What is a sway bar and how does it work?
A sway bar is a torsion spring — a piece of metal that resists twisting force. The sway bar is linked to each side of the suspension on a front or rear axle and designed to help the vehicle resist body roll, or sway, during turns or sudden emergency maneuvers. A sway bar does nothing unless the body of a vehicle leans to one side; if both wheels rise — as they would when the vehicle hits a bump — or fall at the same time, the sway bar doesn’t have to twist and has no effect.
When to consider replacing the sway bar?
- Excessive rust, corrosion, or cracking. Sway bars are typically manufactured from high-strength steel and have special coatings to resist corrosion. However, sway bars are known to crack, particularly at the ends or at welded joints. If the sway bar has visible cracks or excessive corrosion it should be replaced.
- Crash damage. Sway bars are near the ground on the vehicle suspension system. Road debris, driving over parking stops, and crashes can damage the sway bar or the sway bar links to the suspension.
How do mechanics replace the sway bar?
- The vehicle is lifted and supported by steel jack stands.
- Exhaust system, vehicle subframe, and suspension components preventing access to the sway bar are removed.
- The sway bar links to each control arm are removed. In most cases, all rubber mount components are discarded and replaced with new ones.
- The bar is then unbolted from the frame of the car. Rubber bushings are discarded as new ones are always used.
- Installation is the reverse of removal, taking care to install new rubber components and follow factory-shop, manual torque specifications.
Is it safe to drive with a sway bar problem?
Yes. Should you suspect that a sway bar is broken, you can still drive the car with utmost caution. You will notice the car will lean and sway more when changing lanes. Your car will feel “looser,” particularly when driving at high speeds. It is possible this will cause you to lose control of the car, resulting in a serious crash if you cannot overcome the loss of control that occurs with a defective sway bar. If you’re forced to drive with a broken sway bar, you need to drive slower than normal. Try to stick to surface streets and stay off highways and interstates where you might be required to change lanes. As long as you keep your speed down and don’t take turns too quickly, you should be safe driving until you can have it replaced at your earliest convenience.
When replacing the sway bar keep in mind:
- Never reuse rubber components in sway bar replacement.
- The original equipment manufacturer’s sway bar will usually offer the best fit and function, although there are performance aftermarket sway bars for certain vehicles.
- Whenever a suspension component like a sway bar is replaced, the entire vehicle suspension should be carefully inspected.
- Although the sway bar does not factor into the adjustment of vehicle alignment, it is always a good idea to check and confirm vehicle alignment after performing major repairs on your car’s suspension.