The occasional “chirps” and “eeps” from your vehicle are not only embarrassing but also potentially expensive — especially if the root cause has gone beyond the point of retrievable. Thankfully, there is a way for you to prevent this unplanned expenditure. All it takes is determining the source of the unusual sound and greasing friction-prone components. But how exactly do you lubricate a squeaky suspension?
To lubricate a squeaky suspension, first, pinpoint the problem, collect necessary tools, use a compatible lube variant, apply it, and test drive for effectiveness. Remember to exercise caution and consult a certified mechanic when stumped during this process.
Maintaining your chassis lubrication doesn’t have to be costly, as servicing and regular upkeep are more affordable than major repairs. You need only figure out whether your vehicle has sealed joints that mirror the lifespan of the factory grease or proper grease fittings that can be injected using a simple hand-pumped grease gun. Either way, you should have no excuse for lubing your suspension.
Causes of Squeaky Suspension
If you have ever watched Family Guy, you know how decrepit the state of Peter’s 1972 AMC Gremlin is. The vehicle always makes that exaggerated squeaking sound whenever it moves or comes to a halt. While all that ‘jazz’ is intended for comedic effect in the satirical animated series, those squeaks and squeals are not something you would want to encounter in real life.
Ask any seasoned car owner the cause of these odd noises, and they would probably have one culprit in mind — a squeaky suspension. So why do these components begin to squeak? Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most common reasons behind this predicament (some of which were already covered in my article on Noise from Suspension):
- Worn ball joints
- Damaged suspension bushings
- Deteriorated control arm bushings
- Dry sway bar links
- Worn strut mounts
- Corroded or rusted components
- Aging leaf springs
- Loose or worn shock absorbers
- Faulty strut bearings
- Unlubricated suspension pivot points
- Stressed or cracked control arms
- Misaligned suspension components
- Damaged tie rod ends
- Malfunctioning coil springs
- Loose wheel bearings
- Uneven tire wear
- Contaminated or worn-out strut mounts
- Improperly torqued suspension fasteners
- Damaged stabilizer bar
- Excessive road debris or dirt accumulation
Some of these items result from constant vehicle use and exposure to the elements. So before you panic, see if cleaning obstructed components will do the trick. Otherwise, proceed with the lubrication process. But first, let’s do a quick detour to learn about the different types of lubricants.
Different Types of Lubricants
From durable grease that bolsters high-stress parts to the sprightly silicone spray that maintains rubber’s flexibility, this section will cover different lubricant variants — examining their unique properties and compatibility with various suspension elements and how they enable your vehicle’s suspension system to cruise along without a hitch:
Highly adhesive, grease reduces friction and wear on demanding suspension components like ball joints, control arms, and bushings. It creates a durable shield against abrasion, ensuring prolonged performance and extended component life.
- Compatible with: Ball joints, control arms, tie rod ends, sway bar links, bushings
- Not safe for: Rubber suspension components
Silicone spray offers a short-term solution for lubricating rubber suspension elements by minimizing friction and stifling noises. Its PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) base additive is very tacky and completely water-proof. Also, its non-greasy nature is advantageous for maintaining a clean appearance in critical areas. However, it necessitates more frequent reapplication due to its temporary nature.
- Compatible with: Rubber bushings, weather stripping, door hinges
- Not safe for: Metal suspension components
Dry-film lubricants form a protective layer on surfaces like door hinges and locks, mitigating friction without accumulating dirt or grime. Their durability in contaminant-prone environments is valuable, although they may require periodic renewal to maintain optimal efficacy.
- Compatible with: Door latches, hinges, locks, slide rails
- Not safe for: Components requiring wet lubrication
Penetrating oils are designed to loosen rust and corrosion, making them effective for freeing stuck suspension components and fasteners. By displacing moisture and penetrating tight spaces, they facilitate disassembly and cleaning — although their primary purpose is overcoming resistance rather than long-term lubrication).
- Compatible with: Rusty or corroded components like nuts, bolts, and fasteners
- Not safe for: Long-term lubrication, as it is primarily used for freeing stuck parts
White Lithium Grease
This grease type withstands high temperatures and moisture, making it suitable for suspension components like hinges and latches. Its resistance to water ensures that these parts continue operating smoothly over time. On the flip side, it can accumulate dirt and grime and is thinner than silicone-based lubricants due to its Moly (Molybdenum Disulfide) content.
- Compatible with: Door hinges, latches, hinges, metal components
- Not safe for: Rubber suspension components
Graphite powder offers dry lubrication for locks and key mechanisms, reducing friction and allowing for smooth operation without attracting dirt. It’s particularly useful when traditional wet lubricants aren’t suitable, although it may require more frequent reapplication.
- Compatible with: Lock cylinders, key tumblers
- Not safe for: Components requiring wet lubrication
Copper Anti-Seize Compound
Copper anti-seize compounds are effective at preventing metal parts from seizing and deteriorating. Their protective qualities facilitate component maintenance, even in challenging environments, despite their sometimes messy application.
- Compatible with: Fasteners, bolts, threaded connections
- Not safe for: Suspension components where a solid lubricant could interfere with movement or performance
How to Perform Suspension Lubrication
Finally, we’ve come to the gist of today’s guide! Without further ado, here’s a step-by-step outline of how to reduce noise and maintain the performance of your vehicle’s suspension system:
1. Gather Necessary Supplies
Collect the required tools and materials for the task. These include a jack, jack stands, penetrating oil or silicone-based lubricant, rags, and a wrench or socket set — in addition to the below items:
- Grease gun
- Spray lubricant
- Safety gear
- Blocks or chocks (to secure the vehicle’s wheels and prevent it from rolling while elevated)
- Wooden block or spare tire (placed under the vehicle for additional safety in case the latter falls off the jack stands)
- Ramps or safety stands
- Silicone spray (optional, typically for rubber)
- Wire and solvent (optional)
2. Safety First
Park on a flat surface and engage the parking brake. Use the jack and jack stands to elevate the front or rear of the car (whichever suspension component you’re working on) to a safe working height.
3. Prepare Workspace and Vehicle Positioning
Ensure you have enough space underneath the vehicle for safe access. If your car has ample ground clearance, you can crawl underneath with the grease gun. Otherwise, use ramps or safety stands to elevate the vehicle. Put the parking brake on and place blocks behind the wheels. Add a sturdy object like a block of wood under the car for added security.
4. Locate Squeaky Points
Once positioned, identify the squeaky suspension components, such as bushings, joints, or pivot points. Common areas include control arms, sway bar links, and suspension mounts. Listening or feeling while a helper turns the wheel can help pinpoint the squeak’s exact location quicker. However, be cautious with your fingers.
Squeaks in ball joints and suspension bushings often signal impending failure, and pinpointing these sources can be challenging. As such, using a sound probe to locate these issues becomes essential. While deteriorating ball joints might exhibit clear symptoms like thumping and steering issues, detecting worn bushings is tougher.
For leaf-spring vehicles, worn slide strips between spring leafs can also cause squeaks. In such cases, replacing the spring pack is often easier and more cost-effective than lubrication.
5. Clean the Area
Next, use a rag to clean the surface of the suspension components and remove any dirt, debris, or old lubricant. Cleaning the area prevents contamination of the joint’s internals and ensures better lubricant penetration. The same goes for cleaning the dust boots covering the fittings.
6. Apply Lubricant
Apply a penetrating oil or silicone-based lubricant to the squeaky parts. Focus on the pivot points, bushings, and joints. If your car has grease fittings (a.k.a. zerks or grease nipples), go around and top them all off with grease.
Be careful not to over-lubricate, as excess lubricant can attract dirt and debris. Additionally, make sure the lubricant used is compatible with rubber and that the rubber boot around the fitting starts showing signs of fresh grease.
TIP: Avoid using silicone spray forward of the firewall to prevent contamination of engine components like O2 sensors, which can trigger the Check Engine light. Use silicone to wipe down door seals to prevent winter freezing and preserve rubber.
7. Work the Suspension
Gently bounce or move the suspension components to help the lubricant work its way into the joints and bushings. This will aid in spreading the lubricant evenly and easing any friction.
8. Cover All Fittings
Your vehicle’s front suspension might have multiple grease fittings. Check tie rod ends, upper and lower ball joints, sway-bar links, and control-arm pivots. For 4×4 vehicles that encounter mud, frequent greasing is essential. If you have a driveshaft, there could be grease fittings on up to three U-joints, depending on your vehicle’s configuration.
TIP: If a fitting appears clogged, apply more pressure on the grease gun trigger. If it remains dry, try unscrewing the fitting with a wrench. Clean it using a wire and solvent, or consider replacing it with a new fitting available at an auto parts store.
9. Wipe Excess Lubricant
After allowing some time for the lubricant to penetrate, wipe off any excess with a clean rag. This prevents dripping and accumulation of dirt.
10. Lower the Vehicle
Lower the car back to the ground using the jack and jack stands.
11. Do a Test Drive
Take your vehicle for a spin to observe whether the squeaking has diminished or disappeared. If the noise persists, you may need to reapply the lubricant or inspect the components more closely for damage. If all else fails, the next step would be outsourcing the task to a professional.
Though some of them are already embedded in the above list, let me go ahead and reiterate these tips for easier facilitation of the lubrication process:
- Secure the vehicle and always use proper safety equipment.
- Wear safety gloves and eye protection to shield yourself from potential hazards.
- Ensure the vehicle is stable and balanced on the jack stands or ramps to prevent accidents.
- Be cautious of moving parts while working around the suspension. Keep hands and clothing away from areas that might suddenly move.
- Refer to your owner’s manual for specific instructions and recommended lubricants.
- Work in a well-ventilated place to avoid inhaling fumes — especially when using aerosol lubricants.
- Be mindful of hot components, and allow them to cool down first if you’ve been driving to avoid burns.
- Before lowering the vehicle from the jack stands or ramps, ensure all tools and equipment are clear, and you are in a safe position.
A great hack from Popular Mechanics is to lube other wear-prone parts alongside your squeaky suspension. Below are some of these components and corresponding tips for each:
Coil or leaf springs and rubber suspension bushings
Soaking in spray-on lithium grease is effective for springs, while silicone spray is better for rubber bushings.
Hinges and latch mechanisms
Use aerosol penetrating lube followed by aerosol lithium grease to eliminate corrosion on doors, the hood, and the trunk. You can also lubricate hood-release mechanisms with a spray penetrant or carb cleaner to remove dirt and old grease and then apply aerosol lithium grease after.
Treat sticky door-latch mechanisms with dry-film spray on the inside and lithium grease on the outside of the gasket. For late-model plastic bushings, flush them with aerosol dry-film lube to prevent dust buildup.
Key tumblers and winter freeze prevention
Clean door drains and apply lithium grease to the locking mechanism to prevent moisture accumulation. Prevent frozen seals by wiping them with silicone to repel ice — avoid over-spraying. Also, use only graphite for key tumblers — avoid penetrating oil.
There is also a great step-by-step guide on how to lubricate rubber bushings, specifically by One How To.
Remember, proper maintenance is essential for the longevity and performance of your vehicle’s suspension system. Regular inspection and lubrication of components can help prevent issues and ensure a smooth and quiet ride. Again, if you’re unsure about any step, it’s recommended to consult your service manual or seek assistance from a professional mechanic.
Everyone can agree that the best way to address squeaky suspension is by pairing lubrication with prevention. That said, here are recommended timelines to follow to help keep lubricating your vehicle’s suspension and entire chassis to a minimum:
Every 6,000—15,000 miles or 6—12 months
According to multiple online sources, a vehicle’s suspension system should be thoroughly inspected every 12,000—15,000 miles or at every alignment. But depending on the car’s age, condition, and application, a visual inspection may need to happen every 6,000—10,000 miles — if not shorter, especially for vehicles that have been recently in an accident or those that exhibit sudden changes in ride or handling mannerisms.
Given normal circumstances and conscientious driving habits, the same interval applies to individual suspension components. The only exception is springs — they have no specific interval since they typically have a longer lifespan:
- Control arms
- Ball joints
- Sway bar links
- Tie rod ends
- Shock absorbers
As needed or when visibly dirty
How often you need to clean your car’s suspension to prevent it from squeaking unceremoniously hinges on what you discover during inspections. Therefore, interval-wise, cleaning mirrors the above timelines — unless you live in areas with wet and muddy weather conditions or your vehicle’s usage is similar in nature.
Every 6,000—15,000 miles or 6—12 months
Across all suspension layouts, recommended frequencies for chassis lubrication vary and are contingent on visual inspection intervals and results. However, some car parts manufacturers like MOOG suggest lubing at every oil change for heavy-duty vehicles and during each tire rotation (typically once a year) for standard-duty vehicles. Based on this recommendation, their proposed lubrication interval may happen sooner than the 15,000-mile mark.
Best Lubricants for Squeaky Suspension
While preferences may vary, here are some well-regarded lubricant brands for each type:
- MOBIL DELVAC Xtreme Grease (view on Amazon)
- Sta-Lube’s Moly-Graph Extreme Pressure Multi-Purpose Grease (view on Amazon)
- Silicone Spray
- 3M Silicone Lubricant
- Permatex Silicone Spray Lubricant
- CRC Extreme Duty Silicone Lubricant (view on Amazon)
- Dry-Film Lubricant
- DuPont Teflon Non-Stick Dry-Film Lubricant
- CRC Dry PTFE Lubricant
- Penetrating Oil
- Liquid Wrench Penetrating Oil
- PB Blaster Penetrating Catalyst (view on Amazon)
- Kroil Penetrating Oil
- White Lithium Grease
- Valvoline WD-40 Specialist Protective White Lithium Grease Spray (view on Amazon)
- Permatex White Lithium Grease
- CRC White Lithium Grease
- Graphite Powder
- DuPont Teflon Dry-Film Lubricant with Teflon
- AGS Graphite Lubricant
- Copper Anti-Seize Compound
- Permatex 80208-12PK Anti-Seize Lubricant (view on Amazon)
- Loctite Copper Anti-Seize Stick
- CRC Copper Anti-Seize Lubricant
Remember that availability and preferences can differ based on location and personal experiences. Hence, I recommend reading reviews and considering the specific needs of your vehicle and suspension components when selecting a lubricant brand.
Conclusion — How to Lubricate Suspension
Irrespective of make and model, quieting squeaky suspension is paramount in the world of vehicle care. By performing the procedure outlined in this guide and your owner’s manual to the T and choosing the right lubricant (like versatile grease and specialized silicone spray), you are ensured improved fluidity and longer-lasting components.
With this knowledge, you can now maintain your vehicle’s suspension system at its peak performance. And personally, nothing beats a hushed and well-maintained suspension system that always provides a smooth, comfortable, and controlled ride.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.