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Steering and suspension components we check

In Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

We can address and even prevent car problems by taking the time to look things over.

Sometimes, a customer will complain about something that has to do with their steering and suspension. At other moments, we are simply performing a courtesy inspection as part of our oil change service.

In both situations, there are several problems we keep an eye out for.

Ball joints and bushings

When checking the steering and suspension components on a vehicle – especially as we get ready to conduct a car alignment – we’re looking for worn parts. 

These items include worn tie rod ends, where there can be some play, and the ball joints to determine if they are worn down. Some ball joints have indicators that show you, for some you just have to load up a certain way, which means support the lower control arm or let them hang. 

The process for checking them depends on the vehicle. But you want to make sure you’re looking it over correctly and making sure there isn’t any play. By “play”, we mean back and forth or up and down.

The other thing we’re looking for is the bushings, such as the control arm bushings. Depending on if they’re upper or control arm bushings. The Chevy pickup that we have included photos of in this article is a street strip vehicle. These are aftermarket upper control arms. 

The ball joint, upper control arm and upper control arm bushings on a Chevrolet pickup.

In this particular project, we performed a wheel alignment where we put shims between the control arm and the frame to bring the alignment back into specifications.

While looking at suspension components – whether they’re shocks or struts or a combination of the two – you’ll want to make sure that the mounting plates and bushings are good, because that’s what keeps the tire in contact with the road.

Checking on the coil springs

Our Woodbridge mechanics are also looking for springs and making sure they aren’t worn and causing body sag. If it starts to sag, that can throw off the alignment specifications because the vehicle is lower than it was originally.

Our customer replaced the upper and lower control arms, the tie rod ends and the springs. So we’re getting the alignment fixed up for them. The rear of this vehicle just has regular shocks that go to the differential. We also replaced the coil springs on the back to bring the height to a certain level.

A tie rod, pitman arm and sway bar link.

Over a period of time the springs can become worn. You want to look at springs – especially on older vehicles that are at 100,000, 200,000 or 300,000 miles – because they can start to compress. They’re not going to be able to hold the vehicle up to the correct ride height that they were designed for. This can impact handling and the way things work.

A shock absorber and coil spring.

All these steering and suspension components work together. You don’t have to replace all of them at the same time. It was just in this particular case that this was a project car and the driver decided to change the parts at once.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Suspension noises and what they could mean for your vehicle

In Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Contrary to what many people believe, a car’s suspension isn’t responsible for holding the vehicle off the ground. 

The shock absorber prevents the tire from bouncing, allowing it to stay in contact with the road. This enables drivers to maintain control.

On the strut system, the coil spring is built onto the shock absorber. There are gas charged shocks and struts and oil filled shocks and struts. The valving and how they’re made is based on how much dampening control they have. 

Suspension noises

Everything from the lower control arm with the control arm bushings – which connect the control arm with the frame of the vehicle – to the ball joints can cause suspension noises.

Some vehicles – due to age and wear – are more prone to a creaking or groaning noise when the wheel is turned. 

On older cars, almost all ball joints had a zerk fitting that would allow you to service it. Oil changes were called “lube, oil and filter” because you would put grease on the different components. A lot of automobiles nowadays don’t have them. So, if you need to replace a part, like a tie rod end or a ball joint, you can put in a piece that has a greased fitting and is serviceable, and it’s a little better than the component from the factory. 

Here are some suspension noises you may hear and what’s causing them:

  • Control arm bushings: The control arms where the control arm bushings connect is another possible area for noise. They can get dry and start to crack. You may hear a knocking noise while you’re driving down the road, or a thunk when turning. It takes a bit of force to create sound from the control arm bushings.
  • Tie rod ends: Tie rod ends will make more of a squeaking sound, but if it’s worn out or there’s a lot of play you can also get some clunking noise if you move the wheel left and right, even just a little bit. 
  • Sway bars and sway bar links: There are little rubber bushings there too that help when you’re going around a turn and with how much the body sways. When they break, a lot of the time they’ll make some knocking noises when you’re going over bumps because it’s banging against the lower control arm or the frame of the vehicle. Very rarely do they squeak, unless all the bushings are gone and it’s just a metal rod.
  • Pitman arms: On older vehicles, the pitman arm may connect to the center link, or drag link. That would make a squeaking noise too. Today, that’s usually found more on trucks than cars.
  • Struts: For vehicles with struts, the upper strut mount design varies. Upper end vehicles have a bearing while others have a rubber and a metal plate. As you turn the wheel, it turns. When they wear out or parts that aren’t equal to the original are installed, you may experience vibrating, thumping and some resistance while turning left to right. 
  • Coil springs and spring isolators: Between the strut mount and the strut itself are generally rubber spacers called “isolators” that help keep the spring in line. Sometimes, the spring wants to move as you’re turning and you can hear a big clanking noise when the rubber is gone. On the regular control arm and shock system – where the springs are separate – you might get some spring popping noise every once in a while, especially if you’re going over bumps, if the springs are worn or they aren’t doing their job because of age. Generally, however, you see it more on the strut system.    

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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What kind of shocks or struts do I need?

In Shocks & Struts, Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

If you’re due to have your shocks and struts replaced, then it’s important to choose the right ones for your vehicle. Our certified technicians at HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire will recommend struts or shocks if your car is over 50,000 or shows some signs that they’re worn down – but how do you know which ones to choose?

Before you can move forward with deciding what kinds of shocks and struts you want, you first need to have a full understanding of what they are and how they work in your vehicle. Being informed about your car – including the parts in it – will ensure that you are confident in your purchase and that you’re caring for your vehicle.

You can find shocks and struts in your car, and while they do the same thing for your car, remember – you can not replace shocks for struts, and vice versa, as your car is designed to handle either one or the other. These components work to eliminate or at least minimize the amount of bouncing your car does, which will not only provider you with more control over the vehicle, but it will also avoid some potentially costly repairs.

Let’s go a little further and talk about what they look like, and where they are located in the car. A shock is attached to a coil spring and is located near the wheels. Struts are a little different, as they do not have the spring and they are actually mounted into the car’s suspension system.

Types of shocks and struts

Now that you know what shocks and struts are, and what they do, we can move on to looking at the types you’ll have to choose from.

The two most well-known shocks and strut designs are the mono tube and twin tubes.

When the monotube shocks and struts are placed in your vehicle, they use a gas charge that keeps the oil and nitrogen inside of them separate. What does this really mean? It means that your ability to ‘dampen’ or soften the force of breaking and running over bumps is enhanced and you have more driving control. Monotube are good with cars that need high quality performance or for drivers that like a slightly more aggressive ride. Mostly likely you’ll see these used with SUVs or light trucks.

Looking then at the twin tube shocks and struts, the most immediate difference is that they have two cylinders instead of one. Inside of these cylinders there are shafts and pistons that move, along with hydraulic fluid to again ‘dampen’ the force of breaking and driving over rough road. These shocks and struts don’t have same emphasis on performance as the mono tubes do, but they are an affordable option that provides good vehicle control for light trucks, SUVs and cars.

Ultimately, the shocks and struts you replace your current ones with need to coincide with driving conditions, your car and what you are looking for. Having a conversation with one of our technicians at HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire will help you make that important decision.

Factors to consider

Some things to ask yourself when selecting shocks and struts:

  • What do I use my car for?
  • Does my car regularly carry heavy loads?
  • Do I want shocks that are designed more for performance?
  • What are the driving conditions where I live?
  • What kind of car do I drive?
  • Will I need shocks that are adjustable?

You’re not expected to have full answers to these questions or know everything about shocks and struts – and that’s where we’re here to help. By making an appointment to get your car looked at, and talking to one of our guys in the shop, we can make sure you get the right shocks and struts in your vehicle so you can get back on the road.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Why is my car making a knocking sound?

In Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Trouble sometimes comes knocking.

In the case of a Honda Odyssey, it was steering suspension components.

The vehicle was brought in when the driver heard a knocking sound that seemed to be coming from the engine.

After quite a bit of investigation, our technician figured out the cause: The timing belt tensioner had gone bad.

On top of replacing this component, he installed a new timing belt and related parts. Sometimes, these components come together as a set and it’s best to replace them all at once.

Timing belts ensure that the crankshaft and camshaft have the correct timing. You can read more about timing belts and when to replace them in this article we wrote recently.

A tensioner, which keeps the belt tight, is needed in order for the timing belt to function properly.

A timing belt tensioner.
Timing belt tensioner

Causes of a knocking sound

A knocking sound can occur for a variety of reasons.

In addition to timing belt tensioners, it can be the result of other components, including sway bar end links, struts, control arms and tie rod ends. These parts simply wear out overtime.

Newer vehicles that are being manufactured don’t have serviceable ball joints or tie rod ends anymore. They have these pieces called zerk fittings, which lubricate parts. 

Whenever our technicians are replacing steering or suspension components, we make sure that they’re serviceable.

Spark plugs are another part that, when failing, may lead to a knocking sound. They can also be the culprit behind engine misfires.

Other than components going bad, engine knock is sometimes the result of more complicated issues. 

Engine sounds may occur if the gas you put in your vehicle has a different octane level than it requires. Octane ratings are the type of fuel, such as regular, mid-grade and premium. It’s important to confirm and use the correct one.

Carbon deposits building up in the cylinders is another possible culprit. Having a fuel induction service performed regularly – we recommend them every 30,000 miles, depending on the type of vehicle you have – can clear out carbon build up and prevent engine damage.

What to do if you hear knocking sounds

If you hear knocking sounds – or any other strange noises – don’t be alarmed. 

It’s OK to continue driving it, but you should have it looked at by a mechanic or auto repair shop as soon as you are able to.

Putting off or ignoring the problem won’t cause it to go away. In fact, it will become worse the longer you wait to have it addressed. Having it checked out early on could prevent additional damage and unnecessary expenses.

Pay attention to where it’s coming from and when it occurs. Make sure to share that information with the mechanic or repair shop, as this can help them narrow down the issue.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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When to replace a timing belt

In Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

When considering how a car runs, a lot of people think about the major components, like the engine, the alternator or the battery.

However, there are many smaller components that are necessary for a vehicle to work correctly.

The timing belt is one of them. It surrounds various parts and is responsible for making sure the crankshaft and camshaft are in the right timing.

Sometimes, this piece goes bad and needs to be replaced.

Preventing future problems

Replacing your timing belt is one way to prevent future problems.

How often you need to replace it depends on the manufacturer’s recommendation. Most timing belts should be changed around 100,000 miles, but some are 60,000 miles.

A new one may also be needed if there’s cracking or a running condition where it jumps time.

Signs the timing belt is going bad

You aren’t going to be noticing wear on the timing belt, because it is covered up by parts. Timing belts are normally replaced on a mileage basis.

But a few symptoms can clue you in that the timing belt is going bad.

Engine misfires are one of them. If the engine isn’t in perfect time, then it won’t fire correctly. 

If the timing belt is too far out of timing, it causes internal damage to the engine because parts can start hitting each other.

The vehicle may also refuse to start, because the timing components aren’t spinning and the engine isn’t creating compression.

You may also notice noise caused by the timing components.

If you notice any of these indicators, you should reach out to a mechanic or an auto repair shop as soon as possible.

Replacing the timing belt

You shouldn’t put off replacing the timing belt due to maintenance or age, because if it breaks you have a chance of causing internal engine damage.

However, it’s not just the belt you should take care of. A lot of times, the belt will drive the water pump. There are also idler pulleys the belt is around that can also wear out. 

When replacing the timing belt, we also replace these other components. If you replace the belt and don’t change the parts tied to it, you will likely have a problem with them soon after.

Other than normal wear and tear, timing belts can go bad if there’s an oil leak. Oil leaks, if they aren’t addressed, may cause the belt to become weaker or break, resulting in damage to the engine.

Timing belts and timing chains

Not all vehicles have timing belts, they either have a timing belt while others have a timing chain.

Nowadays, more cars have timing chains than belts.

These two parts have the same function, but there are some differences. Timing chains are oil lubricated. Timing belts aren’t, and it’s actually bad if oil gets on them.

Another difference is that timing chains have guide rails, while timing belts just have tensioners.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Why you should replace shocks and struts

In Shocks & Struts, Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

While everyone wishes that their car could stay in perfect condition forever, oftentimes that doesn’t really happen. Parts and fluids in everyone’s car wear over time – at different rates – and require replacement and maintenance. 

Some parts of vehicle maintenance, like oil changes, need to be done more often. There are some replacements that need to be done over a longer period of time – like shocks and struts.

If you are noticing that your car is bouncing a lot, or nose diving, and you take it in to an auto technician, they may come back and tell you that you need your shocks or struts replaced. 

Many people don’t know what they are, and what they do in your car, so let’s look at that first.

Shocks and struts both absorb pressure from running over potholes, bumps and rough roads. Shocks are placed near the tires and have a coiled spring near them, as well as hydraulic fluid and a piston that help to absorb that shock. Struts are very similar, except that they’re built into the suspension system, and they have a coiled spring directly on the strut as one part.

There are different types of shocks and struts available.

So why should you be replacing these when they begin to wear out or go bad? Below are a few reasons:

Why replacing shocks and struts is important

It’s what the industry standard and manufacturer recommends

Our auto technicians follow the industry and manufacturer’s standards on all cars that come in. It is currently recommended that shocks or struts be replaced every 50,000 miles. Even though this can vary from car to car – and some vehicles can go longer than that – we still recommend and look for any issues with these components once you’re over that mileage.

Replacing them will give you more control while you drive

When your shocks or struts start to go, you’re going to see it when you’re accelerating, turning and braking. So once they start to degrade, you’re really going to see a decline in the control you have of your vehicle. Everyone has a different preference on the level of vehicle control they want when driving, but when you begin to have issues with braking or turning on a curve, then it’s time for new shocks and struts.

The life of your tires increases

Like we mentioned before, the job of the shocks or struts help to absorb shock you have from running over things like potholes. So when your shocks and struts begin to go, you’re going to see more bouncing, even when you’re not running over things. This bouncing will actually harm your tires. Because of the increased bouncing, your tires are hitting the ground hard and unevenly. This means that you’re going to possibly see pieces of tire worn off and even smooth patches from where the tires have worn down. This can actually minimize the life of your tires, which is an additional cost down the road if you don’t replace your shocks or struts.

Driving on the road is safer when you change the shocks and struts

When your shocks or struts are wearing down and you’re having problems with braking and bouncing, it becomes less safe for you to drive. By getting them replaced, you’re investing in the safety of your life, your passenger’s lives and everyone else out there on the road.

If your technician at HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire suggests that you get your shocks or struts replaced, take them seriously. It will help improve your driving experience, extend the life of your car, and keep you safe.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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Mercedes parts replaced after wheel falls off

In Brakes, Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

One of our customers was driving down the road when a wheel on their Mercedes fell off.

The impact resulted in damage to the steering knuckle, which connects suspension and steering parts.

Steering knuckle.
Steering Knuckle

It also damaged the hub bearing, which allows the wheels to rotate.

Old and new hub bearing.
Old and New Hub Bearing

One of our technicians changed them and the brake dust shield. These Mercedes parts were replaced last month.

Brake dust shield.
Brake dust shield

This is one reason why it’s important to torque lug nuts correctly.

We hand torque all of our lug nuts when putting wheels back on a vehicle after completing a project, such as a tire rotation or brake repair. 

Our technicians use torque limiters and torque wrenches.

If you don’t torque the lug nuts enough, it will leave the wheel loose and ruin the wheel, the wheel studs, and wheel bearing. 

Overtightening the lug nuts, however, will weaken the threads on the wheel studs, which can cause a failure.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics. 

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New subframe installed on Dodge Charger

In Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

A Dodge Charger came into HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire for a tire alignment earlier this month. 

Before performing an alignment, our technicians check the vehicle’s suspension.

During his inspection, Ray noticed clay on the lower ball joints on the left, front side and recommended a new lower control arm and a ball joint.

New subframe needed

When installing the lower control arm, he found the subframe was bent from some sort of impact.

Because the subframe holds the engine, Ray needed to use a special hoist to hold the engine while he put in the new subframe.

This situation is a good example of why you shouldn’t hide or leave out information when talking to a technician or service adviser.

You can save time and money by sharing as much information as possible.

Check out this article we wrote to learn about other reasons why you shouldn’t lie to your mechanic.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

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What is making that car noise?

In Suspension, Tires & Wheels, Vehicle Maintenance by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Every once in a while, you might hear something out of the ordinary as you drive out of a parking spot or travel down the road.

There are many reasons why these sounds appear.

Car noise can come from anywhere, such as your suspension and tires. They may occur as engine components wear out, belts loosen, and your vehicle experiences normal wear and tear.

What you’re experiencing could be stemming from the air conditioning system or the brakes, as well.

Because they can be symptoms of car problems or indicate that maintenance is needed, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the noises you hear and have an expert look into them.

How we perform noise diagnostics

Determining the source of what’s heard can take time, especially if it can only be heard under certain circumstances.

There is a wide variety of sounds – grinding, squealing, groaning, clicking and others – and one of them could be associated with a number of parts.

Another challenge is the location of car noise, which is sometimes misleading. It might be generated in one part of the vehicle and seem to be appearing in a different spot.

Our diagnostic testing process starts with collecting information about any sounds and behaviors noticed from the customer.

Test driving a Toyota Venza.
Test driving a Toyota Venza

Then, we take the vehicle for a test drive and try to recreate it. That may mean traveling on certain road conditions, accelerating, slowing down, or making turns.

We also look for any surface level problems through a visual inspection 

Once our technicians are able to hear the sound for themselves, they can narrow down where it’s coming from.

When and where you are hearing car noise

The hardest part sometimes is trying to describe the noises to your auto repair shop. So, when something is irritating you, pay attention to when and where the noises are happening.

We’ve had instances when the car only made noises when it was below 45 degrees and they were turning left. Another common noise description is when a driver is in a parking lot and turning the wheel.

Information about how fast you’re going, how far you’re turning the wheel, and whether you’re pressing the gas pedal can help us find your problem faster.


Technician looking over car.

You should also note any other problems (even if they don’t seem related). Did any dashboard lights appear? Do you feel a vibration? Does the vehicle seem to be running rough?

Sharing details about recent events, like hitting a curb or repairs that have been performed, can also be helpful as we look into a car noise.

The other thing to consider when you’re bringing your vehicle into the shop is to schedule time to ride with the automotive technician. That way they can ride with you and you can make the exact condition that produces the noise — which saves time and money when repairing your car.

So, if you still hear noises, and you’re tired of turning the radio up to tune them out (Get it? Radio — tune … ) then try to be descriptive as you can and take a ride with your mechanic.Check out this fun video we created.

HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire is an authorized Michelin and BFGoodrich tire dealer located in Woodbridge, Virginia. Automotive repair services are performed on all makes and models, including oil changes, brakes, alignments, inspections, and computer engine diagnostics.

5 signs it’s time to replace your shocks and struts

In Auto Repair Promotions, Shocks & Struts, Suspension by HomeTowne Auto Repair & Tire

Yes, the winter has finally subsided with it’s cold, ice, and snow piles. But while the cold weather has gone away, the damage the winter inflicted on your cat hasn’t. With the large potholes and other damage your car has endured, it may be time to replace your shocks and struts.

Vehicle in park.

Keeping your vehicle maintained will keep repair costs down over the long run.

These are 5 signs that it’s time to get your shocks and struts inspected, repaired, or replaced.

1. Your car is going in for a nose dive.

When you’re turning, speeding up, or braking, are you having more difficulty controlling your vehicle? When you’re stopping, do you notice that the ‘nose’ of your car is diving forward, even when you’re only lightly braking? That is a common sign that the shocks and struts on your vehicle are worn and need to be replaced.

2. Overall, the handling is off.

If you drive your car frequently, you know it well – how it drives, how it performs under different conditions. And if all of a sudden you’re noticing that the handling of your vehicle – maybe a bumpier or rougher ride – then chances are that your shocks and struts are in need of repair or replacement.

Suspension Strut Assembly on a car.

Suspension Strut Assembly on a car, these can start to show signs of wear around 50,000 milesYou’re hearing squeaking sounds coming from your vehicle.

3. You’re hearing squeaking sounds coming from your vehicle.

When your car squeaks, that’s a pretty good indication that there’s some kind of issue. Whether you’re just driving down the road, braking, or you’re running over a pothole or rough patch, if you’re hearing squeaking from your suspension then it’s time to bring your car in to have your shocks and struts inspected for wear.

4. There’s uneven wear on your tires.

This sign is the easiest to visually see. When your shocks and struts are worn down, there’s more bouncing and that bouncing means that your tire is also moving around as it hits the ground, losing rubber in the process. This is called cupping. If you see uneven wear or smooth patches on your tires, then it’s important for you to come in and have the shocks and struts looked at.

5. Your vehicle has more than 50,000 miles.

A tire wear pattern that can be caused by worn shocks and struts.

A tire wear pattern like this can be due to worn shocks and struts.

While every car is different, and road conditions impact the life of car parts, if your car is over 50,000 miles and you’re having some issues, then it could be because of your shocks and struts. We follow the guidance from the Motorist Assurance Program that recommends that drivers replace their shocks and struts after 50,000 miles.

If it is time to replace your shocks and struts, the time to do it is now. Our shop is offering an inspection, repair, and replacement on shocks and struts now for only $20 over cost until April 30, 2016.

Shocks and struts special that expires April 30, 2016.