Suspension questions & leaking engine oil


1987 Olds Cutlass Ciera

3.8L V6

auto trans w/ overdrive

151,000 miles

Although I’m likely to simply leave it alone as is and eventually sell it once Dad is no longer doing any driving, which hopefully will be sooner rather than later, am wondering about the advisability of throwing any money at the suspension system and an engine oil leak. (Hey, are y’all as tired of questions about this old buggy as I am of asking them? G)

Have been told there is a “small” engine oil leak not needing immediate attention. To diagnose will need to have dye injected.

Also, been advised the CV boots have pinholes and are leaking a small amount of grease.

Car still handles like it has suspension issues – i.e. not as stable in handling as I’d like and gets a heavy front end vibration at highway speeds – even after the front end alignment and new brakes awhile back, although that improved things a great deal.

Am wondering if the CV joints can be affecting the handling/stability???

Struts and shocks show no leaking, so should I consider replacing them??? Think they have only about 40k miles on them.

Tie rods reported to have slight wear but nothing near needing replacement.

The front tires are showing uneven wear, in the same way the previous tires did. So new tires weren’t the answer.

Anything else might be the problem? Wheel bearings? Grelims?

Or should I just leave things alone, given Dad only drives local streets at no more than 40mph at most a few times a week, no more than 5 to 10 miles round trip? (I take it out a bit more than that to keep the battery charged and cobwebs from forming.)



Last alignment?
Abnormal tread wear patterns generally indicate some level of suspension work is required. New tires alone don’t fix abnormal tread wear issues. Get a good suspension check by a mechanic you trust and let the findings dictate your next step.


At 151k miles, it’s possible to have more than one problem in the suspension.
It would help a bit to know what the tire wear pattern looked like as patterns will vary depending on the cause.

Here is one problem I have. You were told the tie rods have slight wear, but no problem at this point? Tie rods are supposed to be very snug and even a few thousandths of an inch wear in the tie rod ball sockets is multiplied by the time it gets to the other side of the wheel.
Think of this way. Imagine a child’s small protractor and imagine how small that one degree increment is from the center of the protractor to the edge. Now; in your mind’s eye, carry that O degree and 1 degree line outwards a couple of feet. Huge difference, huh?

Any wear in the tie rods can cause abnormal tire wear, vibration, and if whoever tells you the tie rod looseness is normal and then aligned it anyway; well, find someone else. Loose tie rods mean the toe of the front wheel is changing constantly as you drive.
This causes rapid tire wear and a car that may wander on the road.

I would also be concerned about worn ball joints at that high of a mileage also. A good front end tech should check this stuff before performing an alignment.
Ball joints are the single biggest safety factor in the vehicle’s suspension.
In some cases an odd wear pattern in the ball joint may not even be detectable, may appear tight, and may require separation of the ball joint from the steering knuckle for inspection. At this point though, you’re better off going ahead and changing them if they’re the originals.

Hope that helps anyway. :slight_smile:
(Don’t worry about too many questions. We enjoy trying to help, and you’re to be commended for wanting to learn.)


How much oil is leaking per 5,000 miles and where is it leaking from?

The CV joints I would leave alone. From what you have said, they may well last the life of the car. They will start clicking before they go. They are going to cost no more to fix then than now.

The handling needs to be addressed or at least identified as it may be a serious safety issue. You will need a good suspension shop take a look at it.


Ah, don’t know enough about what tie rods are to have even thought of the description you gave OK4450.

Actually, 3 dealerships and then the one independent mechanic I’ve been going to for about a year have all said the same thing about the tie rods being slightly worn but not an issue.

The uneven wear on the tires has been mostly on the outer edges with a few odd spots showing up more or less in the middle here and there.

I’ve hollered about the poor handling for close to 4 years, had in to the various shops several dozen times, and no one seems to think it is near as bad as I think. At least the last alignment finally stopped the car steering itself by wandering in different directions from what I was steering at times. Particularly on curves it wouldn’t hold true.

Now it seems to have much snugger steering but still feels like I’m driving on very rough road even on the smoothest of paving.

One of the main reasons I bought the new car for primary use.

I’ll look into finding a shop that specializes in front end / suspension work and that checks out with the BBB and have them take a look. I’ll particularly keep in mind your advice about ball joints, etc.


I just want Dad, me, and everyone on the road around us safe, if the car is to keep being driven any.



Don’t know where the engine oil leak is from yet. They want to put dye in engine oil and see where the leak is coming from.

So far, it goes through less than a pint every 3,000 to 3,500 miles (the frequency of oil changes). The reading on the dipstick does go down that little bit, so I don’t think they are kidding me about having seen dried oil crud underneath. However, at most I may find an occassional one or drops on the paving under where the car gets parked on the driveway.

The CV joints aren’t clicking, at least not that I can tell and I’m pretty sensitive about strange noises or a difference in the feel of things. And the mechanic said only a small amount of grease appears to be leaking from them. The boots aren’t torn, just full of pinholes.

I’m inclined to see if anyone can actually, finally find the reason for the stability problem and decide if that’s worth fixing before spending money on the engine oil leak???



The tie rods are the things that connect the steering rack to the steering knuckles, which is what essentially holds the wheels on.
The tie rods are also what is used to adjust the toe on the front end during an alignment.

I don’t know what to say about all of these people stating they’re worn but are ok. Clueless maybe?
If the tie rods are loose then how in the world can they expect to align a front end accurately?

If they’re loose they need replaced and I would definitely have the ball joints inspected very closely, or replace them.

If you’ve ever seen a car on the side of the road with what appears to be a front wheel broken and lying flat then you can figure the ball joint is responsible for that.
Most of the time a car will slide to a quick stop and in some cases, the car may overturn and go rolling.


Oh yeah, forgot to say in reply to your answer, the ball joints are original to the car, so are 20 year old. I’ll look into having those replaced, if I can afford it.

I do appreciate all the help I get here from those of you who take the time to share your expertise.

Whether or not I decide to put any more money into the old car, I know I’m going to be able to take much better care of the new one in years to come from what I’ve been learning for the past year.



Uhm, couple more questions about ball joints and steering knuckles.

  1. If I do get the ball joints replaced, should the steering knuckles you mentioned also be replaced at the same time???

  2. Got an idea of a ballpark estimate acceptable range on price for ball joint replacement? I don’t expect it to be cheap work to have done but would appreciate an idea of what I’d be getting into prior to getting some estimates from mechanics.



As the song by Roxette says, “The answers are so simple but the explanations are very hard to do.” If you could let him drive the Impala, it may be easier to adjust schedules for the one car that it may be better to have. I would say for certain to not fix the CV joints or the oil leak. Tie rod ends involve safety, but you will probably go with the recommendations of the alignment shop.


Oh my word! Yeah, think I’ll definitely have someone take a good hard look at the tie rods and ball joints. Sounds like I need either to throw at least that money at the car or up and retire it sooner rather than later.

What’s odd is that Dad’s even older car w/ the leaky transmission had a broken knuckle on it several years ago and yet handled better than my old buggy is handling.

Anyway, thanks again for the info. Sounds like I may have been playing Russian roulette.



Thanks Pleasedodgevan for your input.

If Dad did drive the Impala, or any newer car for that matter, I think he’d be stunned at the difference between the performance and handling between it and either his or my old car. But at age 88 with failing health, driving anything he isn’t long familiar with is way outside his comfort zone.

Given his physical and increasing cognitive impairments, the real solution is for his to give up driving entirely and to dispose of both old cars. But it is hard for anyone to give up the last bit of mobility independence and say goodbye to items with a strong sentimental attachment.

Only reason I’ve pestered the board with these issues about the old car is SAFETY – his, mine, and other drivers sharing the road. If I can’t get rid of the old buggy yet, gotta keep things safe.



Here is what Goodyear says about tire wear:
Excessive Toe

Excessive toe-in/positive toe results in outside edge wear of the tire
Excessive toe-out/negative toe results in inside edge wear of the tire
Toe is easily adjusted on most vehicle steer axles
Excessive Camber

Excessive positive camber: smooth wear patterns on the outer half of the tire tread
Excessive negative camber: smooth wear patterns on the inner half of the tire tread

To me, continuing wear on the outside edge is a alignment toe/camber issue. That comes back of OK4450’s question about the condition of the tie rods. If this car has been aligned since the new tires were installed, it appears that regardless of the “tolerance or play” there is, indeed, an issue and the tie rods need replacement. I would start there. I think that is especially true if the tie rods are original.


No, you should not have to worry about replacing steeing knuckles. These are usually good for the life of the car and normally the only way they are damaged is in the event of a collision.

If I remember correctly, you may be in a high labor rate area (SF?) so ball parking the ball joints, I would guess at several hundred per side both part and labor. Hope that helps.


Consumption of half a quart between oil changes is astonishingly little for a car of this age and mileage. You don’t need to diagnose or repair anything.

The wandering is a suspension problem that needs to be corrected. The abnormal tire wear pattern should tell a competent mechanic what needs to be fixed. With this many years and miles, I could well believe that the ball joints, tie rod ends and shock absorbers all need to be replaced.


Thank you. I’ll keep the info about ball joints, tie rods, ballpark pricing and no need to worry about steering knuckles unless they are actually broken in mind when getting it looked at and quotes.


(who got her login tossed out and turned annonymous)


Thank you. This description of uneven tire wear and its causes is quite helpful. Appreciate it.



Sounds like if I can manage the cost of replacing tie rods, ball joints, and possibly the struts and shocks, I just might have a car worth keeping as a back-up buggy afterall.

I’ll have to get some quotes and see what the budget can bear.

As to the engine oil leak, yeah, I’d wondered if that is such a small leak to just keep an eye on and not worry about at this point.




marnet, check out this site for a possible cure of oil leaks:

i only just discovered it myself, from another poster. the testimonials are impressive.


Yet another snake oil.

Yes, oil breaks down with use. That’s why you change it regularly. The tougher the service, the shorter the interval between changes.

The kindest thing you can say about aftermarket additives is that they may not do any harm. They certainly don’t do any good.

My career was test engineer in a railroad laboratory. Frequently, we were given gadgets or additives to test. The vendors claimed that they would improve combustion or reduce friction. To back up their claims, they would supply test data and testimonials. Invariably, the tests were performed so poorly that they could not have shown the benefits of a worthwhile product. Testimonials tended to be statements like, “Every fall, I drive my RV down to Florida for the winter. This year, I used your product and got 10% better fuel economy.” No mention of whether he drove slower this year or had the engine serviced before the trip. In 26 years of competent, rigorous testing, I never found anything that worked to any noticeable degree, certainly not enough to offset the cost of the product. This infuriated the snake oil peddlers, but saved my employer millions of dollars.