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That's What I Get For Putting It Off: Control Arm Failure

This past weekend was filled with autocross. I had a test and tune on Saturday where I made some really positive damper adjustments to my RX-8 and had it feeling great. Then on Sunday the Finger Lakes Region SCCA had their first points event. I was feeling pretty good about both the car and my driving. Unfortunately my day was over halfway through my second run.....

When you order Lightning McQueen off of Wish....
When you order Lightning McQueen off of Wish....
Photo: Cars & Shenanigans with my editing
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What you see here is that the lip that keeps the ball joint captive in the lower control arm has cracked and failed which resulted in the ball joint popping out of it as it was unloaded going around a right hand sweeper.

Below is a slideshow of the incident. I heard the workstation guys yell out telling me to ‘STOP!’ and in the time between me hearing what they said and my brain registering it was when the tire got re-loaded and put out of place.

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Inside the car, it felt like a tire had a massive blowout. When I got out and saw the tires all fine, I was a bit confused. Then when I looked at the passenger side, I noticed how the front had far more than the -3.25* of camber it usually has.

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Right away, I had a pretty good idea that the damage was in the lower control arm. I looked through the wheel and confirmed that as I saw the lower control arm resting on the wheel.

Fortunately we were able to get the car jacked up and I then realigned the whole wheel assembly and dropped the ball, which was still attached to the spindle back into the cup and proceeded to limp it off course. I felt worse for holding everyone else up more than I cared about the failure.

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Stance Bro!
Stance Bro!
Photo: Me

As I got back to paddock, I hadn’t even started formulating a plan to get my car the 127 miles back home when one of my friends was calling a buddy of his to help me out with a tow home. I also had many other offers of help and/or tows and rides home which was quite awesome and a testament to the great autocross community we have here in WNY.

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About an hour and a half later, Ben who runs Afterhours Performance made his way over to the Seneca Army Depot where we run and we got my car loaded up and on our way. The drive home was quite nice and filled with lots of awesome car talk and Ben will definitely be getting business from me.

Instead of getting my car towed back home, I had it dropped directly at the local Mazda dealership. Normally I would just fix this type of thing myself, but you see, I already knew that my lower control arms had a recall on them and they would get fixed for free.

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How did I know this? Because I had previously had my car at the dealership for something else (A compression test, before I just bought my own tester I think) and we talked about the control arm recall. They wanted to do it but I had already installed aftermarket bushings in them.

I figured that as long as I inspect them on a regular basis that I’d be fine. I put my car up on a QuickJack before every autocross weekend to inspect everything just to make sure I’m good. I was clearly wrong. As you’ll see in later photos, there is no way I could have seen the cracking of the ball joint cup before it failed.

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Being that I dropped my car off on a Sunday, I had to wait until Monday morning to talk to the service department. I made sure to have a pic of the VIN and the mileage ready for them and we got all the recall work in order.

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Aside from the control arm replacement, there was also a recall to replace the fuel tank trim ring gaskets along with the top half of the fuel pump housing because of leaks and cracking. I had to explain to them that I had replaced my fuel pump with that of a series-2 (2009-2011) RX-8 because of a fuel starvation issue that the S1 pump experiences on left hand sweepers. All I had to do was sign something at pickup saying that the work couldn’t be done.

You can see on the bottom control arm that only a little bit of the lip that holds the ball joint in is left.
You can see on the bottom control arm that only a little bit of the lip that holds the ball joint in is left.
Photo: Me
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Even though they had to order parts, I had a phone call by Thursday saying my car was ready to pick up. I was at work already so I had to wait until this morning to see it. Fortunately the service guy was quite cool and brought the control arms out for me so I could see the failure. In my examination, I could see that there was various discoloration in the aluminum indicating that at least part of the housing was cracked well before the final failure. In the above photo, you can see that the boot for the ball joint totally covers the lip so you cant really visually inspect this to see if you need to replace it or not.

My pretty, new control arm.
My pretty, new control arm.
Photo: Me
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So, lesson learned. When you know about a recall, just get it done. I drove around on these and did hundreds of autocross runs knowing that this part might fail for at least 2 years. I’m a dumbass for that and I am also very fortunate that it happened on a closed course in a controlled environment. And I am even more lucky that I manage to get away with minimal damage.

My tire burned through a few spots on the fender cover, but other than that, I managed to come out of this rather unscathed.
My tire burned through a few spots on the fender cover, but other than that, I managed to come out of this rather unscathed.
Photo: Me
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In the end, I was only out a little bit of cash for the tow and I missed out getting some solid runs on what was a great autocross course. I’m quite lucky that was all I was out.

If you are wondering about open recalls on your vehicle, all you have to do is go over to the NHTSA.GOV website and enter your VIN. In fact, I think if you read through this, you should just click on the link and check to make sure you are good. And if you do, call up the dealer and schedule and appointment to get them done. Don’t be like me.

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The author, who goes by Joe in real life, is an avid automotive enthusiast with a particular passion for Mazda rotaries. You can find him at many Western New York SCCA and surrounding area events autocrossing his RX-8. He can be reached AkursedX @gmail.com

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