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Bushings are your vehicle’s middleman when it comes to noise, vibration, and harshness. Control arm bushings, or trailing arm bushings as they are also called, more specifically, play a key role in cushioning the bumps so we don’t feel every undulation in the road. Whatever bumps are in the road travel through the tires into the upper control arm bushings and/or lower control arm bushings (also referred to as A-arm bushing and A-frame bushing), and on through your vehicle’s chassis and body. In a nutshell, your vehicle’s control arm bushings have a huge impact on how your car rides and drives.

What Are Control Arm Bushings?

Control arm bushings encompass the attaching bolts used on front and rear control arms. In most instances each bushing has a metal sleeve between it and the attaching bolt, along with another sleeve between the bushing and control arm. Most of the time these upper and lower control arm bushings are pressed in, as well. Factory control arm bushings or trailing arm bushings are most often rubber to keep noise, vibration, and harness levels at a minimum.

When it comes to replacement control arm bushings, you can choose Polyurethane suspension bushings, Delrin bushings, steel bushings, and even what are referred to as solid bushings, which are basically Heim joints. With each progression from rubber to Polyurethane bushings to Delrin bushings, and finally, to solid bushings, there’s a degradation in ride quality. However, from a performance standpoint, especially in drag racing, it’s hard to beat solid bushings. For rear upper control arm bushings and or the lower control arm rear bushing, the bushings are in place to maintain proper pinion angle. With factory rubber control arm bushings, yes, pinion angle is affected under extreme acceleration. Solid upper and lower control arm bushings minimize pinion angle changes.

How Long Do Control Arm Bushings Last?

Many times, control arm bushings outlast the life of the car. If kept in great shape in a mild climate, control arm bushings can last many years. However, if a car stays around for a decade or seven or is abused daily during its life, chances are the factory rubber control arm bushings have degraded, cracked, or totally blown apart. Trailing arm bushing life has everything to do with how they’re treated and the climate to which they’re subjected.

What Causes Control Arm Bushing Deterioration?

The enemies of control arm bushings are regular vehicle abuse and either extremely hot or cold climates. If a vehicle is driven hard on a regular basis, that treatment can wear out a rubber bushing, or even Polyurethane bushings or Delrin bushings. Obviously, Polyurethane suspension bushings or Delrin bushings are going to outlast their rubber counterparts, but in an extreme performance environment constant suspension pressure on a bushing, no matter the material, over time you will have suspension play.

When it comes to solid, steel or Heim joint trailing arm bushings, during extreme acceleration a lot of force is exerted on the bushings, but from a construction standpoint, Heim joints are extremely strong; much stronger than Polyurethane bushings or Delrin bushings. Therefore, what happens is the control arm bolt holes can sometimes become elongated, which can also cause bent hardware. Honestly, the only time you really need steel or Heim joint/solid bushings is when the vehicle in question is destined for the racetrack where solid upper control arm and lower control arm attachment is needed. 

What Are the Characteristics of a Bad Control Arm Bushing?

We’ve all probably driven a car with bad upper and lower control arm bushings. The easiest telltale sign is what we call “loosey-goosey” handling. Yes, that’s a technical term, and it means when you turn the steering wheel the car doesn’t exactly do what you want. You may also have a dead spot in the steering wheel, as well. Meaning, when you turn the wheel, the car doesn’t turn, or it takes more steering input before you see steering results.

With bad rear upper control arm bushings, the car will almost shift during on/off acceleration. With a three-link or four-link style suspension, defective control arm bushings allow the control arms to move back and forth, and that causes the suspension shift. Basically, the defective upper or lower polyurethane control arm bushings allow the through bolts to move around within the control arm’s mounting point, and that is the shifting you feel, often accompanied by a clunking sound. The control arm, or trailing arm, is moving around, shifting from side to side, causing this movement from the chassis.

Should I Replace the Control Arm or The Control Arm Bushing?

This question comes down to budget, knowledge, and access to tools. First thing is you need to figure out your budget. If you don’t have a lot of funds to devote here, replacing the trailing arm bushings, which are less expensive compared to complete control arms or trailing arms, is the way to go. However, if you go this route, know that control arm bushings replacement takes the proper knowledge of the steps, along with the right tools to do the job. Many control arm bushings are pressed in, so the old bushings will need to be pressed out, and the new ones pressed back in. If you don’t have access to a press or specific bushing replacement tool kits, your best bet is to replace the whole control arm.

If you have the means, it is often easier and often quicker to replace the whole upper control arm or lower control arm, as opposed to replacing the upper control arm bushings and/or lower control arm bushings. However, if the control arm is in good shape or perhaps original to the car, and you have the knowledge and the tools to replace only the control arm bushings or trailing arm bushing, replacing just the bushing as we mentioned above will be easier on the wallet.

How Long Can I Drive with A Bad Control Arm Bushing?

The quick answer here is not for long. If it’s bad, it’s only going to get worse until all the rubber or Polyurethane bushings blow out and then your vehicle’s handling is going to be extremely unsafe. Driving with a bad trailing arm bushing or bushings can be very dangerous. We would not recommend doing so for any length of time. If/when you discover a bad control arm bushing or bushings, you need to hit our website to find suitable replacements as quickly as possible for your application.