanks again!


You might raise the front wheels off the ground and try to wiggle the wheels to see if there is any looseness in them. Check the lower ball joints for any play.
Grab the wheel at 3 and 9 o’clock and if there looseness that can point to loose tie rods or tie rod ends in most cases.
If looseness if felt at the 6 and 12 o’clock positions that can point to ball joints or wheel bearings.
The above is not etched in stone as both situations can vary a bit.

I might point out that it’s possible to have a bad tie rod end or ball joint that has no looseness in it at all. Sometimes the only real way of knowing is to separate the joint and move it by hand in an effort to detect any binding or rough spots.
Of course that brings up the point of as long as the joint is separated then why not replace it.

What I would prioritize is the inspection. OK4450 gave you a great once-over protocol, except that I would not separate any ball joints or tie rod ends unless when shaking them they knocked or produced noise.

Seeing as how the car is pushing 20 years old, I would add a good look-see of the brake system to the priorities. Corrosion on the hard lines & fitting, cracks in the flex hoses, stuff like that. Any clumped up black crud requires a real close look, as that’s a symptom of leakage.

Re: the CV boots, what you want to do is use your fingers to spread open the inside folds. Boots will often fail at those inside folds, and not be obvious unless the folds are spread open. I would recommend against doing anything with the half-shafts unless they’re making noise.

While you’re under there, shake the sway bar. The rubber bushings that hold the bars to the chassis often wear and shrink, and if they’re knocking when you shake the bat you might as well replace them. On most cars it isn’t difficult.

Well, I’ve got a 15 yo Explorer that I thought the suspension was decent until I experienced a death wobble on the freeway. The knock test was negative, but upper and lower ball joints both had split-open boots. I went ahead and replaced ball joints, tie rod ends, and sway bar links. Got an alignment, and all is good again. With suspension, you just fix it when its time.

If you’re doing the rear suspension, you might as well do the front, also. It’s been subjected to the same conditions. Quick struts all around

I’d also do the sway bar bushings and links, front and rear

When doing the struts, you might have to separate some brake lines. If so, it’s time for a brake fluid flush. I’d recommend against the 2 man method. The 2 man method sometimes results in an aging brake master failing, but it was still okay before the brake flush. Gravity bleed or diaphragm brake bleeder

Get a 4 wheel alignment after all the work

I like to leave the front end on the ground and have someone rock the steering wheel back and forth while I inspect the front end steering components. That puts them under the heaviest load so if the two halves of something are not moving in sync, it is really noticeable. 3400 lbs of car will stress the components a lot more than a 200 lb man can.

Ball joints and tie rod ends are supposed to be checked with every alignment. You should be able to change front struts easily without opening any brake lines.

If you support one side of the car at a time, the ball joint arm may not want to drop enough to get the strut off the front. When that happens you can jack the other side a little and it will come down. It’s the sway bar that tries to hold it up. Or you can use a long pipe to lever it down enough by sitting on the end of it. Handy trick.

Doing this job will make you proud of the money-saving you did. If you had to pay for the job you would already be wondering if you should replace the whole car.