Creak – Creak. Squeak-Squeak. When I’ve been driving my DB9 in cooler weather (less than 60°F or 15°C) whenever I would drive over a speed bump, curb or significant bump I would hear a creaking, squeaking noise coming from the front end. It would happen any time the suspension would have to flex significantly. While faint and rare at first, over a year or two it was a constant and annoying companion.
If your car is suffering from the same creaking/squeaking issue, or if you need to change your upper ball joint (which is part of the same assembly and not independently replaceable either) then this article will show you what tools and parts you need, and all the steps to change it.
Cause of the Problem
I scoured the usual Internet forums and posted questions to see if anyone else had encountered the issue, but noting solid emerged. Left to solve on my own, my first attempt at fixing it was to replace the front roll bar bushings. Reasonably easy to get to, not very expensive and simple to swap, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. No love.
I was pretty certain the noise seemed to be coming from the inner bushings on the front suspension control arms. I few forum comments related similar issues (described as ‘Dry Joints’) remedied by attempting to lubricate the bushings. I got busy and removed the inner mounts, sprayed white lithium grease on the bolts, the surfaces of the opening they fit into, and whatever I could get to. But, the bushings themselves are NOT serviceable. I put it all back together – and no change. Damn.
I got serious about it then and wanted to confirm they were in fact the source of the issue. I did two things:
- I jacked the car up on the right side one cool day (see my other article on how to properly Single Point Jack your car), and as I did this the suspension front suspension stretched out, and luckily the noise happened. With the help of my father-in-law David (thanks David!) we raised and lowered the car a few times so I could be free to stick my head in close enough to watch and listen. I even could feel the creak happen in my hand if I held the upper control arm gently as it went through the motion.
- To get even fancier I stuck a GoPro camera in the wheel well and drove around the block over a few speed bumps and was able to get some great footage of it happening. Check it out in the video below.
Now convinced of the source of the problem, I set to fixing it properly. I contacted the Parts Manager at the HWM England (an Aston Martin dealership) and inquired if I could just purchase the bushings. “They are not available separately, you must order the entire upper control arm.” Damn. I then searched the Internet for any companies that might be making aftermarket Polyurethane performance bushings for it, and I’ve come up empty so far. [Something like this may exist, and if you know of anything please contact me so I can share the news]. In the end I had to go with purchasing the parts from an Aston Dealership.
If your car was only creaking/squeaking from either the left or right side, you could just change the upper control arm on the one side. I could hear it happening in both of mine, so I opted to replace them both.
You don’t need too many tools to accomplish this task, but you will need one special tool. You’ll need:
- 15 mm box end wrench
- 18 mm box end wrench
- 18mm 6-pt socket with 3″ extension and ratchet
- Torque wrench suitable for 115 Nm
- Snippers to cut the plastic tie wraps
- Interior clip removal tool
- Inspection light
- Bungee cord to support some of the weight of the brake and spindle assembly that will be flopping around. You can pick a few of these up cheap on Amazon.com (see my link below).
- Socket and ratchet to work with the special ball joint tool below
The final essential tool you will need is a special one. Removing the upper control arm requires ‘splitting’ the upper ball joint from the vertical spindle assembly. The official Aston Martin Workshop manual specifies the use of a custom Aston Martin tool (part number 43-26738) for this. This is not a ‘tuning fork’ or ‘pickle fork’ style splitter, in particular Aston Martin goes out of there way to warn us to NOT use such a device as it will damage the softer cast aluminum used in the spindle assembly. Their special tool is a pressure style device.
After a little research and measuring, I’ve discovered atool made by GearWrench (model 3916D Universal Ball Joint Separator) that does the same job. It just use a fulcrum to multiply the pressure. I’ll be showing you how to use it in the video at the end of this article. And the good new is that it is available from Amazon.com for just $19! (see my link below)
You’ll need a few shop supplies too. I’d suggest you have these things on hand before starting:
- White Lithium Grease
- I use this to lubricate and protect the parts as I am assembling them.
- WD-40 offers this in an easy to use Aerosol can for about $14 online at Amazon.com with free Prime shipping (see my link below)
- Disposable mechanics gloves
- While you can source these in many places, I’ve not had much luck with cheap ones purchased from local stores.
- I’ve been pretty happy with the Permatex 08185 Nitrile black gloves.
- I’ve been ordering a box of 100 (50 pairs) in size Large for about $20 USD from Amazon.com with free shipping (see the link below).
- Shop towels
- You can either use hearty disposable paper ones or cloth ones.
- I am fond of the hearty blue Scott Brand shop towel rolls. These towels hold together wiping up grease and grime. You get 55 sheets to a roll. You can pick up a dozen rolls from Amazon.com for about $30 USD
If you need any of these tools or shop supplies, I’ve organized them onto the official Aston1936 Amazon page so you can find any of the products I mention easily. Most have free Prime shipping. Check it out here!
There are the obvious parts needed of the left and right upper control arms (L and R are different parts), plus I decided to order new nuts and bolts to go with it. I figured if I was going to take the time to do the project it would be prudent to spend a few dollars on new hardware. Note: You are also going to need to purchase replacement zip tie cable mounts (see below).
My car is a 2005 Coupe, and I think most of these part numbers are correct for most MY 2004-2012, but check to be sure you are getting the right parts for your car. I think after MY 2008 there are some changes to the control arms themselves so double check.
- Left Front Suspension Upper Control Arm – Aston Martin part number 4G43-3091-BE. You can purchase this online for about $262.53 USD. Or you can contact Richard Hayward at HWM England and get it a lot cheaper for about $162.48 USD. Email Richard the info about your car (and tell him you heard about him from Aston1936.com) and he’ll be sure you are getting the right parts at the right price.
- Note: In Oct 2017 Aston Martin Corporate instituted a ban on UK dealerships selling parts to USA/Canada customers. Their pricing is massively cheaper than buying from a North American based dealership, and the USA dealerships were complaining loudly. While this is bullshit to allow the US dealers to continue to gouge us, we are stuck with it. If you are in the USA/Canada I’d recommend you use the link to buy the items online, their pricing is still vastly cheaper than your local dealership (you can always call them and confirm the pricing knowing the part numbers). The rest of the world – you can still contact Richard.
- Right Front Suspension Upper Control Arm – Aston Martin part number 4G43-3084-BE. You can purchase this online for about $262.53 USD. Or you can contact Richard at HWM England and get it a lot cheaper for about $162.48 USD.
- Upper Control Arm Mounting Bolts – Aston Martin part number CG43-08024-AA. These are a M12 x 90mm hex flange bolt. You will need quantity 2 per control arm, so four (4) of them if you are doing both sides. You can purchase these online for about $3.65 USD each, or a little cheaper for $2.32 USD each if you contact Richard Hayward at HWM England.
- Upper Control Arm Nuts – Aston Martin part number 703565. These are a M12 self locking flange nut. You will need quantity two (2) to go along with the bolts, AND one (1) more to go with the new ball joint that comes installed already in the control arm. That is a total of three (3) per control arm, so six (6) of them if you are doing both sides. You can purchase these online for about $0.74 USD each, or a little cheaper for $0.50 USD each if you contact Richard Hayward at HWM England.
- Zip Tie Fir Tree Cable Mounts – Aston Martin part number 4G43-65-10059. These are black plastic cable ties that mount to the front and back edges of the control arm and secure the brake wear sensor and wheel speed sensor cables in place. You will have to cut the old ones off, and these will need to be replaced. You will need quantity five (5) per control arm. That is a total of ten (10) of them if you are doing both sides. The are realitvely inexpensive and I suggest you just order the 100 pack Aston Martin part number 4G43-65-10059-PK. You can purchase the 100 pack online for about $11.48 USD, or a little cheaper if you contact Richard Hayward at HWM England if you are getting all your other bits from him.
As usual I started out by reviewing the Official Aston Martin Workshop Manual Section 4.01 on the Front Suspension. There is a solid amount of information on the process in the manual, but does not specifically cover how to remove just the upper control arm. It also fails to cover even the existence of the zip tie mounts. Its a starting point anyways.
In preparation for the work you need to get the front wheel off the ground and the wheel removed. You can do this one wheel at a time using just a jack, or you could put the front of the car on jack stands. Since you will be working inside the wheel well and I don’t trust just using a hydraulic jack alone I’d recommend going the jack stand route. These other articles I’ve done might help you accomplish this:
The whole process of changing the control arm will take you about an hour per wheel.
- Safely raise the vehicle and remove the road wheel as noted
- Using your snippers clip the five (5) zip tie mounts to free the brake wear sensor and wheel speed sensor cables from the control arm.
- You can unscrew the left over tie wrap bodies out of the holes.
- Disconnect the wheel speed sensor cable from the spindle. Just squeeze the connector tab and wriggle it off.
- Mine was cakes with 39K miles of brake dust and road grime, so it took a little careful wiggling.
- DO NOT TURN ON THE VEHICLE IGNITION with this cable removed. I did (just to turn the steering to straighten it out) and the computer immediately diagnoses a failed wheel speed sensor and lit up the MIL idiot light on the dash and I had to use my OBDII code reader to clear the condition afterwards.
- You may want to lash up a bungee cord to take up the weight and stabilize the brake rotor and caliper assembly. It’s not included in my video below (since I had my brakes removed for clarity). You can hook the bungees into the coil spring.
- Using your 15mm and 18mm box end wrenches, remove the two nuts and bolts that hold the inboard bushing to the frame.
- Pull and lift the control arm out of the sockets in the frame so its is free to maneuver.
- Rotate the control arm around 180° to get better access to the upper ball joint nut.
- Use an 18mm wrench and loosen the upper ball joint nut. Do not remove it all the way, just undo it until the top surface of the nut is about 1/8th of an inch above the end of the bolt. There should be about a 1/4″ gap under the nut. We want to leave the nut partially in place like this so we can use the ball joint splitter tool with it.
- Fit the ball joint splitter tool into place
- Start to tighten the bolt of the ball joint splitter tool until the ball joint comes free.
- I used a 1/2″ drive ratchet and socket rather than an impact wrench. I wanted to ‘feel’ the effort needed.
- I had to tighten it a lot.
- It makes a loud pop/bang as it finally separates. Scared the crap out of me. This is also why it is essential to keep the nut partially in place, it stops the joint flying apart when all that pressure lets go.
- Remove the ball joint splitting tool
- Remove the ball joint nut the rest of the way
- Lift the upper control arm out of the hole and away.
At this point most manuals just say installation is the reversal of removal, but of course I can’t leave it at that. What about the torque settings? And there is a special requirement about when you can torque it.
- I took the time to wipe out the sockets in the frame where the control arm fits into. Dirt and road debris works into this area during normal driving.
- I used white lithium grease and lubricated some of the new parts to assist in fitment as well as to act as some corrosion protection:
- Assemble the new control arm and ball joint to the spindle.
- Slip the tapered ball joint bolt and fit the nut.
- Tighten the nut with an 18mm wrench until snug
- Using an 18mm 6-pt socket and torque wrench, torque the nut to 90Nm (66 ft/lbs). You’ll see in the video below I had a hard time getting the torque wrench into the fender well with some reach to swing, but eventually I found an orientation that worked.
- Fit the inner control arm bushings into the sockets in the frame.
- Fit the nuts and bolts.
- Stick your head in as close as you can to see the alignment of the bolt holes and bores in the bushings. Adjust as necessary.
- Fit one bolt first. The bolts go from the center towards the front or back.
- I had to use a long screwdriver to push on the flange of the head of the bolt to seat it the last little bit.
- Install the nuts and tighten it up LOOSELY. DO NOT TORQUE it yet. I snugged mine up, then backed it off half a turn.
- The Aston Martin manual makes a big deal out of this. We can’t torque these bolts until the suspension is fully loaded and sitting at its normal ride height. Read on.
- Install the other bolt/nut the same way.
- Reattach the Brake wear sensor cable with new zip tie mounts
- Start by assembling the rear zip tie mount around the cable before pressing it into place. Just loosely so the cable can still move through the mount.
- Press the fir tree base of the mount firmly into the threaded socket on the control arm.
- Loosely assembly and fit the front zip tie mount.
- Note that on the brake wear sensor cable body there are two areas with an extra rubber protective wrap and a white marker strip. You can probably see the indentation from the old zip time mounts too. Line this up with the new zip tie straps and tighten the zip tie. Snug, not super tight. You don’t want to crush/pinch the wire. You just want to hold the cable firmly in place.
- Use your snippers to cut off the excess zip tie strap.
- Reattach the Wheel Position Sensor cable with new zip tie mounts.
- Follow the same procedure as we did with the brake wear sensor cable.
- For the zip tie mount on the spindle assembly follow the same process, but be sure you tighten it at the right position on the cable. There needs to be some flop/slop to allow for the wheel to turn while steering. See the video.
- Reconnect the wheel position sensor plug.
- Just make sure it presses all the way on and firmly in place.
I thought of two ways to do this and still be able to reach the bolts:
- Carefully located a stack of wood under the lower control arm right below the lower ball joint, and then lower the car onto the wood.
- Soft wood like redwood or cedar. Something that won’t damage the control arm.
- The advantage of this is that you have great access to the nuts and bolts that need torqued.
- This is NOT recommended by Aston Martin since placing the load improperly on the lower control arm can damage it.
- Reinstall the road wheel and drive the car onto a set of ramps (as I do in the video below)
- Much more ackward to get the wrenches in place, but still doable.
I will describe method number two here:
- Reinstall the road wheel and get the car back on the ground. I’ve created a few videos to help with this process:
- I used a set of drive up ramps to get the car up in the air while the suspension would still be under normal load.
- Note: I couldn’t actual drive onto the ramps due to the lack of ground clearance of our cars, so I shamefully jacked up each corner and slipped the ramp under the wheel, then lowered the car again. Ahh – the joys of owning a performance car.
- I crawled under the car with my 15mm box end wrench and my torque wrench with a 3″ extension and 18mm 6pt socket.
- I carefully weaved my arm around and fitted the 15mm wrench to the head of the front control arm bolt. While a little awkward, there is enough space to do this if you are patient.
- I worked the torque wrench and socket into place minding the notch in the frame rail to allow this, and tightened the bolt to 115 Nm (85 ft/lbs).
- I couldn’t take long swings with the torque wrench, so some patience was needed. Eventually I got the satisfying ‘click’
- Do the same process for the rear nut and bolt.
- Lower the car off the ramps
Tada! You’ve done it. Now it’s time to do the other side if you are doing them both.
A logical question would be if the car needs to have a front end alignment done now. I don’t think so. The upper control arm is a fixed geometry part. There are no adjustments that are made for the alignment with the upper control arm. All the adjustments are done with the eccentric bolts on the lower control arm and tie rod end. As long as the dimensions of the old and new control arms are identical, the alignment should not change.
I’ve put together a neat video of this project that includes some nifty camera work inside the wheel well while driving to catch the creaking noise in action. Have a look!
I expect that a number of you will be determined to find a source of just replacement bushings rather than forking out for entire new control arms from Aston Martin. I hope someone does and then shares what they find with me. To help, I’ve taken a ton of close-up high resolution photos that capture all the little manufacturing marks and numbers. Maybe one of these will be the clue needed! If you happen to work at the company that makes them, PLEASE contact me with how we can get them.