One more simple thing you can do around your car is to learn how to replace a sway bar link.
Although it may seem complicated and somewhat intimidating, this job is considered one of the easier ones.
So, if you have some goodwill and a bit of car repair enthusiasm, you should be able to do it successfully.
This article will guide you through the whole procedure and show you how to replace a sway bar link from the beginning to the end.
If you’re not in the mood for reading, you have a YouTube video at the end of the article or on our YouTube channel.
WHAT IS A SWAY BAR LINK?
A sway bar link (or stabilizer link) is part of the suspension system that links the sway bar (better known as an anti-roll bar) to the front suspension components.
It has an important role in keeping the car stable while driving and preventing excessive body roll while cornering. Besides this, it helps absorb blows from potholes, speed bumps, bad roads, and others.
The sway bar link is located behind the front wheels. In most cases, it is best recognized by being connected to the anti-roll bar on one side and to the suspension on the other.
For instance, in the example we’re showing you, the sway bar link is connected to the shock absorber and the anti-roll bar.
If you want to know more about the anti-roll bar topic, click here for a great explanation from Wikipedia.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A BAD SWAY BAR LINK?
The most obvious symptom is a clunking, rattling, or squeaking noise coming from the front wheels.
At first, it will be barely noticeable and appear only when going over speed bumps, bad roads, potholes, or else.
But as the sway bar link starts giving in, the clunking and rattling noise will be present all the time.
Regarding driving, you probably won’t notice a radical change in the car’s behavior. When the problem gets more serious the car may sway a bit more than usual, but by then, the sound will probably be unbearable.
Spotting the problem at first may be tricky. A sway bar link problem is easily mistaken for other problems with the undercarriage.
One method for pinpointing the problem (this is from personal experience) is to sway the car from left to right. Just stand by the side of the car, grab the roof and start swaying. If the sway bar link is the problem, you’ll hear a very clear clunking sound coming from one of the front wheels.
The good part about this method is that you can easily determine on what side the faulty sway bar link is.
Another way is to make a visual inspection. If you see a link with torn rubber boots and grease coming out of them, you’re on the right track.
WHAT TOOLS WILL YOU NEED?
If you want to know how to replace a sway bar link, you have to know what tools you’ll need.
This repair is not that needy in terms of tools. You’ll need a:
- Carjack-the one from your car kit will do. If you have a professional one, even better.
- Tire wrench
- Jack stand-or some other convenient and safe method of keeping the car raised and secure.
- 17 mm combination wrench
- 5 mm hex key
- Bigger ratchet with a short extension and a 17 mm socket
- Smaller ratchet with a 5 mm hex socket
- WD-40 spray-if the lock nuts are rusty. Otherwise, it’s not necessary.
- New sway bar link-needless to say, make sure the sway bar link is exactly the same as the old one, namely in terms of length. Also, watch out also if there is a difference between the left and right sides.
The needed tools vary depending on the car model and spare part. Somewhere there will be a Torx instead of a hex, you may need additional tools to take off plastic protection panels, you may need pliers, and so on.
Because of this, it wouldn’t hurt to assess the situation before you actually start. How is the link held in place, are there any obstacles for reaching it, and so on.
HOW TO REPLACE A SWAY BAR LINK-STEP-BY-STEP PROCEDURE
1. Park on a flat surface since you’ll be raising the car.
2. Take out the ignition key, just in case.
3. Pull the handbrake. For automatic transmissions, put the car in „P“. For stick shifts, put the car in neutral, if the handbrake is weak, you can leave it in 1st gear.
4. Put a wheel stopper behind the rear wheel. Do so on the opposite side from which you’re going to raise. If you don’t have a wheel stopper, you can use a piece of wood, a brick anything that will prevent the car from accidentally rolling off the car jack.
5. If you have a hubcap take it off (for more information, click here for a separate article on that topic).
6. Use the tire wrench and loosen the wheel lug nuts. DO NOT RELEASE COMPLETELY, JUST LOOSEN! This is because if you were to raise the car and then attempt to loosen the lug nuts, the car would probably sway and fall of the car jack.
7. Insert the car jack into place and start raising the car. Make sure you insert the car jack properly and in a reinforced place so you don’t damage the floor protective paint or parts of the undercarriage.
8. Lift until there is a clearance between the wheel and the ground. Lift so much that you can insert the jack stand or other means for holding the car. In this example, parts of wooden beams are used for better support.
9. Budge the car a bit to make sure it stands firmly. If it sways, don’t proceed any further until it’s properly secured.
10. Take the wheel off and set it aside.
11. Remove any obstacles that may get in the way. In this example, a Torx screw had to be removed to loosen the plastic protective covering so the lower lock nut and thread could be reached.
12. You’ll see two lock nuts, upper and lower. First, release the lower one by using the 17 mm combination wrench. If the thread moves together with the nut, use the 5 mm hex to hold it in place.
13. Loosen the upper lock nut. Again if the thread moves, use the 5 mm hex key. Besides the combination wrench, you can also use the ratchet and socket if there is enough space. It will be faster.
14. Take out the old sway bar link. Once more, in order to be sure that it’s causing the problem, check the rubber boots and how the threads move. When the link is the problem, the boots may be torn, grease is coming out of them and the joint will be moving loosely as opposed to the new ones which will be stiff.
15. When taking off the link, you might encounter a problem. Since only one side of the car is raised, the link may be stuck (the threads on the link and openings in the suspension may not be aligned).
To solve this, you may have to put on the wheel again, remove the jack stand and lower the car. This way the holes will align, the tension will cease and the sway bar link will be easily released. If this is the case, best install the new one immediately while the car is on the ground to avoid raising it twice.
You probably won’t have to do this if you’re using a car lift and can raise the whole car.
16. Install the new sway bar link. Put it in place and screw on the new locknuts. Do not use the old ones because they can loosen over time.
17. First, tighten the lower lock nut and then the upper one. The order doesn’t really matter so if you do it otherwise it won’t make a difference. More important is that the sway bar link sits properly in place. Check this before you finally tighten it. It would be best if you have a torque wrench, if not, tighten firmly so it doesn’t loosen over time.
18. Return the wheel back into place. Tighten the lug nuts just so much that they hold the wheel. The final tightening is done when the car is lowered.
19. Remove the jack stand or other kind of support and lower the car. Don’t forget to remove the wheel stop from the rear wheel.
20. Tighten the wheel using a criss-cross pattern. If you have a torque wrench, additionally check every lug nut. For more information about this topic click here. In the end, return the hubcap, if there was any.
Make sure that all the tools are collected and accounted for. Check once more that everything is tightened, especially the wheel.
If everything goes well and you know at least a little about using tools and making repairs, the job should be over within half an hour. Even with the lack of experience, an hour should be more than enough.
Once you’re finished, best take the car for a test drive. If everything is OK, the car will drive normally and the clunking sound should be gone. Best drive over a few speed bumps, on a bad patch of road, or even better a gravel road.
This way, if anything is done wrong, it will show immediately and you’ll be able to fix it right away.
HOW TO REMOVE A SWAY BAR LINK WITHOUT REMOVING THE TIRES?
There is a way to replace a sway bar link without removing the tire.
Essentially, the procedure is the same but without having to jack up the car and take off the wheel.
The whole procedure is faster, this is true but highly depends on the accessibility of the sway bar link.
In the example we’ve shown, the lock nuts are accessible and this is possible. I’ve done it myself, so I speak from experience.
The procedure is basically the same but without raising and taking off the wheel.
1. Although you’re not going to jack up the car, secure it nevertheless. So, pull the handbrake and use a wheel stop for the rear wheel. Put the car in „P“ for automatics, for stick shifts put the car in neutral or first gear.
2. Release both locknuts. Again, if the thread is moving, use a hex key to keep it in place.
3. For the lower lock nut use the 17 mm combination key while for the upper nut best use a ratchet with a longer extension and 17 mm socket. This way you can reach the upper lock nut despite the tire getting in the way.
4. Remove the old sway bar link and install the new one.
5. Tighten both lock nuts and make sure the sway bar link sits properly in place.
I must mention that I used the car jack to raise the car a couple of centimeters. This gave me better clearance and comfort for working. The tire was on the ground the whole time and the car didn’t sway so there was no need for securing it with a jack stand.
Again, this is an option, Don’t do it if there’s any kind of safety risk involved. If you have any doubts, best raise and secure the car properly.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO REPLACE A SWAY BAR LINK?
Generally, this isn’t an expensive repair.
Sway bar links are about 10 to 15 Euros a piece on average. If a mechanic is going to do the job for you, it shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dozen Euros.
So, in the higher price range for a middle-class car, 50 Euros per link should be enough (part + labor).
In the lower range, it would be around 30 Euros.
If you’re doing the job on your own, deduct the cost of labor which means a couple of dozen Euros less.
Again, this is a rough estimate for a middle-class car. All of this varies depending on the car parts market in your country, the presence of the car brand, availability of parts, cost of labor, and so on.
For upper-class cars with more complicated suspension systems, the repair will be, of course, more expensive.
Best make a query at your local mechanic and parts shop before the repair and see what you’re facing. After that make an assessment of what’s the best option, mostly in terms of money and time.
One more thing that’s important when learning how to replace a sway bar link is choosing the right spare part. Namely in terms of quality.
Choose a sway bar link from renowned manufacturers. Yes, they will be more expensive but will last a lot longer. In most cases, the price difference isn’t even that big.
A sway bar link that isn’t made to the standard will give in after a couple of thousand kilometers and you’ll have to replace it all over again.
Especially have this in mind if you drive on poor-quality roads all the time. Potholes, bumpy, uneven roads are an arch-enemy of the sway bar link as well as the whole suspension. Only the best quality can survive this.
Also, if possible, change them in pairs (left and right side at once). Usually, when one sway bar link is faulty, the other one is soon to follow. This isn’t necessary as the car will drive normally with only one link replaced but is highly recommended.
So, in the end, learning how to replace a sway bar link will not save you a ton of money like some other DIY car repairs. It’s rather a perfect opportunity to do something on your own and gain some new car knowledge.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com
HOW TO REPLACE A SWAY BAR LINK-YOU TUBE VIDEO