Rough/wobbly over bumps and potholes, potential bump steer. Is this normal? What to do?

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970rap

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I apologize in advance for the length here but I've been pursuing this a while and think the background info is pertinent. I have a stock 18 with 52K miles and pretty limited off-road use (maybe 200 total miles). Before everyone recommends tire pressure, I'm running 34/32 and have not noticed a material difference in the issues described at higher or lower pressures. Stock tires (second set).

Over the last 10K miles I've noticed two things:

1. That it is riding increasingly rough over on-road sudden bumps, potholes, pavement cracks, drop offs, etc, especially if they are to one side or not exactly the same on both sides. The exact feeling is hard to describe, but over this sort of terrain the truck feels wobbly, jittery, shaky, jumpy, rocking side to side, etc., sort of like the bumps are not really being absorbed and are being transferred to the truck and/or steering, and there is this sense that the steering goes light and the truck is kind of out control temporarily, and all of this is much worse as speed increases. It does not inspire confidence and got to the point where I was actually nervous driving it on interstates. More recently I've noticed the steering wheel either shake or jerk to one side or the other when going over these bumps, but then quickly returns to center. The truck tracks straight on smooth pavement and feels good over large undulations.

2. A sort of metallic clunk/clang sound when the left front tire makes contact with the terrain listed above, which I only hear at slower speeds (neighborhood, parking lot, downtown) and with the windows down. Seems to happen in all temps and in 2H/4A/4H. Here's a video clip with sound:

My end links were replaced at 30K miles when I had a similar sound. Dealer says they are fine now and I personally cannot detect any play in them (while truck is on the ground).

Things I have done:

1. Rebuilt the shocks 5K miles ago and got an alignment. This helped, but it wasn't perfect and the clunk still continued.

2. Took it to the dealer for the clunk sound and provided them the video. They confirmed the clunk sound and diagnosed "both tie-rod end boots torn and play in the ball joint". They replaced both tie-rod ends and performed a toe alignment only (as stated on the paperwork). I got it back and the steering felt tighter and maybe things overall felt a little better, but the clunk sound is still there, just as same as ever and the issues above still persist (although a little better).

3. Got my tires rebalanced. This actually seemed to make a decent difference on smooth pavement, although bumps and stuff still feel like a bigger deal than they should be.

Is this normal?

I feel like it didn't use to drive like this, but I also understand it's a truck and not a Cadillac. I understand that some steering wheel movement over bumps is likely normal. Any chance this is just how it's supposed to be and it's just a problem in my head? For comparison, my wife's Mustang (not the best comparison, I know) drives just fine over all of this stuff, doesn't feel rough, feels planted and in control. The truck is no longer a death trap but I continue to feel like something isn't right. I can't imagine running it off-road based on how it performs on road.

If it's not normal, what might be the issue? How to proceed?

I have the Ford ESP, my dealer takes forever to get an appointment scheduled and then actually complete work, and they are (somewhat understandably) not real interested in chasing down anything that isn't totally obvious and they aren't going to do extended test drives. If I take it back to them I'd like to be able to be more clear about what the issue is and possibly suggest problem areas.

Ball joints - The dealer mentioned there was play in the ball joints but those were not touched. Any chance they could cause this sort of issue?

Steering - Something to do with the steering itself?

Alignment - Caster from the first, full alignment was 3.7 and 4.2. After replacing the tie rods only a front toe alignment was performed. Could that replacement have messed with the caster, which might be causing bump steer? Or is the original caster bad? (I can get another alignment performed elsewhere).

Anything else? I've been dealing with this a while and am getting increasingly frustrated with the truck. At this point I don't even care about the clunk sound and only care about how it drives (although maybe they are related). Thanks!
 

realjones88

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You said you replaced your front shocks 5K miles ago did they put on fresh strut mounts too?

I tore the rubber out of both of mine so the shock was moving up and down a little when going over bumps. Probably not your issue, but take a look next time you have the hood open.
 

wazatataza

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In addition to your end links check out the sway bar bushings. Iv been leaning towards just removing the sway bar all together on mine.
 

Nex

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Hard to tell what you "feel" over the internet. But as stated the rear end dances around a lot. New rear leaf springs help as the stock are trash and are probably fairly flat by now. Really want to lock the rear end in place. Deaver and trac bars will take care of this.

You can remove the sway bar but seeing as you mostly drive street I would leave it on. If you off road more (200 miles in 5 years) then you can think about removing it. But for testing I would remove the end links and test drive to see 8f the noise goes away.
 
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