Symptoms of a bad idler arm are going to be very similar to those you may notice when other parts of your steering linkage are worn out as well: loose steering response while driving accompanied by excessive play in the steering wheel. The only way to know for sure if your steering idler arm is worn out rather than another component (like the pitman arm or tie rod end) would be to get under the car and watch it in action while someone else turns the steering wheel. This is easiest if done while the car's front end is lifted up, so be very careful when checking your steering linkage. If you notice that the idler arm isn't turning as smoothly as it should or if you notice that it rattles during operation, then it's time to get it replaced. You should not operate your vehicle with steering problems because it leaves you without complete control of your car or truck. That is definitely a very dangerous situation for both you and your passengers.
What does an idler arm do?
Before the days of rack and pinion steering there was parallelogram steering linkage. This system used simple geometry to transmit steering motion from the driver to both wheels evenly. The pitman arm connects the steering column to the center link, the tie rods connect the center link to the steering knuckles at each wheel, and the idler arm provides the pivot. It is bolted to the car or truck's frame rail under the passenger side floor pan, and remains in a fixed position while rotating from side to side as the steering wheel turns. Without your idler arm, the center link would be a loose mess and would never be able to effectively transmit enough motion to your steering knuckles to properly turn a vehicle.
How to replace it yourself.
Since idler arms are found on older cars and trucks, replacing a broken one with a new one will not be an enormously challenging task. You will just need the appropriate sockets and ratchet, as well as a ball joint puller to separate the stud from the center link. Here's how it's done:
First, lift your car and set it on jack stands. This will get you in a good position to see and work on the linkage components.
Next, unbolt the idler arm bracket from the frame rail.
Then, remove the nut on top of the stud that holds it into the center link. There may be a cotter pin in place as well, so take that out first.
Now, using a ball joint puller, remove the stud from the center link and the idler arm should simply drop right out.
Finally, install your new replacement idler arm by following the same steps in reverse.
Get back on the road right away.
When it comes to fixing your steering system, especially if replacing your idler arm, don't trust inferior parts. At Car Parts Discount, we carry the best brands and manufacturers of steering linkage components for those conventional systems. You will find original equipment manufacturers as well as high quality aftermarket names like Moog, Febi, Rare Parts, and more. So don't hesitate when buying from our website. We're sure after you get your replacement idler arm from us, you'll never go anywhere else.