Idler arm as the name hints is an “idle” arm that attaches to the center line, opposite the Pitman arm. This component of the steering wheel plays a crucial role in maintaining your car’s height and steering functionality.
A bad idler arm can cause hard steering or even make the steering wheel not to move at all; so it’s important to know the various symptoms of a bad idler arm.
An idler arm can go bad due to quite several reasons such as worn-out nuts and cracked components. People often misplace the idler arm for the pitman arm, but these two components are different and quite independent. Albeit, you will find it difficult, or even impossible, to drive with a bad idler/Pitman arm.
Now, let’s quickly learn more about the different signs of a bad idler arm!
What is an Idler Arm?
The idler arm is the alternative component that complements the pitman arm; it has one end connected to the steering center link and the other end to the vehicle’s frame or subframe. An idler arm is built with an integrated pivot function and is subjected to greater pressure than the pitman arm.
The main function of an idler arm is to provide support and maintain the driving height of the car so that the wheels can rotate at the same speed when you turn the steering.
Once faulty, the idler arm can cause quite a lot of anomalies. It is important you know when this component starts to fail and get it fixed right away.
See Also: Bad Power Steering Pump Symptoms
Symptoms of a Bad Idler Arm
1. Unresponsive Steering
This is the commonest sign of a bad idler arm – it is equally a sign of a bad pitman arm. Unresponsive steering means the steering wheel does not sync with the tires, so the tires don’t move when together with your turns.
Remember that the idler arm is connected to the steering center link and helps to make the wheels move when you steer; so when it’s bad, your steering swerves may not move in sync with the wheel movements.
2. Loose Steering
The steering wheel is not meant to be hard, but when it is untypically loose, that’s a sign of a faulty component in the steering assembly. A loose steering wheel calls for serious attention because it’d affect your turns and swerves.
When the steering is too loose, probably, it could be that the idler arm’s pivot joint is loose, or the bolts are no longer fastened properly. A simple retightening of the bolts can fix the situation, but then, you should have the car checked by a mechanic to see if there are other faults to be fixed, too.
3. Car Drifts to a Corner While Driving
Once the steering system of a car is compromised or has a faulty component, this is one of the major signs you’d notice.
A bad idler arm can cause the car to drift into one side (usually the passenger side) while driving on a smooth, straight road. This happens because the idler arm is installed on the passenger’s side, so when it goes bad, the car may drift to that side.
That said, if you notice that your car seldom drifts towards the passenger side while driving, you should have the idler arm checked.
If the fault was due to a bad pitman arm, the car would most likely drift toward the driver’s side because that’s where the pitman arm is installed. This sign should be taken quite seriously as it could cause accidents on a very busy road.
4. Steering Wheel Won’t Turn
This is the worst of it all, and it happens when the idler man has failed completely or went out of its housing. You shouldn’t let the issue escalate to this level; before the idler arm will fail completely, it must have shown the other signs explained above, which means you should take those signs seriously.
Peradventure this sad situation happened when you’re driving, don’t force the steering wheel to move, instead activate the caution/hazard lights and slow down the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop.
While slowing down the car, try to see if the if the steering wheel will turn a little bit, so you can direct the car to the shoulder of the road and park.
How To Diagnose a Bad Idler Arm
If you’d want to check if the idler arm is actually what needs to be fixed in your car, here are the steps to diagnose the signs you’re getting.
- Park the car on a straight ground and wedge the wheels, so they don’t roll backward
- Ensure the gear lever is in the Park position
- Start the car and straighten the front wheels
- Use a jack or any other means to lift up the front of the car – lift it up to extent that you can see the idler arm assembly
- You’d need someone else to assist you here; the person needs to turn the steering wheel back and forth, a few inches at a time
- Now, while your assistant is turning the wheels, carefully inspect the movements of the idler arm and the components around it. Use a torchlight to see clearly. If the shaft of the idler arm moves in any direction, prior to when the steering wheel begins to turn, the bushing is bad and needs to be replaced
Idler Arm Replacement Cost
On average, it costs between $196 and $335 to replace an idler arm. Labor will cost between $72 and $91, while the parts are will go for between $124 and $245.
Bear in mind that taxes and fees are not included in this range, and the total idler arm replacement cost will always depend on your specific car or unique location.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Know If Your Idler Arm Is Bad?
A bad idler arm will steering difficult, and that is the most common sign. Also, a bad idler arm may cause the steering wheel not to turn at all – this happens when the arm has completely failed after showing different failure signs, which were ignored.
Can a Bad Idler Arm Cause Shaking?
Basically, there are many car components that, when they fail, they will cause the car to shake intermittently – yes, the idler arm is one of such components. The idler arm is part of the steering assembly and it connects to the steering center link, so if it breaks away from the center link, the car would shake as you drive.
What is The Main Job Of The Idler Arm?
Primarily, the idler arm supports the pitman arm and completes the steering center link design. The idler arm has a pivot function – usually greased to avoid friction – if the pivot joint runs out of grease, it can cause the idler arm to fail.