By on December 20, 2010

Andrew writes:

I’m a 21-year-old college student with a 2001 Chevy Cavalier with the 2.2L and 5-speed. I bought the car when I started college with 40,000 miles on it and I have driven it to 70,000 miles without any problems, despite not always being nice to it. But now the suspension — I think it’s coming from the front — is starting to make a good bit of noise.

Any time I go over bumps, especially at lower speeds I can hear the suspension making squeaking noises. The steering and handling of the car do not feel any different than normal, although I drive it every day so I wouldn’t notice a slow change. Also, the steering makes a clunking noise when turning the wheel all the way at low speeds. There was a technical service bulletin about this issue, and since it didn’t seem like it was causing any real problems and I’m low on cash (read: college student) I let this issue go. I don’t know if these two things have any relation, but I suspect that the squeaky suspension is from one of two things.

First, in the owner’s manual, and service manual I have, it says that the Cavalier’s suspension has fittings that should be greased up every 6000 miles. I did this once the first time I changed the oil, then never touched it since I’ve never done it on a car before and perhaps underestimated it’s importance. The second possible cause I can think of is that I installed front and rear Eibach sway bars on this car since I have the base model, which had no stock sway bars and excessive body roll. The front sway bar has two rubber bushings that hold it in place in the center. When I installed the sway bar 15000-20000 miles ago I put lots of grease in these bushings, but I suspect that it has since worn out, and the squeaking is coming from this source. Also, if I go around to each corner of the car and just push it down a couple times to bounce the shocks, there is no noise, which is another reason I think it is these bushings in the center. If that is the case I may have to just live with the noise since the front sway bar was such a tight squeeze to install and a huge hassle and is not something I care to, or am sure I’m capable of, doing again. So I’m wondering, am I on the right track for this problem? Or is my front suspension going to fall apart on me as I’m driving down the road? Thanks.

Sajeev Answers:

It’s a small, small world.  While you might not remember my Addco product review here on TTAC you can rest assured that my time with aftermarket swaybars is more than a little relevant here: we share the same mechanical dilemma.

From what I see on the Internet, your Eibach kit did not come with greasable bushings in the front (the rear appears to be a direct bolt in, no bushings at all) and those are the source of your problem. After 30,000 miles, a lack of grease and colder weather, the front end’s up/down cycling results in sway bar bushing groan.  And since your kit comes with the harder “red” bushings, the problem is even worse: I requested the black bushings (a bit softer) and after I foolishly cleaned off excess grease, the rubbing sound was obnoxious once the temperatures dropped below 50 degrees.

So don’t worry, the car is entirely safe.  Try to forget the sound, do yourself a solid and upgrade the bushings when you go in there for the inevitable re-greasing.  Buy a replacement bushing that comes with a greasable Zerk fitting (just like fittings mentioned in the owner’s manual) at the end.  Energy Suspension makes one for your car (probably), just like they did mine.  Odds are the right part is listed on eBay right now. But since this is Piston Slap and not a proper Cobalt forum, I’ll let you find the part number and have at it. That’s what I did, and it’ll take all of five minutes to sort out.

And my car? I have the proper Zerk-infused bushings in the rear (easy) but not yet in the front (hard). Which get mighty noisy in the morning, but I am still not motivated enough to get underneath the car to pop the front swaybar free from the body, cut/slide off bushings and install/grease the new ones.  It’s cold outside and the car still runs, so I’m currently happy. Well, happy enough.

But I’m sure you will agree, going to aftermarket swaybars is totally worth it…even if they don’t use the Zerk-y bushings from the start.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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19 Comments on “Piston Slap: Eibachin’, I Bitchin’ About Zerks...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    And let the Cavalier hate begin!  (JK)
     
    First I think we should start by applauding a college kid who modifies a car for performance (please god don’t let him have a fart can muffler.)  It’s amazing how folks don’t think those little grease zerks are important.  I learned how to use a grease gun with the front spindles on my dad’s old John Deere 112 and then carried the skills over to my Oldsmobile when I started doing my own oil changes.

  • avatar

    “Try to forget the sound, do yourself a solid and upgrade the bushings when you go in there for the inevitable re-greasing.  Buy a replacement bushing that comes with a greasable Zerk fitting (just like fittings mentioned in the owner’s manual) at the end. “
    Or… Improve the stereo and pump up the volume in the morning!!! Jk,
    Nice of you by worriyng about those annoyng noises, something not common on people of your age!
    The advice from Mr Mehta is right, greasing fittings will do when you can upgrade.
    Salu2!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    There are times when posts like these are like doing brain surgery over the phone. I’m a little concerned about some of the noised the OP describes. Having the hard bushing roll bars installed on the car make the diagnosis even tougher, as they can bring their own problems to the forefront.
    “Any time I go over bumps, especially at lower speeds I can hear the suspension making squeaking noises. The steering and handling of the car do not feel any different than normal, although I drive it every day so I wouldn’t notice a slow change.”
    There are some bushings in the lower control arms on J-bodys (similar to older Honda Civics) that eventually wear out and can make a clicking or clunking sound. I’ve even heard people describe it as a squeaking or groaning noise.
    “Also, the steering makes a clunking noise when turning the wheel all the way at low speeds. There was a technical service bulletin about this issue, and since it didn’t seem like it was causing any real problems and I’m low on cash (read: college student) I let this issue go.”
    I don’t remember the particular TSB referenced, but when I hear a description that sounds like the one in the first sentence, I immediately think CV joints. Especially when the wheels are at the ends of their movements.
     
    This car has the right age and mileage for the onset of maintenance items, and depending upon local conditions and how much abuse the car is taking, I would at least investigate these other possibilities before determining that it’s only squeaky bushings from the anti-roll bars. Just to be on the safe side.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Cavalier was the American Corolla, or pretty near it! They ran forever.

    As long as you are certain the noise is coming from the mods you made to the suspension and not the ball joints. My daughter had a 1997 Cavalier that she complained about one day while commuting to university, the steering turning in one direction was difficult. I told her to take it to the local Chevy dealer and have them check it out. Good thing – Ball joint was ready to pop out and most likely cause an accident. Fixed the following day for about $150. Not bad considering it was too dangerous to drive home. A price I was only too happy to pay!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Ball joint went south on my 82 Celebrity and the wheel stayed on the car from Defiance, OH to Miller City, OH a distance of 21+ miles!  Fortunately for me it was during an ice storm so I was going very slowly.  Another case of the heavens watching out for teenagers and other dumb animals.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Educator Dan, you were one fortunate young man! I was driving one day with my brother-in-law in his Dodge p/u, and when we pulled up to my house, one of the tie rod ends gave way and the truck wanted to turn right and left at the same time. It happened right across the street from my driveway. We fixed it where it sat. Fortunate that day, too! I think it cost around 15 bucks.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Zackman: “Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Cavalier was the American Corolla, or pretty near it! They ran forever.”
       
      There’s a reason why I call them the “cockroaches of the road (TM)”. They really can survive just about anything and continue on. I should know, I have three of them.
       
      Of course, whether you want it to run forever is up to you. :)

    • 0 avatar
      dculberson

      Dan, what were you doing in Defiance, Ohio?!  I have friends from there, that’s a very small town so you might know them or their family.  Weird.  The Internet is a surprisingly small place at times.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Defiance College Alumni Class of 1999 – BS in Comprehensive Social Studies/Secondary Education with a focus in Pol Sci.  MA in Education Leadership (administration) Western New Mexico University – Gallup Graduate Studies Center.  Lost a wife and gained a younger than I fiance along the way.  (Oh and a satisfying career.)

      BTW I think my dad just about fainted when he drove that car over to the local alignment shop the next day (it was scheduled for one believe it or not.) The owner put it up on the lift and after a few min told my dad, “I can’t adjust it.”

      “Why not?”

      The gentlemen responded by separating the tire from the spindle. (He had already disconnected the CV joint.)

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Dan – you have my respect, for sure.

    • 0 avatar
      straightsix

      Ah, Defiance, OH, spent a year there one summer.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    To find the offending bushing, shoot a good shot of silicone spray at the likely offender to see if it gets quiet. If it does, you have found the bushing that needs to be greased. Any rubber bushings should not be greased with a petroleum based product, as it will attack the rubber. I suggest silicone plumbers grease from you local orange box store. Poly bushings can be lubed with lithium based grease that lasts longer.

    • 0 avatar
      BMWfan

      I forgot to mention not to spray any silicone near the engine compartment while the engine is running as it can damage some sensors including O2. Allow about 15 minuites for vapors to dissipate before starting engine. Second nature to me, but you may not know this. Good luck!

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Also, one other tip I learned that works well is when you have the bushings off, tightly wrap the sway bar with teflon tape where the bushing wraps around, then grease the bushing.  That should last a while.
     

    • 0 avatar

      That is quite brilliant…I will probably do just that when I attack my front swaybar, if I can actually reach around the whole thing: MN-12 Fords are a nightmare in this particular area.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I did just that!!  I bought a 7/8″ rear swaybar for my Probe GT.  Addco kit.  The frame bushings came with plain brackets with no zerks.  I wrapped Teflon tape on the bar, but I used the yellow teflon tape…the kind meant for gas pipes.  Much thicker so it would last longer.  So far, so good.  Its been three years to date.  The car is a weekend play toy, so actual mileage on this setup is only about 10K.  Redneck engineering is really cool sometimes…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    And let the Cavalier hate begin!
     
    Why?, I got a ride in one, in good condition, and seemed decent enough. The owner was happy with the car. IIRC he told me it’s a 98
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Most of the B&B detest the Cavalier and the Cobalt.  Those members must be out shopping for Christmas. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/new-or-used-ladies-love-cool-cobalt-edition/


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