5 Signs And Symptoms Of Bad Sway Bar Links / Suspension Problems

Recently, we have been on a quest to cover all the suspension problems one could think of here on Lifeonfour. Today we are looking at sway bar links and sway bar bushings. Both of these components have a big influence on the overall stability, comfort, and safety of your car. That is the reason why sway bars are commonly called anti-roll bars, anti-sway bars, or simply stabilizers. 

In this article, we will first cover what exactly a sway bar is, where you find it, how it looks, and what it does. Once we cover the basics, we will review symptoms of bad sway bar links. To add on top of that, we will answer some of the most common and not commonly answered questions about sway bar problems that we found on the internet. Stay with us!

What Is A Sway Bar And What Does It Do?

A sway bar is essentially just a U-shaped steel bar that connects one side of the front suspension with the other side of the front suspension by using two lever arms and a torsion spring. Its design is very simple and started appearing on passenger cars after the second world war as car suspension became much softer and prone to body roll and swaying. A sway bar makes sure that the car still offers the same level of comfort while improving its cornering capabilities and safety.

A sway bar or a stabilizer bar does exactly what its name suggests. It is an important part of your car’s suspension that makes sure your car handles right and drives safely by assuring and minimizing body roll during fast cornering and unexpected road bumps and potholes. A sway bar is essentially a connection between the left and right wheel of the car which keeps the car leveled as you corner. As you corner and steer to the left for instance, your car will also try and roll onto the left. What the sway bar does is transfer the force onto the right side of the car while cornering and it balances and levels out the car so you can safely make the corner with as little body roll as possible.

Symptoms Of Worn Out Sway Bar Links 

The most difficult thing about diagnosing suspension problems on your own is the fact that so many symptoms of different suspension components overlap. “Luckily” enough, a bad sway bar does make the car act specifically strange. And by specifically strange we mean that your car will start handling very strangely, it will float, roll excessively and swerve.

Bad handling

If the vehicle starts to “swim” while driving, and by swim, we mean it feels very unstable and spongy, this is usually a clear indication that the sway bar is defective. The stabilizer or sway bars does not have to be completely broken, a small amount of damage is enough for a big decrease in handling capability and stability. You can also quickly detect a loss of traction when cornering and hesitation when trying to corner. To put it shortly, the car just does not handle as well as it once did and you will most definitely feel it.

Especially at higher speeds, such as on the freeway and in combination with cross winds, this problem is noticeable immediately. As a driver, you can feel that the vehicle is no longer stable and is being pushed by the wind. Of course, such instability would also be noticed on country roads. However, the symptoms are even more pronounced at higher speeds on motorways and can therefore be noticed much more quickly. 

Unusual noises

Just like other suspension problems that we talked about before (), a bad sway bar will also cause unsettling rattling, clunking, and grinding noises. This will be most noticeable as you drive over speed bumps, and potholes, and as you navigate through tight corners. These weird noises are mostly noticeable as your sway bar bushings completely disintegrate and you can hear metal rubbing on metal. Sway bar links should always be without any play, without space to move freely. This can be easily checked by your mechanic at your next service appointment.

Visual damage

If you are capable and know how to safely lift a vehicle with jack stands, then inspecting the sway bar visually might be the best option. You will easily see the condition of the rubber bushings, bends, and damage to the sway bar itself and the sway bar links. You should also try and grab the sway bar and try to shake it. If it feels solid and does not move around it is probably in good condition. In that case, you should look at other suspension components that might be causing the same symptoms as a bad sway bar.

Weird steering

If your steering wheel feels loose and the car seems to be floating as you turn from left to right, you should immediately suspect sway bar damage. You will feel the handling of a car change, the amount of effort you will need to steer will increase.

Strange braking behavior 

If a vehicle brakes strangely, the driver quickly concludes that the brakes are defective. In many cases, this is also the reality. However, a defective stabilizer can also cause this problem. If you brake with a vehicle and it is difficult to keep it on track, sometimes the brakes are not (only) to blame. You can tell the vehicle starts to lurch and shake while braking. This can be a clear sign of a defective stabilizer bar. 

Can Bad Sway Bar Links Cause Uneven Tire Wear?

No, bad sway bar links will not lead to uneven tire wear on their own. However, if you ignore the bad sway bar links for a long time, your tires may take a toll. We explained how a sway bar is responsible for leveling out a car when going through tight corners. When they do start to go bad, your car slowly loses its ability to do that. This means that as you corner more and more stress is being put on the outer part of the tire as more weight is being transferred onto the tire. While we do think that you won’t be able to ignore and drive a car with bad sway bar links for that long, there certainly are cases of people doing this. Not only will you put additional stress on the tires as you are cornering, you will also feel much less reassured in your driving as you experience the excessive body roll.

Can Bad Sway Bar Links Cause Steering Wheel Vibration?

No, bad sway bar links are not the reason why your steering wheel might be vibrating. Sway bar links are nothing but a bridge that holds the sway bar attached on both sides of the suspension. There is a possibility that you might be able to feel some clunking on the steering wheel if they are worn out and have a lot of play. 

Steering wheel vibration might be caused by warped brake discs, steering rack issues, bad wheel bearings, etc. 

Do Bad Sway Bar Links Cause Noise?

Yes, most definitely. Any suspension component with excessive play will cause metallic clunking noises and worn-out sway bar links are no different. The noise is amplified as you drive over rough terrain, speed bumps, and potholes. The problem here is that the clunking noise itself does not necessarily mean your stabilizer links are worn out. Many other suspension components make the same noise as they go bad.

Why Do My Sway Bar Links Keep Going Bad?

This is a topic not many people want to touch upon, mainly because there is no definitive question. Many owners have “lost their minds” trying to figure out why their sway bar links do not last more than a few weeks or even less in some cases. Because we could not get a solid answer on the internet we consulted our mechanic. He gave us three reasons why your sway bar links or bushings give out prematurely:

  • Improper fitting
    He listed this reason as the number one culprit behind premature sway bar link failure. He noted that some mechanics tend to over tightened the studs or leave them too loose. It is important that they are fitted and tightened with a torque wrench to get the right fit.
  • Poor quality sway bar links
    Buying cheap car parts is not the best idea. When it comes to sway bar links, many people tend to choose the cheapest part available as they are nothing but a few inches of metal that hold the sway bar in place. This is far from the truth and you should never opt it for the cheap sway bar links. They are too soft and prone to failure and they are never worth it in the long run. Choose high-quality OEM replacements or products from brands like MOOG.
  • Other suspension problems
    When it comes to premature sway bar link failure, especially with heavier cars and trucks, it is commonly seen that worn-out struts also impact their lifespan. Many people replace multiple sway bar components in a year without realizing that it is other components and not their driving habits that are causing the problems. Make sure you have your entire suspension inspected when diagnosing the problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Sway Bar Links Go Bad?

Sway bar links go bad as your car covers a certain amount of miles. Depending on the road condition and environmental factors, they can go bad even earlier. Rust and moisture also negatively affect their lifespan. Other reasons for bad sway bar links include accident-related damage, other suspension problems, and improper fitment.

Is Driving With Bad Sway Bar Links Dangerous?

Yes, driving with bad sway bar links will make your steering feel loose, your car will be more prone to body roll and feel more unstable as you corner. Steering the car in the desired direction will become harder which can be dangerous. We recommend fixing sway bar problems as soon as possible.

Are Sway Bar Links Interchangeable?

No, sway bar links are not interchangeable between cars because they are not the same length. They are also different on the left and the right side of the car which means they are also not interchangeable in that manner.

Are Sway Bar Links Side Specific?

Yes, sway bar links are side specific. This means you cannot fit a left sway bar link on the right side of the car and vice versa.

What Happens When The Sway Bar Link Breaks?

Sway bar links are what keep the sway bar in its place. As the sway bar link breaks, you will feel a significant change in your car’s behavior. The steering will feel different, the car will start leaning more, floating and rolling around corners. You will immediately feel these symptoms. The sway bar however should not fall to the ground as it usually has additional fittings that hold it in place.

Can Sway Bar Links Cause Death Wobble?

No, worn out, bad or poorly installed sway bar links will not cause the “death wobble”.

Conclusion

To fully understand how a car with bad sway bar links feels, we would strongly suggest you try driving either an old car (most 1950s and older cars came with no stabilizer bar) or a car that had its sway bar temporarily removed. Only then can you truly realize just how important this metal tubing that connects the left and the right side of the car truly is. Even though it is very simple, it makes an incredible difference in how modern cars drive, feel, and steer.