Your anti-roll bar is a pretty sturdy and heavy-duty piece of metal. Generally, like the chassis and the other major structural components, they’re designed to last the vehicle’s life under everyday use—and do.
When your mechanic or garage tells you there are issues with the anti-roll bar part of your steering or suspension system, it’s far more likely to do with the drop links (also called link rods or sway bar links) or bushes (aka bushings). These are the parts that connect the anti-roll bar in place.
What are anti-roll bar drop links?
Your anti-roll bar joins both sides of the suspension to maintain the balance between the left and right wheels, adding stiffness and eliminating, or at least vastly reducing, the car’s body roll around corners. Anti-roll bars are situated at the front and rear of the car, connecting both sides performance and improving the vehicle’s handling.
Drop links connect the anti-roll bar to your suspension’s damper or control arm.
Given drop links are slimmer and made of several sections—a rod and its end joints—they are more vulnerable to damage and breakage than the anti-roll bar itself. However, we’d still expect them (usually) to last the vehicle’s lifetime.
However, we’d still suggest they’re regularly inspected after the first 50k miles. Even so, unless they’re operating in pretty adverse conditions, we’d expect most of them to carry on performing as required unless some kind of disaster strikes.
What are anti-roll bar bushes?
Bushes or bushings are a kind of rubber or plastic washer or plug fitted between two moving parts, usually metal, smoothing out performance while protecting them from friction and unnecessary wear.
You’ll find bushes throughout every vehicle, and importantly, they are an essential part of the suspension system. Rubber wears and perishes over time, and when it does, this is the most likely cause of the symptoms that are often mistaken for anti-roll bar damage.
Symptoms of damaged or worn bushings and drop links
The typical symptoms of anti-roll bar issues are relatively common throughout all kinds of suspension problems, so it’s often difficult to detect where the problem is while driving your car.
The main suspect for a broken drop link (or even a broken anti-roll bar in such a fateful situation) will be excessive movement and roll when the car travels around corners.
Gaps in between moving parts from worn-out or perished bushes and some damage to the drop links can cause the following symptoms.
- Clunking and rattling sounds from the wheels and suspension
- Knocking within the wheels while driving on uneven roads and surfaces
- Lack of stability while driving
- Poor handling around corners
- Additional body roll while turning
- Clunking and banging when driving over speed bumps
Drop links are far more prone to damage under the poor state of many roads. For example, when a wheel drops into a pothole, the drop link suffers a large shock load. This puts pressure on the end joint (often a ball joint), and in cold, wet conditions, older brittle joints are more susceptible to failure, breaking, or other damage.
Can I drive my car with broken drop links?
You’re unlikely to cause more damage to your car if you need to drive it to the garage carrying out the repair, but you’ll soon notice just how much less control you’ll have over the vehicle if you do.
It’s inadvisable to drive with broken drop links, and you certainly shouldn’t be carrying out any routine journeys with a car in that condition. The more speed you carry into corners, the worse the problem will be, so drive slowly and carefully if you have to.
Without fully functioning drop links, your car will feel unstable at normal driving speeds. However, you might not notice as much of a problem when driving slowly, so that’s why we’d urge you to take care and keep your speed down.
Can I drive my car with worn bushings?
If the bushings are the problem, it’s more likely you’ll hear squeaks or banging coming from the suspension when you pass over any bumps.
Replacing the bushes isn’t always as straightforward as you’d think. Despite the bushes themselves being a relatively cheap and small part to replace, they often come as part of the drop link and need replacing as a composite unit.
If you’re really unlucky, you could have to replace the anti-roll bar and the drop links.
Why would drivers replace their anti-roll bar?
Performance. Stiffer suspension with less body roll allows cars to travel faster and more stably around corners.
Sports cars tend to have thicker, stiffer anti-roll bars to boost handling and performance around corners.
Replace the rear anti-roll bar with a stiffer option on a rear-wheel-drive car, and you reduce oversteer.
Replace the rear anti-roll bar with a stiffer option on a front-wheel-drive car, and you reduce understeer.
If you don’t know what understeer and oversteer are, then you probably aren’t ready to tinker with the anti-roll bars at either end of your vehicle. However, for those whose interest just piqued, understeer is where the car doesn’t turn as much as it should under the expected amount of steering, and oversteer is where the car turns more than it should.
When it comes to autosport and motor racing, there are such things as adjustable anti-roll bars; with an externally adjustable system, technicians can soften and stiffen the bar’s performance to achieve a precise level of stability.