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1998 Dodge Dakota:
Load Thump, New Ball Joints and Tie Rods

By
Alex Steele
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Question:

 

I drive a 1998 Dakota, 2WD, 3.9L, automatic with approximately 155k miles. Recently, while parking and turning the wheel fully clockwise, I heard a loud thump. I checked underneath to see if anything had come loose and didn't find anything out of the ordinary.

 

However, after pulling off, I noticed the truck was tracking to the left. This happened once before about 3k miles ago. So after spending $2400 at the dealer for new tie rods, upper and lower ball joints, and a new steering rack, it has happened again.

 

Answer:

 

First let's define "tracking to the left". Driving straight down a flat road, you let go of the steering wheel and the truck veers to the left (turns by itself). That's an alignment pull. If the truck travels in a straight line when you let go of the wheel, but the steering wheel is crooked when holding it steady and going straight down the road, that's an off-center steering wheel.

 

OK. If it pulls to the left after hearing a clunk while turning the wheel, either something was left loose after the ball joint installation or the upper/lower control arm bushings are worn-out or not secure.

 

That clunk was a major part of the front suspension shifting, which causes the camber and/or caster alignment angles to be thrown out-of-whack and cause a pull. On the other hand, if that clunk initiated an off-center steering wheel, the problem is in another part of the suspension -- the section that controls steering, including your new tie rods and steering gear (rack).

 

Instances have occurred where a steering gear jumps a tooth during parking lot maneuvers, thereby knocking the steering wheel off center. Whatever did shift in your front end shouldn't be tough to find. Get it back to the guys who did the job. Odds are they missed the worn-out control arm bushings.

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