The Lowdown on Getting Jack’d Up

by Ben N on November 3, 2013

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Yipes. What a day. Losing my main transportation and getting a ticket to boot!

Fortunately, my brother, Wayne, was able to stop over the next morning for us to tackle the repair together.

After jacking up the truck (a challenge with the bumper sitting on the ground) we were able to pull off the wheel and examine the damage. The thing is, the ball-joint wasn’t broken – it had simply come apart. The threads were flattened and the rod was bent, but the whole thing wasn’t broken, it had merely worked itself apart.

The best we could figure was that the suspension was so low that the ball-joint was taking shock every time the truck hit a big bump, because there was so much less spring travel in the front. Over time, the cotter pin sheared (assuming it was ever there in the first place) and allowed the castle-nut to work its way off. After that, it was just a matter of time until the ball-joint would just fall apart!

DSC_8678So, it was time for a new ball joint. Not a big deal – just a $15 part, although we would need to rent a $100 tool to pop the old one out and the new one in. But it wouldn’t solve the problem of the truck being too damn low. For that, we would need to change the springs.

Changing springs is a bit more complicated. It requires disconnecting the two heavy bolts that connect the A-arm to the frame of the truck. Pulling out the short springs wouldn’t be too hard, but  it would be a trick to install the new longer ones and COMPRESS them without them launching out. Also, it was Sunday. The GOOD auto parts store is closed on Sunday and none of the other local parts stores had springs in stock. So, it meant a trip towards the city to get to a store that had them. Fortunately, I could order online (with Paypal money from selling electric car and motorcycle DVDs) and then pick-up in the store. After my on-line discount code, the springs were about $100.

Going to two different parts stores, we now had new stock-height springs, a new lower ball-joint, and a rented ball-joint tool. (Rental is a bit of a misnomer, you actually buy it for full price, but get all your money back when you return it.) It was pretty straight-forward to remove the old ball-joint, and install the new one. It’s basically pressed into place with sort of a large modified C-clamp. Installing the spring was a little more challenging.

First, we had to remove both bolts that held the A-arm on. As far as we could tell, those bolts have NEVER been removed before on this truck, and the layer of rust showed it. I had applied some PB-Blaster earlier, and what luck! They came out will little trouble. Next, swinging the A-arm out of the way (and with the old spring and front shock removed) we inserted the new spring – a full six inches longer than the old one. We held up the A-arm, and then slid TWO rolling floor jacks under it. The idea was that if one slipped, the other would hold (there was no way to fit a spring compressor in there) and that there were two bolt holes to line back up. So, one jack could hold while the other repositioned. With a bit of careful, slow jacking, we were able to squeeze the spring between the frame and the jacks.

Once we were able to wiggle the A-arm into exactly the right place, the two large bolts could go back in, and we could stop holding our breath, waiting for the giant coil of death to  launch directly at our faces. Whew. One down, one to go. But by that time, it was mid-afternoon. My wife, the Little Girl, and I had plans to go trick-or-treating with some friends down  in the city, about an hour’s drive each way, and we don’t get to see them often. I quick showered, and then put on my best mad scientist costume while in the passenger seat on the way there.

The Little Girl got about five pounds of chocolate in her pumpkin pail, while I worked grease out from under my fingernails.

The next morning, Wayne was back. I didn’t have any work scheduled that day, and he  moved things around to just work the afternoon. It was time to tackle the passenger-side spring, and check the ball joint on that side. Since we already did this same work on the driver’s-side the day before, it should have been EASIER, right?

RIIIGGGGHHHHHHT…

Two hours later, the one A-arm bolt was still seized in place. It passes through a heavy bushing comprised of a steel sleeve, a rubber mount, and a steel tube outer covering. The bolt was rusted to the inner sleeve. I know that according to physics that it just shouldn’t be possible, but the surface area of a tube seems to approach infinity. I used the better part of a can of penetrating oil. We heated it, only to run out of propane for the torch. We got a pickle-fork in there, but adding a four-foot pipe for more leverage only broke the pickle-fork. Another trip to the hardware store netted us an over-priced bottle of MAPP gas. Heat. Beat. Heat. Beat. The rhythmic pounding of a three-pound sledge on a 36″ threaded rod eventually yielded results; bloody knuckles and an aching wrist. But a by-product of that was the bolt ever-so-slowly millimetering its way out. (I’d say inching, but wasn’t anywhere near that fast.)

Once the bolt was finally out, it was just a lather-rinse-repeat of what we did the day before; compressing the spring, running the bolts back through, reconnecting the shock and the steering. It was now just past Noon. I treated Wayne to Steak Cilantro Tacos at the local restaurant, an inadequate thank-you for his help.

So, that was four to five hours that morning and about six the day before, and I still had to fix the BACK suspension! At this point, the front of the truck looked great, but the rear was now six inches LOWER than the front. Not exactly the best setup for good safe driving! Fortunately, un-lowering the back of a pickup truck is pretty straight-forward. Good thing too, as I was now left by myself to figure it out. To lower a truck, spacing blocks are placed between the rear axle and the springs, which go under it. The axle stays at the same height (however high the tires put it against the road) but the body is brought down.

DSC_8706I lifted the entire back of the truck off the ground with jacks and jack stands. Then I could loosen and remove the four nuts on both sides that held the U-bolts, connecting the axle to the springs. Once I pulled the U-bolts off, I could gently lift the axle and pull out the spacers. I held the differential up with a jack to give me a hand with this.

Once I had done both sides, I could lower the differential and axle. A hole and peg on the axle and plate on the spring makes it pretty easy to line everything back up. Then, it’s just a matter of re-installing the U-bolts. I had to return the ball-joint tool anyways, so I took the Wife’s Car over to the auto parts store, planning to purchase new U-bolts while there. I returned the tool and perused the rack of bolts. They were sold individually, for about $10 each! Now forty dollars isn’t a TON of money, but on the other hand, there was really no reason why I couldn’t simply cut down the old bolts either.

I headed back home, intent on applying my money-saving DIY skills to the foot-long U-bolts. I measured the first one, marked the thread with a small file, and then got out my trusty angle-grinder with cut-off disc. In just a few minutes, I had cut the bolt down to half it’s original length, and hadn’t managed to mangle the threads. The bolt went over the axle, and easily reached the spring with enough spare thread to get the nut started.

I cut the other three bolts and proceeded to reinstall them. It was fairly uneventful. The worst that I had to deal with is that the rear of the truck has manual air-shocks. I made sure to bleed the air from them before disconnecting them, but they were still a hassle to reconnect. I tightened the U-bolt nuts to the German torque standard, you know, “Gutten-tight”.

DSC_8709With the truck still up in the air, I put snow-tires on the back. Winter is coming. (Make your Game of Thrones comment at the bottom…) Besides better traction, putting on the snow tires also let me put the old summer tires on the front, replacing the tire damaged when the truck wump-wump-wumped its way around the left-hand-turn with no ball joint. The other rear tire is now my spare.

At that point, I was ready for a shake-down, a quick ride around my quiet neighborhood roads to make sure that I did everything right and nothing comes apart or flies off the first time out. Actually, I had to clean up my tools first. Every tool I owned seemed to litter my driveway. When it comes right down to it, I really just own one tool – “Not Quite the Right Thing”. I’m pretty sure that every home mechanic has just about every variation on this tool. That’s why we need so many of them. I cleaned up my collection of not-quite-the-right wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, and pry-bars. Then I took my shakedown drive.

DSC_8713Amazingly, it was completely uneventful. The truck drove, steered, and stopped just fine. Everything was exactly the way it should have been. It only took me about 15 hours and $200 to do it. The truck feels oddly tall now. It’s just a little bit of a stretch to get up into the seat. I SWEAR it’s an inch taller than my old white S10 truck. Maybe that truck just had really worn suspension. I think we all get a few sags after 200,000 miles…

Well, the truck was back to stock. It doesn’t look as cool any more. I rather liked the “slammed” look of it. At least it still has the custom paint job (although a bit is missing where the door rubbed on the fender.) The tinted windows are nice as well, and actually do help keep a vehicle cooler in the summer.

For now, I can get back on track, quick clean out the garage and tuck away projects before the snow flies.

But rest assured, I still have my sneaky master plan, and a diesel engine just dying to get under this hood.

Til then, take care,
-Ben

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Tim Fulton November 4, 2013 at 9:22 am

Hey look, its a truck again (instead of a car). Haha, kind of a pet peeve of mine… if you want a truck buy a truck. If you want a car don’t buy a truck and drop it until its scraping the pavement.

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