Checking your Steering and Suspension Components – Lexus IS and GS specific

First off, the terminology I will use.  Some of these parts have different names, depending on who you ask or where you go.  I’ll try to be as generic as possible.

Ball Joint – a ball and stud joint that usually has a wide range of motion.  Usually used to connect control arms to steering knuckles

Control Arm – hinged link that connects the hub or knuckle to the chassis.  (Some parts have other names but also fall under the control arm definition)

Tie Rod – a ball and socket joint like a ball joint, co nnects the steering gearbox or rack and pinion to the steering knuckle for directional control.

Bushing – rubber, polyurethane or metal that is the interface between a control arm and the chassis – allows for flex and rotation


In the above picture, we have in blue the lower control arm, some refer to as LCA #1.  In Red, another lower control arm, LCA #2, also known as a caster arm or radius arm.  Orange is the lower ball joint, green is the upper control arm with integral ball joint, and in purple, the steering knuckle.  If they were pictured, the outer tie rod end attaches to the lower ball joint.

How to check it all.  All we need to check this stuff is a pry bar or similar substitute about 2-3′ long and a jack.  A friend to help is nice but not required, but most importantly, we’re going to need some common sense.

Ball Joints:  With the car flat on the ground, place a jack underneath the forward lower control arm, LCA 1.  Raise the jack until the tire is approximately 3-4″ off of the ground.  Now, using your pry bar, situate it underneath the tire and try to pry the wheel and tire straight up.  Here is where having a friend helps.  You need to see if there is any up or down movement in the lower ball joint as you are prying up.  Any movement at all calls for immediate replacement.  You can visually see movement, or, I like to put my hand on the joint to feel for movement.  While we have it jacked up this way, grab the wheel and tire at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and shake it back and forth.  Look and feel for movement in the upper and lower ball joints.  Same goes here as earlier, any movement, replace it now.

Tie Rod Ends:  With the car jacked up as before, or from the frame, either way, grab the tire and wheel at 3 and 9 and rock it back and forth.  Feel the inner and outer tie rod ends for a light clunk.  An extremely small amount of play is acceptable, but if in doubt, change it out.  Movement here, any at all, will cause the vehicle to be out of alignment.  Even if the alignment machine says it is aligned, as soon as you drive the vehicle, the numbers mean nothing.

Control Arm Bushings:  The forward lower control arm is pretty reliable, but shake the wheel/tire at 12 and 6 with the car jacked up from the chassis (not the control arm as before) and look for movement.  The rear lower control arm is more difficult to test and you should just be looking for visually worn or torn bushings.  These are a common failure though they will never come apart completely, they just cause dynamic toe changes as you drive which causes an otherwise good alignment to exhibit bad tire wear.  Upper bushings, look for movement the same was as you did the forward lower control arm.


Here’s an example of a lower ball joint on an 1IS/2GS front suspension. The two holes on either side of the ball stud are where it mounts to the steering knuckle, the hole far left is for the tie rod end.

Lets Talk About Ball Joints on the IS and GS chassis – a quick rant

I see it all the time.  Someone posts a picture of one of their front wheels all laid back with the front fender dented in from it.  It usually has a caption that reads something like “What a POS, I was just driving along and my ball joint broke.

To be completely truthful, the way I read that is “I forgot to do some basic maintenance and inspections on my car, I want someone to feel bad for me.

Ok, so, ball joints.  Pretty amazing little piece.  They are responsible for supporting the steering knuckle (that the wheel bearing and ultimately the wheel itself) are bolted to, while it is turning, accelerating, braking.  It is undergoing all sorts of vertical, lateral and twisting loads.  Add to that, the suspension is designed for it to have one specific angle at rest, and then we lower our cars, which changes that angle.  This puts even more stress on the part.

Owners manuals.  Who reads those things?  Who on Earth would care to read the maintenance suggestions?  I’m here to tell you that there is some great information in there.  As much as I know about cars and I still sat down to read mine cover to cover for the GS I just bought.  The best part, I think, is where it says the car should be inspected, like, really inspected from time to time.  Every 30k miles or more frequently, actually.  Ball joints (and the rest of the steering/suspension components are listed, as well as pretty much every other mechanical item on the car.)

The good news is that these parts are relatively easy to change and even easier to test properly.  I will run down how to check the front end of a vehicle that anyone with a prybar and a jack can do.   That’s the next installment though, for now, here are some pictures of other cars that have had some ball joint issues.

Fullscreen capture 6172015 104957 AM

Fullscreen capture 6172015 105018 AM

Fullscreen capture 6172015 105036 AM

Fullscreen capture 6172015 105044 AM


Making an A650 Transmission Survive on the Cheap – Part 3

Alright, so, we’ve talked about it and the theories behind how it works.  Now for some show and tell.


When you first remove the transmission pan, this is the first parts you see.  The grey thing in the middle is the screen.  Used to call it a filter, but it really doesn’t work that way anymore.  Circled in yellow is the pressure setting.  In this picture, it is turned up all the way.  It is normally in the middle setting.  To adjust, simply push in and turn.



Just a view without the filter or wiring in place.





This ball and the plastic piece / spring that comes with it is pretty important.  Make sure it goes back in.



Just a shot of the accumulators.




Here is a shot of all of the springs and accumulators and where they go.  Also pictured are my home made shims.

For the hard data, here is what you need to know.  I personally shimmed mine 12mm – yellow, 12mm – red, 15mm – green and 15mm – blue.  These shims were acceptable for daily driving with much firmer than stock shifts but not clunking in to gear.  Now that I’ve learned a lot more about these transmissions recently, I might have some ideas to make them more reliable still.  Also, it is very important to install the shims inside the aluminum pistons, not in the cylinder itself – doing this would block the fluid holes in the bottom.


Update: 5/12/2018, a couple local friends have documented this on video with some clarification as well:

RaceCar and Chill

IS300 Turbo Build