About a week and a half ago, I started hearing a particular noise coming from the undercarriage front end on my Saturn Ion.
At first I didn't think much of it, then for a day or two I romanticized it (aka denial) by thinking it was just part of the growing collection of maturing "noise" sound my cherished Saturn makes.
Only I really knew I was lying to myself.
So what follows is public service announcement for Saturn Ion owners.
First some key words for Google Search faithful
Saturn Ion front end suspension noise deep metallic rattle clunk sound 5 to 10 mph low speed
That should do it.
The sound was noticeable only when hitting a bump or rough road surface at low speed; about five to 10 mph. Any higher and it didn't appear. It was almost like a cow-bell, but heavier and deeper.
Almost like a cow-bell on steroids.
Hitting a speed bump square on with the front wheels would not produce the sound.
The rear shocks had been replaced some time ago, and the front pair seemed fine.
I knew from prior experience with a Renault that it wasn't a CV joint.
I had inspected the shocks and all the front-end suspension parts I could see and nothing looked amiss.
It was one of those noises that you can either dismiss easily or imagine something falling off the car and wiping out in a way to make NASCAR fans proud.
To the Doctor
Being the obsessive guy I am, I knew that putting it off would only drive me crazy with worry and distract me from the other things going on a work and home...so I rolled on in the Saturn dealership so they could take a look.
Not half-way into my problem description did the chipper Saturn service desk rep diagnose "swaybar bushings."
OK. Sounds reasonable enough. Saturn Ions apparently have quite a history of having these things wear out. So a couple of hours later I was back on the road. Sounded fine.
Until I got off the freeway system and onto the Houston surface streets.
I thought I heard it again. Maybe. Hard to tell.
So for the next few days I thought I heard it but maybe didn't, but probably did.
An Un-romantic Late Night Symphony
Last night, Lavie and I went to pick Alvis up from a birthday party. I asked Lavie to listen to see if she could help me identify the source of the mysterious noise.
She gave me a kind look but I think I saw some alarm in her eyes as she confirmed the cow-bell-like rattle I had been hearing.
We went though the checklist: nothing in the door panels, nothing for the glovebox, not related to any technician's tools in the trunk. Definitely a noise. Definitely from the front passenger side. Not imagined.
On the return drive home we went over some particularly bumpy roadway and Lavie exclaimed (not in a good way) that she could actually FEEL the sound under her toes.
Not a Good Thing when your spouse can FEEL a car noise you'd been attempting to reason away.
That was followed with a look that suggested she wouldn't be riding in the Saturn again until I dealt with the problem.
Now I didn't want my Dearest Wife and Daughter placed in rolling jeopardy, so back to the Saturn dealership I went this morning.
A Real Diagnosis
This time a chagrined Saturn service department brought me out into the bay to show me the real issue: a bent lower right-side wishbone arm.
Seems I had hit a roadway object (City of Houston pothole I suspect) and it had bent (torqued) the rear lower arm right at where the pivot point connected to the frame mount. There was just enough overlap in the joint that as the arm traveled downward at low speed movements, it would bottom out on the frame, causing the deep metallic rattle I was hearing and the force transmittal to the floorboard that Lavie's cute little toes were feeling.
Repairs were made and the front end realigned. My wallet was significantly lightened, but the sound is gone for good and the Lavie is willing to ride with me again.
What amazes me is that my tire and rim and the rest of the components passed inspection with flying colors.
A Hazarded Guess
I am almost certain I know which City of Houston pothole did the damage.
It was a known hazard to me and I had been quite successful at avoiding it until recently. Only the day of my fateful encounter I was unable to move a bit into the left lane to avoid it due to a van driving abreast of me and riding the lane line.
The pothole was in a 40 mph zone right in front of an signaled intersection so I was already going very slow due to traffic conditions.
I suspect that I was going quite slow enough to drop my wheel safely into the 90% wheel sized hole (it may have been about four to five inches deep) without causing impact damage to the wheel or tire. But I was not going slow enough for the wheel to haul out of the hole without putting enough torque stress on the suspension member to avoid twisting.
Remarkably, the frame suspension bars and mounts along with everything else came out just fine. Rock-solid.
The pothole has since been filled in.
So fellow Saturn Ion owners, if you happen to hit a pothole or drop your suspension on a curb or other solid object and begin to hear something along the lines of a "Saturn Ion front end suspension noise deep metallic rattle clunk sound 5 to 10 mph low speed" get down on your belly and compare the bottom A-arm mount locations to the frame on both sides and see if one has a much lower clearance than the other.
That might be the cause.
Car Tech - Key Vehicle Components Explained and Illustrated
For some awesome illustrations and theory behind modern vehicle suspensions check out the following link;
Also related and worth reading for those curious about vehicle basics:
- Car Bibles : The Fuel and Engine Bible
- Car Bibles : The Car Transmission Bible
- Car Bibles : The Brake Bible
- Car Bibles : The Wheel and Tyre Bible
- Car Bibles : The Engine Oil Bible
- The Engine Oil Bible : Additives
(Expensive) Mischief managed.