How hard is it to work on a front end?


I have recently acquired a very used 1990 Mazda 626. It has a problem with the front end.

I took it to shop that sells tires and oil changes primarily but also does repair work to cars. They diagnosed the front drivers side wheel as needing new steering knuckle and the parts attached to it (not the wheel) The ball joint et al needs to be replaced as well. It appears that some joker worked on this car and did not do the repair work properly.

The steering wheel begins to vibrate above 60 mph, this is because the wheel is able to tow in and out. This is going to destroy the tires but…

They said it would take about 700 dollars to fix. I do not have that kind of money. I’m not a good mechanic but this work needs to get done.

How hard is it to work on the Front end of a car and make these kind of repairs.

I found a place to get a used steering knuckle for about $50. The other parts won’t cost much. Should I and a friend attempt this repair or should I just sell the car an go on with my life. I like the car because it gets great gas milage and has a working a/c.

What do I need to know before starting this kind of project?


It appears that some joker worked on this car and did not do the repair work properly.

if you have some basic wrench turning skills you can do this. you have to buy either a haynes or chiltons manual to get the pertinent info.

BUT… like you said, It appears that some joker worked on this car and did NOT do the repair work properly

do you want to have the tires fall off, or shimmy or be out of alignment, while you are learnign how to do these repairs?


“It appears that some joker worked on this car and did not do the repair work properly.”

After you do the work and sell your car, this is exactly what the next owner will say.

One of the reasons the shop quoted you what seems like a high estimate is that they have shelled out for special tools. Depending on the requirements for your vehicle, you may need a hydraulic press, maybe other stuff. And you still must go for an alignment. Let the shop do it, let them test the results. Plus you get a warranty, parts & labor.


In your case its not to hard to do. You’ll need a manual $18+, a small pitman arm puller $12, basic tools which I assume you have already.

A steering knuckle is a pretty tough piece of iron. I wonder what they did to damage it. Anyway, you will need to buy a lower ball joint, a tie rod end and maybe a wheel bearing. Next, was the axle damaged as well. All together, this adds up, then you will need a front end alignment.


To replace the steering knuckle on this car is actually a fairly simple job. You’ll need a ball joint removal tool, like a pickle fork or this:

If you need to replace the bearings, check and see if it is a sealed bearing-pak bolted the the steering knuckle, or pressed-in bearings. For pressed-in bearings, some machine shops will press them in and out for a small fee. The grease seals should be easy to replace. A bearing-pak is simply replaced if questionable, but they can also be pricey.

You’ll need a good breaker bar and a big socket, like a 30MM, 32MM or 36MM, to undo the spindle nut on the CV joint. I prefer to break these loose before I jack up the car up, so I can use the weight of the car plus the strength of the parking brakes to keep the wheel from turning as I hop on the breaker bar. These nuts are usually torqued to 200 ft-lbs or better. The manufacturer recommends that you get a new nut when you re-assemble.

The rest is all hand tools. You can disconnect the steering knuckle from the strut without removing the strut. You’ll need to completely disassemble the brakes. Inspect the CV joint, the lower ball joint and the outer tie rod ball joint for damage now, when it is easy to replace.

When you reassemble, make sure to use new cotter pins on the ball joint castle nuts and the spindle nut. The spindle nut may use a detent to lock it in place instead of a cotter pin. Use a screwdriver and a hammer to lock the detent into place once the nut is fully-torqued back on.

One it is all reassembled, you’ll need to take it for an alignment. The front suspension will be out of alignment, and it will chew up your tires if not done.


It turns out that the small Pitman Arm puller works better than either of those tools, but the price on those isn’t too bad either. You will need a torque wrench too and a manual to get the torque specs. You could subscribe to alldata instead of purchasing a manual. Its more expensive that a Haynes or Chiltons, but far less than a factory service manual and its about as good as the FSM.


Oh yeah, don’t use a pickle fork unless you are definitely going to replace what ever you are using it on. That could be why your steering knuckle is damaged.


I had a friend who works on cars take a look this car. We came to the conclusion the shop was trying to sell me more repair work than I need. The steering knuckle looks like it is in good shape. We think the ball joint is in good shape too. The outer tie rod needs to be replaced. It seems the previous owner used a wrong part to replace the outer tie rod and the threads do not go all the way up so it cannot be sufficiently tightened.

The parts store said the outer tie rod is about $20. I will buy this and have my friend put it on. I also bought two used tires for the front and a lot of the vibration ceased. I know this will return when the tires are unevenly worn down again.

My friend took the extra castle nut off and tightened down the tie rod as much as he could. This seemed to help but the tires helped much more. We plan on replacing the tie rod later this week.


Have a REAL mechanic look your car over and SHOW YOU what , if any, parts need to be replaced. Have you had the tires balanced?


I must assume from past history with 626s that the hub bearing and ball joint are worn out. Several special tools are needed if this is the case. The drive shaft must be pressed out of the hub and a ‘crow foot’ type press is needed there. The outer tie rod end requires a ‘pickle fork’ or special press to remove and a lock ring tool is needed to free the bearing and a large press to seperate the hub from the bearing and the bearing from the knuckle and re-install them. With no prior experience of any kind on FWD suspension and steering I would advise that the work not be attempted unless the car is an ‘extra’, not a daily driver.


My friend took the extra castle nut off and tightened down the tie rod as much as he could.

This is not a good sign. If someone needed to put on an extra castle nut and the tie rod could be tightened down some more usually means the hole for the tie rod end was wallered out. That’s caused by someone replacing the tie rod end and not torquing the nut down properly. You will need a new steering knuckle, sorry.

You can get the drive axle out with a pair of crow bars if you know what your doing. If you get a new knuckle, you will need new bearings and any shop can press them in for you for a small fee. It only takes a few minutes so it shouldn’t be more than $20


My friend did replace the tie rod end. I was not there when he did. He said it went on easy. The tie rod end that was on there was apparently not the right one. The new one fit perfectly. The steering knuckle did not need to be replaced. The car does not vibrate above sixty. It still needs an alignment wich I intend to have done by the end of this month.

My opinion about the shop now is that they were quoting me a repair estimate that was unnecessary and basicly they were trying to have me do more repair than the car really needed. In short it appears they were trying to pad the bill. I have no respect for them and will not let them give me any more estimates.

I remember at least two other shops that gave similarly inflated estimates for repairs that were not needed to previous cars.

I really don’t care how much they spend on special tools. They need to stop inflating their repair estimates.