The control arms and the control arm bushings play a vital role in your car’s suspension system. These essential suspension components work together to help your car achieve a smooth and responsive ride. Both are necessary for the suspension system to function. However, they’re also one of the major sources of suspension failure.
When it comes to replacing these components, you have a choice between repair and performance parts. To help you get a better idea of what these components are, what they do, and the difference between repair vs. performance parts, we’ve written this explainer.
What Are Control Arms?
Control arms are sturdy pieces of metal that connect your car’s frame to the wheel hubs. Also known as “wishbones” for their A-shaped appearance, these components bear a huge amount of weight compared to their size. As a result, they need to be made of the strongest possible materials. Otherwise, they can wear out and cause damage to your vehicle or make it unpleasant or unsafe to drive.
What Are Control Arm Bushings?
The control arms move around a lot as part of their job. Without a buffer, these could rub against other components, creating heat friction that could rapidly wear out every component involved. To prevent this, your car’s control arms are fitted with bushings—hard rubber bumpers that cushion the connection between the control arm and the other components it connects to.
Although they are small, these bushings absorb a large amount of the shock from the road. That means that over time, they can take a serious beating.
Signs You Need to Replace Control Arms or Bushings
Some cars come with a suspension warning light that can detect issues with your control arms and bushings. However, more often than not, you’ll only get this warning once the problem has become severe—if you get it at all.
Instead of waiting and wondering, it’s a good idea to try and find issues before they get too big. Here are a few early warning signs to look for in your control arms and control arm bushings:
- Vibrations while driving. Your car is designed to have a smooth, predictable ride. If you feel vibrations while driving on smooth surfaces, the control arms and bushings could very well be the problem.
- Clunking noises. You shouldn’t be able to hear your suspension. So if you notice clunking noises coming from near a wheel, this could indicate a control arm problem.
- Uneven wear on tires. Tires wearing out unevenly could be the result of unbalanced tires, but they could also indicate that your control arms or bushings are loose or even broken.
- Car “pulling” to one side. People often assume that if a car feels like it’s pulling to one side or the other that the alignment is the issue. However, this is a common symptom of failures with the control arm bushings or the arms themselves.
- Visual damage. As your car gets older, it’s a good idea to take a look at your control arms and bushings from time to time. Inspect them to see if they are worn down, cracked, loose, or out of alignment. If they are, they may need to be replaced.
OEM Control Arms and Bushings vs. Performance Parts
When it comes to repairing or replacing your control arms and bushings, you have two main choices: repair parts or performance parts. These components often look pretty similar, but come with drastically different price tags. Here’s what those terms mean and some of the key differences between them.
OEM Control Arms and Bushings
Repair parts are sometimes referred to as original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, even if they are not made by the manufacturer. That’s because these parts are made to more or less the same specifications as the original parts on your car.
You’d think that you could expect similar results when you replace a worn out or busted control arm or bushing with a repair part. However, by the time it comes time to replace your control arms and bushings, other components in your suspension and the rest of your vehicle have worn down too. That means your control arms will have more stress on them—often a lot more.
Because of this, even the actual OEM parts may wear down much more quickly than the first ones did.
Performance Control Arms and Bushings
Performance parts, on the other hand, are made to exceed the manufacturer’s specifications. Sometimes that means using superior materials or a different manufacturing process.
However, performance parts—also known as upgrade parts—are usually made after the vehicle has been out in the world for some time. As a result, the makers of these parts have an opportunity to find flaws in the OEM parts’ design and improve upon them.
For example, an aftermarket performance control arm maker may notice that the angle of the OEM control arm isn’t ideal for bearing the weight it needs to. While the car manufacturer would likely continue making the same part in the same way, the aftermarket manufacturer can adjust the design to achieve ideal performance.
OEM vs. Performance Control Arms and Bushings
Both OEM control arms and bushings and their performance alternatives come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Before you decide which type to buy for your vehicle, consider the following:
Pros and Cons of OEM Control Arms and Bushings
- Less expensive
- Exact match with OEM part
- Made to manufacturer’s specifications
- May have the same design flaws that caused the original to wear down or break
- Could be made with inferior materials to save costs
- Inferior performance to upgrade parts
Pros and Cons of Performance Control Arms and BushingsPros:
- Often made with superior materials
- May improve upon OEM design
- Exceeds manufacturer’s standards
- Superior suspension performance
- Can be more expensive (but not always)
- May require different hardware like nuts and bolts
- Dealership may not be willing to install them
Choosing OEM or Performance Control Arm Bushings
In short, only you know which solution is best for you. The answer to which solution is better when it comes to repair vs. performance control arms and bushings depends on your budget and your own expectations for performance.
You can save a little money by going with repair parts, but performance parts are likelier to last longer, meaning you won’t need to replace them again as soon. You may also enjoy the new and improved suspension, and that’s something that’s hard to put a price tag on.
If you’re having trouble deciding, feel free to give us a call at 866-610-9848. One of our Suspension Experts would be happy to walk you through the ins and outs of these components. Once you’re ready, they can also help you find exactly the right control arms and control arm bushings for your vehicle.