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Old 06-08-2021, 06:21 PM   #1
boomerB5
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1999 SL1
2005 RELAY-2
Default Front end still sometimes "thunks"

I bought a 1999 SL1 with 150k back in November. The price was right and I needed a reliable daily driver (not that I've been driving much for the last 15 months). I've never been much of a grease monkey. My first brake job was 6 or so years ago, in my mid-40s. But partly out of necessity, and partly out of boredom, I've dug in deeper under the hood on this car than I ever thought I would. And I can hardly imagine a better car to dig deeper on. Everything is so easy to access. And most of it is still mechanical in nature, so a person can actually work on it.

So far, I have replaced the upstream O2 sensor, the ECTS, plugs, plug wires, front brakes, all four shocks/struts, and the rear trailing arms. Plus I've cleaned the throttle body, EGR, and IAC. Obviously the videos from richpin have been invaluable. I've also learned a ton from RatchetsAndWrenches, Eric the Car Guy and SouthMainAuto on Youtube.

The work I've done so far has cleared all lights and codes. There is a roughness to the idle and I have a new intake manifold gasket waiting to be installed, which should take care of that. I'm just waiting for the heat to wane a bit. 90 in Minnesota is kinda unbearable. And speaking of heat, I pulled an AC compressor from a U-Pull yard. I think I just need the clutch/pulley to get some much needed chilling action. And the backlights on the radio are out...I've got new bulbs ready to be soldered in. After all that, I may look into touching up the body some.

Now for my question. Since doing the front shocks/struts, I am still getting some "thunking" at times and a bit of...sway, maybe? Not sure exactly how to describe it. Just a loosey-goosey feel from time to time. I have not gotten an alignment yet, so that might be a factor. About the only thing left would be the swaybar bushings, correct? I'm not feeling or hearing anything that suggests to my admittedly novice senses that there is an issue with the bearings or something in the hub. But it is more than 20 years old...so anything is possible.

Any suggestions?
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Old 06-09-2021, 08:18 AM   #2
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1999 SL2
2001 SL1
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

You are on the right track. Could be
  • sway bar bushings (2 on front of engine cradle)
  • control arm bushings (sway bar ends or at engine cradle)
  • control arm ball joint
  • tie rod ball joint.

I've also experience clunks from motor mounts however it would happen with acceleration. The engine would torque and I'd hear a clunk when it hit the limit. One time I replaced a failed dogbone and another I found the top engine mount bolts had loosened off somehow.
...
1999 SL2 MT (298,000 km @ 06/2021)
2012 Ford Focus SEL HB MT
2011 Suburban LT

Past Saturns
2001 SL1 MT (438,500 km 11y)
1993 SW2 AT (10y)
2001 LW200 MT (3.5y)
1992 SL2 MT (5y)

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Old 06-09-2021, 04:00 PM   #3
boomerB5
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1999 SL1
2005 RELAY-2
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

Thanks.

I know with things like tie rods and hubs/bearings you can usually diagnose by lifting the vehicle and just shaking a tire. The type of movement and sound point you to the problem. Any specific tests for control arm bushings or ball joints?

And I knew I was forgetting something. I also replaced all of the engine and transmission mounts. The dogbone and the upper were much in need. That cut about 90% of the extra noise and vibration. I know the muffler strap is rusted out and needs to be replaced, mainly causing some noise on startup. There may be another exhaust point in need of some TLC.
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Old 06-09-2021, 09:14 PM   #4
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1997 SW2
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

Sway bar bushings are a good guess and inexpensive - try some Energy Suspension brand ones from RockAuto.com
...
1997 SW2 used 12/29/2011 with 124,200 -27 mpg
2004 Ion3 new 11/2003 (totaled) 11/2011 -23 mpg
1994 SL1 new traded
1992 SL2 new traded for above
* 1986 Yamaha ce50 Jog -100 mpg
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Old 06-10-2021, 10:46 AM   #5
Goggles Pisano
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1999 SL1
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

I had a bad clunk in the front end. I did replace the tie rod ends but it turned out to be my sway bar bushing that wasn't quite installed properly.

If you do try to replace the bushings, be careful with the bolts that go into the subframe, especially the driver's side. Kroil and/or PB Blaster will be your best friend when removing those particular bolts.

I believe Onlinebiker was the one who had the definitive method of removing stubborn bolts without snapping the welded stud inside the subframe. It involves PB Blaster, slowly moving the bolt counterclockwise and a bit clockwise to break the rust bond from the bolts, and lots of patience. The strong urge is to put the impact wrench on it and go to town but unless it is a rust-free subframe from the South, chances are the threaded nut will snap loose and leave your bolt spinning in place, making it an absolute PITA to remove.
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Old 06-10-2021, 10:13 PM   #6
boomerB5
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Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

That 'tighten it to loosen it' approach is what I had to do to get the old spark plugs out. They *might* have been the factory original plugs. If not, they were probably the ones that replaced the factory plugs. And they had rusted in place just a little. But PB Blaster, time, and back-and-forth rotation attempts did the trick. Just like driving yourself out of a snowdrift.

Ordering some bushings. Had a list going for RockAuto anyway. Gonna jump into the deep end and replace the timing chain on the 2008 Cobalt. That car has a ton of life left in it...so long as the pistons and valves keep their distance.

Last edited by boomerB5; 06-10-2021 at 10:16 PM. Reason: additional info
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Old 06-12-2021, 09:54 PM   #7
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2001 SL1
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

All are good guesses. The weirdest S series thunk I fixed was a loose subframe bolt behind the strut tower assembly. The frame was essentially moving slightly when just the right amount of weight transferred.

Worth a check, the bolt is 21mm and I believe torqued to 150 ft/lbs.
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Old 06-13-2021, 01:10 PM   #8
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1999 SL1
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Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

I got it jacked up yesterday to take a look. Attached are some pics. Nothing looked *too* bad, though the joints where the swaybar connects to the knuckle seem "askew". And I was able to manipulate the passenger side outer tie rod (not floppy, but more give than usual).

I say nothing looked *too bad*. But that's just where the stuff in the pictures is concerned. I started a different thread based on the rust I found where the driver side lower control arm bolts to the farme. https://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sh...d.php?t=268734

That rust is not where the thunking seems to be coming from, but it likely is much of the "loosey-goosey" feel I sometimes get.
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Old 06-13-2021, 01:11 PM   #9
boomerB5
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Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

three more pics (only let me do 5 per reply)
Attached Images
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File Type: jpg g.jpg (82.0 KB, 3 views)
File Type: jpg h.jpg (90.9 KB, 5 views)
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Old 06-14-2021, 06:57 PM   #10
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1996 SW2
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

A loose end on the sway bar can also cause a clunk. The end pieces are attached to the bar. I believe they're rolled into it when the bar is made. If one loosens, it moves in and out slightly. I think the only solution is to replace the bar.

Mine made a snap or clunk and replacing the bar fixed it. It would happen after braking slightly down our driveway and then stopping. The clunk/snap occurred when I accelerated out of the driveway. The new bar, btw, made a significant improvement in handling.
...
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Old 06-15-2021, 11:26 AM   #11
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1997 SW2
Default Re: Front end still sometimes "thunks"

My SW2 had been clunking for the first 9 years of ownership. The clunks were constant and I had it looked at by 'professionals' who guessingly suggested new struts. I didn't buy their analysis and kept driving for years while listening and coming up with a plan to replace sway bar bushings, control arms and tie rod ends all at once myself. The pandemic hit and my wife with asthma didn't want me taking the car apart in the driveway (smells can trigger asthma troubles) so I eventually had a garage install the parts and add in front and rear brake jobs. Skeptically I assumed the constant clunks would somehow still be there after all the work but I was happily surprised to feel and hear a finally silent car.

Parts replaced: all RockAuto.com A) Energy Suspension front and rear sway bar bushings B) Mevotech Control arms and outer tie rod ends (kind that come with grease fittings)
...
1997 SW2 used 12/29/2011 with 124,200 -27 mpg
2004 Ion3 new 11/2003 (totaled) 11/2011 -23 mpg
1994 SL1 new traded
1992 SL2 new traded for above
* 1986 Yamaha ce50 Jog -100 mpg
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