HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire - Suspension and Brake Forum

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HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, August 22, 2016 10:35 AM
This thread will be a work in progress over the next few weeks, since I haven't completed yet, but given the lack of traffic on this forum, that probably won't matter to anyone

I ordered a left and right control arm off ebay for $60 each, shipping included. It looks like this was on the FE2 options, maybe others, but it seems only the 99 had the aluminum control arm. If you read the long thread that started this mod: http://www.j-body.org/forums/read.php?f=3&i=111983&t=111983&p=1
you'll find that this control arm is 1/2 inch longer than our factory one, but at the end of that thread, you'll also see that aftermarket control arms for j-body have his same 1/2 inch. So, as long as you get an alignment, you don't need to modify the alunimum control arm.
When I got them, they had ball joints, riveted, ofcourse. So, you'll have to drill those out. I used a 1/4 titanium drill bit to get things started, and then went to a 11/32nd, and eventually a 7/16. I'll warn you now though, the 7/16 is bigger than the hold in the control arm, so be careful not to make your hole bigger using that. It was helpful to reduce the material on the rivet heads, but the 11/32's was almost perfectly just small of the hole size. I got the drill bits at sears by the way.

I started on the top of the ball joint, since I didn't care if I drilled into the ball joint, as I was getting new ones (j-body specific ones). The ball joint you get needs to match the spindle/steering knuckle you are using. If you're swapping steering knuckles, to use N body, or something else, use a ball joint specific to those knuckles.

You'll eventually get the ball joint off, and then have to keep drilling down. I didn't have a vice grip or anything, so, you may be able to use a vice grip to try to push/pop them out once the ball joint if out. I kept drilling.
you'll want to stick to no larger than the 11/32nd drill bit at this point. You can use the 7/17 on the reverse side rivet head, but just down to the point where it's flush with the control arm. You'll also want to make sure you're holes are perfectly centered. You don't want to make these holes oval, that would be bad, given the amount of stress and force going through the ball joint.
Once you get them mostly drilled through, I used a flat punch to bend the edges on the bolt, and try to "tap" it through from the top. This takes some time, and repeated attempts. Eventually, you'll be able to pop them all out, and have a control arm ready for a new ball joint.







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Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, August 22, 2016 10:41 AM
I decided to swap out the factory bushings for the Prothane 7-234 bushings. I have them on my current car, and enjoy the stiffness, and reduced wheel hop they provide. It's best to just go to a local garage, or mechanics and get them to push those out. They are a pain to remove without a press/or torch. Neither of which I have.

Here are a few pictures of the popped out rivet. Hopefully you can see how i folded the edges over from the top, and eventually just used my punch to hammer it out the bottom.
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Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Thursday, September 01, 2016 8:05 AM
VTLoki

Thanks for taking this on. So many of the great pictures in posts from people over the years at this site are disappearing into dead link oblivion. Many of these old threads with useful information are becoming difficult to follow as a result. The original thread on this you referenced is a good case in point.

I am interested in doing this for my 98 cavalier. Not so much for the lightening or any performance boost but for a more corrosion resistant part. The control arms are absolutely attrocious on this car and are exfoliating away with thick scale type rust to the point where they are likely unsafe.

There is a boneyard nearby that says it has (3) 1999 Grand Ams in it and their flat price for control arms is $15.75 each. They charge $2 to get in so I could snag a pair for under $35 if I can get them off.

The latter half of the original thread you referenced where folks mentioned the part can go in without shortening is of concern to me. Even if it will align, I do not want the tires sticking out so I will be curious to see how your control arms come out when you complete your task. I am also interested in the fasteners that you will use for the new ball joint. If the new ball joints don't come with them, some good fastener selection will be needed. Anyways, thanks for the great work at refreshing this topic with some actual pics - so much better than dead links.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Thursday, September 01, 2016 12:24 PM
Replacement ball joints come with the appropriate nuts and bolts to install them.

Plenty have run the unmodded nbody arms with no ill effects over the years. It will push the wheels out about 1/2" if you zero out the camber. (Keep in mind you will need either camber bolts or a suspension setup that uses camber plates to adjust the camber)

Usually, guys have seen around -1.5* of negative camber added by these arms which imo is perfect for a street driven car. Toe will be out as well which will need corrected or you will notice excessive tire wear. (Upon initial install, toe will be excessive. It can be corrected by eye with the tie rods so uou can drive the car to a shop to align)



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Thursday, September 01, 2016 4:59 PM
99LN2 Cavalier wrote:


The latter half of the original thread you referenced where folks mentioned the part can go in without shortening is of concern to me. Even if it will align, I do not want the tires sticking out so I will be curious to see how your control arms come out when you complete your task. I am also interested in the fasteners that you will use for the new ball joint. If the new ball joints don't come with them, some good fastener selection will be needed. Anyways, thanks for the great work at refreshing this topic with some actual pics - so much better than dead links.

Brian


This all depends on what wheels/tires you are running. You should be fine with stock wheels/tires and even higher offset(45mm range) aftermarket wheels.




Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Friday, September 02, 2016 5:19 AM
My ultimate plan for wheels on my 98 Cav is to go with either the 16" alloy ones that they used in the later 2003-2005 cavaliers or to go with the 15" alloy wheels with the larger round cap in the center that were a holdover from the late generation 2 cavaliers. I always liked those and they were on my old 96 Cavalier LS Sedan with the 2.4. You can see them on the red Cavalier in the old Motorweek Review of the 95 Cavalier on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFnyBcnCrsM

It currently has the 14" rims with the baloon tires. My 98 is a Manta Green sedan with the LN2 2.2 motor and has the 5-speed Iszuzu. I think the 5-speed with the 4 door is kind of rare. It would be pretty cool if we could ever get the Lordstown stats from the various years of the Cav/Sunfire configs assembled.

So Tinkles(KGM), you are saying that neither of these stock selections will noticeably stick out beyond the front fenders then correct or be an obvious mismatch with how the rear ones appear correct? If they were to do so then I would opt for the TIG weld filling of the old holes and the redrilling to get them "fixed". It is all about the corrosion reistance more than any performance boost for me. For the rest of my 98 to look so good and yet have such completely rusted and exfoliating steel control arms is puzzling. It is so bad it is to the point that they are like they are purposefully designed as sacrificial anodes. I think they are definitely on the unsafe side of things. My front struts aren't looking so great either from a corrosion standpoint either.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Friday, September 02, 2016 2:59 PM
99LN2, keep in mind the car you're talking about. GM never engineered this car to "Last forever" quite the opposite. It's an econobox. cheap parts, to get someone from A-B for a inexpensive total purchase price. That said, obviously the members of this forum love these cars, myself included. So, it's nice when we can take parts from say "better engineered" vehicles, and swap them on our car. not sure what happened in 99 that made GM make these aluminum Arms, because they went back to the stamped steel in 2000, so, a fluke of some kind there...
For the ball joint bolts, the new ball joint does come with it's own bolts, so that's taken care of.
For the extra 1.5" the wheels are pushed out, i'll try to get some before and after photo's from the front of the car looking down the side, so you can judge for yourself if it sticks out "too much".
I should be getting the arms back from powder coat next week, and I'll have some photo's of that. My front K frame is powder coated red (wanted to protect against rust when I replaced it), so I did the control arms in red to match. Yes, I know it's under the car, and not likely to be seen, but it was more for myself, and wanting to have a long lasting part on the car that won't rust as fast.

And since Everyone loves some photo's, I took some of the ball joint, and control arm bushings, from Prothane. The bolts are grade 10.9 and the nuts had the number 10 on them. So, seems like durable stuff. The best part about the ball joint, is it's grease-able.





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Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Sunday, September 04, 2016 6:30 PM
99 was the first year for the redesign on the n-body. They likely went back to steel/iron (99 had the alum knuckles as well) to cut costs.

Similarly, they had forged internals in the early le5 motors in the cobalt and then went back to powdered metal rods in the later years.



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 05, 2016 3:54 AM
So what's the overall benefit of this swap? Because I need new control arms and I was just going to swap the rubber bushings with prothane
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 05, 2016 7:39 AM
Kamui Storm,

Some if not most folks like the lighter weight and hence the more responsive suspension. For me it will be all about corrosion resistance. As VTLoki so aptly stated: "GM never engineered this car to "Last forever" quite the opposite." and that is definitely the case for my stamped steel arms which are rusted horribly and exfoliating away in thick rust sheets making them structurally compromised for sure. That is why I specifically want to upgrade to the aluminum arms.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Thursday, September 08, 2016 6:10 PM
ok, so finally got the Control Arms back from powder coat. Did a almost identical color as the front K frame, which I had powder coated at the same place last year (when I swapped a new one in). It wasn't the exact color, because the K frame was not a UV protected color, and it didn't really need to be since it's always under the car. But since sunlight does shine on the control arms, through the wheels, I choose to get a color that will stand up to UV color.
They look nice, but not as smooth or gloss as I had expected, but i think that was more surface prep then anything else. They bead blast it to get it down to raw metal, but I just think the aluminum had minor casting imperfections that, if I were to do it again, I would take a little more time to sand those out, or maybe buff (but i didn't really want to fall into a never ending hole of buffing aluminum..) . Yes, perfectionist, i know. lol.
I dropped them off at a garage to get the Prothane bushings pressed in today. Should have them back tomorrow, they were a little backed up today. Once I get them back, they will be ready to install, since the ball joints just bolt up. Hoping to get that done this weekend, but I have the Nations Triathlon in Washington DC to do, so it will probably get put off till later.
Anyways, on with some pics.

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Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Friday, September 09, 2016 5:45 AM
Wow! nice surface finish there. I eagerly await how your wheels will look in regards to how much they will stick out since you are not modding the positioning of the 3 ball joint holes. Would it be possible for you to take some before and after photos of your Sunfire with your wheels to show how much or how little they shift outwards as a result of this upgrade?

I still need to hit the local pick & pull to snag my Grand Am control arms. I don't own a pickle fork but since I don't care about damaging the original Grand Am ball joint I should be OK with a crow bar and a hammer right? Any other advice for removing? The yard I am visiting prohibits jacks and has all of their cars already prepped with their wheels off and supported resting on their drums or rotors atop old steel rims to get them off the ground.

Thanks again for taking the extra time and journaling this project.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Friday, September 09, 2016 2:36 PM
99LN2, I can't remember, but I think local autozone or Advance will rent the fork to pop a ball joint, but you'll have to check your local stores.

Thanks for reminding me about the 1/2" push out. I had actually kinda forgot about it, lol. I'll take some pictures tonight as a before.



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Saturday, September 10, 2016 6:27 AM
If you're not worried about ripping boots, use the fork to remove the ball joints.

Otherwise, I'd suggest disconnecting the sway bar and then rapping on the arm with a hammer.



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Sunday, September 11, 2016 12:55 PM
I just hit the junkyard today. There were lots of 99 grand arms and alerts to choose from. I was really amazed at how pristine these arms all looked while the rest of the cars' under carriages were all like so rusted. One came right off but th other was really difficult. I don't have a pickle fork so it was a challenge. Time to start working on those ball joint rivets. I will then clean them up with some alconox. Ultimately I will bead blast and powder coat black. I will await to see if the extra half inch is acceptable before proceeding.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Sunday, September 11, 2016 1:43 PM
What do you mean, acceptable?

My car with unmodded arms, 18x7.5 35mm offset wheels, and toyo fenders. Been running this for atleast 4 years now. No ill effects.



With stock fenders you might have to do a slight pull if you are running aftermarket wheel(depending on their offset). IIRC someone was running unmodded arms with stock wheels/fenders without issue.






Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Sunday, September 11, 2016 4:07 PM
I installed the arms this weekend. Even before I started, I noticed my toe was a bit out on the passenger front wheel. (this is relevant later)
The install is straight forward. Since I have a powder coated subframe, and now powder coated arms, it increased the thickness slightly where they mated, but they still went in after some finessing. Ball joints are... well ball joints. Nothing special there per se.
I will say that you REALLY need to get an alignment after doing this. Like, really!
So, i noticed that the toe on the passenger side was even worse after putting on the control arm, so I tried to thread out the inner tie rod, but it was already threaded out a fair bit, and after going a certain number of threads, it felt loose, (like it was only being held by a few threads) not safe to drive, so I undid my change, and did notice that the amount of threads shown between left and right was uneven. So, since those should be, for the most part, equal, I went ahead and set them equal, (which messed up the drivers side even more, lol)
So, long story short, My camber and toe are off so bad, the wheels squeal going down the road in certain curves (slowly mind you), cause they aren't pointed the same way. So, I'll be driving very slowly and gingerly tomorrow when I take it to get the wheels aligned.

99LN2, You should go ahead and move forward on your project, I agree with Tinkles, it's not going to be an issue. I have stock sunfire fenders, and while the bottom is out more than it was, I don't think it's going to be an issue, but i'll find out tomorrow after the alignment. I have 18" x 7.5 i believe. (The montage MR7 wheels if you wanna look up the offset, but i think it's 42mm)
I need to replace the wheels soon, cause I'm tired of 18" wheels with the pot holes in the Washington DC/Northern VA area. They are also crazy heavy at 28lbs for just the rim.



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 12, 2016 5:17 AM
> What do you mean, acceptable?

When I say "acceptable" I mean that it looks good on my car as in not sticking out noticeably or looking "different" vs. how the back wheels and tires present. No slight was intended towards anyones' rides.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 12, 2016 5:22 AM

VTLoki,

Thanks for all of this great work. I look forward to seeing pics of how it will appear as in maybe a nice oblique view where the front and the rear tires can be seen to see if there is anything obvious. Also, any comments that your alignment garage may have on it overall would helpful to hear. Hopefully it will be a routine job for them. Given the unsteady ride after install. I will probably build my arms and then have the align and install all done in one job rather than to "slow drive" it to my chosen establishment.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 12, 2016 9:24 AM
grrrrrr, Bad news from the alignment place. They say they are going to need to "elongate the holes on top and bottom" to get the adjustment they need. Now that I think about it, I should have asked did they actually try, or just look at it and start bitching.

I can't do it today, since they said it would take all afternoon, and I need the car for an appointment. But, I'm thinking maybe i'll get a second opinion from another alignment place. I did read in the other thread where shops thought they couldn't align, but then it worked out fine.

Also, FYI, If you need longer tie rod ends (shouldn't) but if you did, it looks like the Grand Am tie rod ends are just like the jbody ones, but have more threads. Just passing that on.



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 12, 2016 1:04 PM
VTLoki,

Thanks for the update. I hope that you find a better alignment shop that can either work with it or find better solutions to make it all work. I look forward to your result.

When I was cleaning up my arms I noticed that the alloy used was designated as part of the castings along with what appears to be the casting dates Our Grand Am/Alero 1999 control arms were cast using A356. Here is a good article on this particular alloy.

http://www.afsinc.org/files/images/aluminum.pdf

This link to the pdf document has everything you ever wanted to know including mechanical properties and composition. Depending on the casting process and temper A356 can go anywhere from 23 up to 41ksi.

The dates on my arms were 7/27/98 for the left arm and 8/05/98 for the right.

Brian

Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Monday, September 12, 2016 1:37 PM
VTLoki wrote:

grrrrrr, Bad news from the alignment place. They say they are going to need to "elongate the holes on top and bottom" to get the adjustment they need. Now that I think about it, I should have asked did they actually try, or just look at it and start bitching.


This has been mentioned in most threads about these arms. To set your camber back to zero you will need to elongate the top hole on the strut, installed camber bolts, or run aftermarket strut mounts that have camber adjustment built in. Or if the camber is the same on both sides then let it go. My camber was ~1.5* off when I got my car aligned after the install and I left it in. It helps the car handle better and the added wear isn't bad at all. Yes the inside of the tire was worn farther down than the outside, but when it got bad enough that I needed tires the outsides were bald too.




Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 6:38 AM
Tinkles, Thanks for your advice. After reading on local shops in the area, this place is actually reputable, (as most places will blow you off if you're modified in anyway) so the fact that they are willing to work with me is good. Also, I have been going hee a while, and they've treated me right.
When I picked up the car yesterday, they did indeed try to align it. It was actually pretty close, but still pulled to the right some. It was much better than when I brought it in. I dropped it back off this morning, and told them 1.) don't mess with any of the 3 holes under the hood, for the top of the strut. I don't want to permanently change part of the body that can't easily be undone. 2.) I said only elongate the top of the 2 holes where it attaches to the steering knuckle.

I told them they can leave as much as 1.5 camber off zero, like you said Tinkles. Hopefully, that will allow it to get done with a little less labor and save me some $$.



Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 5:53 PM
Some progress was made. I am now about where VTLoki was back in August. I got the ball joints off after much grinding and drilling from the steel side. The holes are not exactly centered and I have drilled about as wide as I dare. These rivet remnants are persistent little buggers. I will be hand fling them out the rest of the way with a hand file to get through the rest of the steel remaining until it is thin enough to bend out. I already tried driving them out from the topside over a socket and also pressing them over a socket with a clamp but they are really cemented on the flange at the steel aluminum interface and thus mushroomed down on the other side instead of driving out. Galvanic crevice corrosion makes an effective adhesive... In hindsight I probably should have drilled most of the way down but not all the way and then punched away with one of my narrower straight punches over a spare socket. I will take this u again after it soaks with some PB Blaster. From there I guess I will take my time and slowly work on them while watching some college football. If I can find a suitable Dremel I may be able to speed things up. I will get them eventually...

I am looking forward to hearing how the alignment goes on VTLoki's car and seeing how the final result looks.

Brian
Re: HOW TO: 99 Grand Am Alunimum Control Arm on sunfire
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 6:00 PM
So, good news is the car is aligned, basically, perfectly back to zero camber. toe, etc. They did that by elongating (rounding out) the upper bolt hole (on the bottom of the strut).
Bad news, the shop said the tie rod ends are dangerously low on threads left attaching it to the inner tie rod, basically, the j-body ones are coming up a little short. They said it's ok for around town, but since they know I race the car, they said no "vigorous" driving it like it currently is.

So, i'm on the hunt now to make sure the grand am tie rod ends will work. when I went to the parts store tonight, they only had a grand am tie rod, so i'll have to check at a different store tomorrow.
The length of the grand am part (Moog ES3455) was 5.75" from end to center of joint. I'll compare that number to a j-body one tomorrow when I get my hands on one. I'm hoping it has more threads, and if it does, i'll just get the tie rod ends swapped out.
The wheels don't look pushed out at all. If I didn't know the control arms were wider, i'd say they look the same at first glance. I'll try to get some better photo. The light wasn't good when I tried to take the photos this afternoon.




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