Rebuilding Your C10's Front End

Written by: Mike Ervin

If you are thinking about upgrading or just installing new parts on your trucks front end, here is the way I did mine.  There is nothing easy about this job but it can be done at home with normal mechanics tools.  I bought a complete front end rebuild kit from Performance Suspension Components to do mine but I guess you could buy the parts separate if you like.  My kit came with a complete Energy Suspension polyurethane bushing set which consisted of upper/lower control arm bushings, sway bar bushings, and tie rod end boots.  It has both upper/lower ball joints, both inner/outer tie rod ends, and the idler arm.  While I was at it, I installed new calipers, pads, and brake hoses.  I even went as far as to buy some new caliper bolts.  Also, now is a good time to paint everything while it is off of the truck.

Parts Removal

First thing is to get your truck up on some good jack stands.  Remove the wheels/tires.  Remove the brake hoses at the caliper and upper control arm on both sides and hang them up out of the way.  I installed new brake hoses on front and rear.  If you are planning on new hoses, remove the hoses completely.  Remove the calipers, brake pads, and rotors.  Remove the sway bar if equipped.  It is attached with four brackets, two on the frame, and one at each lower control arm.  Now for the tie rod.  I used a pickle fork made for tie rod removal to remove the tie rod ends at the spindles first.  Then use the same fork to remove the ends at the idler arm (passenger side mounted to frame support on frame) and pitman arm (drivers side mounted to steering box).  Next, remove the idler arm from the idler arm support on frame again using the pickle fork.  Lay all these parts aside for now.

All of the following steps are required for both sides.

Spindle Removal:

Remove the bottom bolt from the shock mount at the lower control arm.  Use a chain to run through the coil springs to hold them in place until you drop the lower control arm enough to take the pressure off.  This will make sure they don't fly out and hit you.  These springs have a lot of force so be real careful.  Once the chain is in place, put a floor jack under the lower control arm and raise it just a little.  Next remove the cotter pin from the top ball joint nut and loosen a few threads.  Don't remove the nut all the way yet.  Use a ball joint pickle fork to break the top ball joint loose from the spindle.  A ball joint pickle fork has a wider area between the forks so it will fit around the ball joint stud.  Once the upper ball joint is loose, remove the nut.  Now being real careful, lower the floor jack to take the pressure off the coil spring.  Once all pressure if off, remove the chain and coil spring.  They make a tool to help remove the lower ball joint, but I made my own.  I used a long 1/2" bolt and nut, washer.  The bolt needs to be threaded all the way up.  Stick the open end of the bolt down through the upper ball joint hole in the spindle.  Put the flat washer and then the nut onto the bolt.  Hold the end of the bolt onto the end of the lower ball joint stud and tighten the nut until it makes contact with the spindle.  With the floor jack under the lower control arm to hold it up level, remove the cotter pin from the ball joint nut and loosen the nut a few threads. Don't remove the nut all the way yet.  Now tighten the nut on the home made ball joint removal tool and while tightening use a 2 pound hammer to rap on the spindle right beside the ball joint.  Keep tightening the nut and rapping the spindle until it breaks loose.  Believe me, this will work.  I know because this is the way I removed my lower ball joints from the spindle.  Once the ball joint breaks loose, remove the ball joint nut and spindle.

Control Arm Removal:

The top control arm is mounted to the frame with two lock nuts.  The best way to remove these nuts is with an impact wrench.  Loosen the nuts enough so you can get the shims from behind the control arm shaft.  Make sure you keep all the shims together so you can install them back into the same location.  The best way I found was to tape them together with masking tape and label them as to their location.  Now finish removing the nuts and then upper control arm.  The bottom control arm is mounted to the cross member with two u-bolts.  Again it is fastened with lockouts.  Remove both u-bolts and lower and remove the control arm.

I took the time now to really clean everything up and give it a real good inspection to see if I had any problems with any of the pieces I removed.  If everything checks out OK, we can start with removing the control arm bushings.

Control Arm Bushing Removal:

This is a real pain in the butt the first time you try this.  I found out it's not all that hard to do once you figure out what needs to be done in order to get these out.  The upper control arm bushings are easier to do than the lower because they have the insert sticking out from the control arm.  What I used to remove mine was an array of tools.  The most important tool I had was my air chisel.  This will make easy work of removing the bushings.  If you don't have an air chisel and compressor, you can get by with a real good cold chisel and hammer.  Again, they make tools to remove the bushings but I couldn't locate any.  You will need a good bench vise to hold the control arms stationary while you work on them.  First remove the cross shaft nuts and washers.  Keep the washers and nuts for upper and lower control arms separated because they are different.  For the upper control arm bushings, place the chisel on the bushing insert flange and start chiseling.  It will take a little time but you will finally start to see the insert start moving.  Work around the insert while using the air chisel (or chisel and hammer) and it should come out fairly easy.  Once you have one bushing out, you can remove the cross shaft.  Now it's just a matter of removing the other bushing and insert.

The lower control arms are a bit more tough.  Partly because of no area on the insert to put the chisel onto while you get the bushing started.  Make an aligning mark on the control arm and on the cross shaft so you will have a reference point so you will have the holes in the shaft in the same place as before removal.  Again, remove both cross shaft nuts and washers.  I found it easier to lay mine in the floor upside down to gain access to the space on the back side of the bushing between control flanges.  There is a little bit of the insert sticking out on the inside.  It will have three places it has been crimped.  Use a punch to straighten these out.  Now use the punch again to get the bushing inserts started moving out.  Then after you have the inside ends flush, use the chisel on the sleeve in between the control arm flanges.  It will take a lot of persuading, but believe me it will come out.  When one bushing is out, do the same to the other one.  On mine when I had one out and started removing the other one it came out with the cross shaft still attached.  No problem, just clamp it in the vise and cut or chisel it off.  Use this same technique to both lower control arms.

Next you need to remove the ball joints.  The upper ball joints are attached by rivets.  Just clamp the arms in a vise and use your chisel to cut off the rivet heads and they will come right out.  The lower ball joints are a pressed in fit.  I used a piece of pipe to fit around the grease fitting end and laid the control arm on the floor with the ball joint on this pipe.  Then I used my 2 lb. hammer to beat on the ball joint stud to knock it out.  Worked great for me.

Parts Installation

Control Arm Bushings:

My urethane bushings consisted of three pieces.  The outer metal insert, bushing, and metal sleeve.  You need to remove the bushings from the inserts to install them.  You also need a piece of pipe to use as a receiver to aid in the installation.  For the upper control arm, start the bushing insert in the control arm.  Then while holding the pipe in place on the inside of the control arm, clamp it in the vise and start tightening.  It should slide right in.  Keep going until the insert is all the way in.  Do this for both inserts.  Slide the metal sleeve into the bushing and then the bushing into one insert (using some of the supplied grease), and then install the cross shaft.  The cross shaft needs to be installed with the side away from the ball joint having the curved in areas where it bolts up to the frame.  If you notice the shims have a square shim which goes on last and it is curved on the outside.  Anyway, after you install the cross shaft in one bushing, put the other metal sleeve into the other bushing and slide this bushing in the insert and cross shaft on the other end.  If you are using polyurethane bushings, be sure you use some of the supplied silicone grease.  Put some of the grease on the inside bushing sleeve when you press them into the bushings and the bushing it's self when you install the bushing into the sleeve.  Clamp the upper control arm in the vise by the cross shaft.  Slide one washer onto each end and start a lock nut.  Torque each nut to 115 ft.lbs.  Do this for both upper control arms.

The lower control arm bushings are installed a little different.  You need to place a socket in between the flanges so you don't bend them together when you press in the bushings.  Make sure it is a snug fit so it doesn't fall out.  Then it is sort of the same process as the upper control arms.  Start an insert and place the piece of pipe on the receiving end and clamp it in the vise.  Tighten it until the insert is all the way in.  Do this on both bushings inserts.  Use the punch to make three crimps on the inside end of each bushing insert similar to the way they were before.  Slide a sleeve into a bushing and then into the insert, again using some of the silicone grease.  Install the cross shaft and align the marks you made earlier.  Now slide a sleeve into the other bushing and into the insert, then onto the cross shaft. Again, put on the washers and torque each nut to 115 ft.lbs.

The top ball joints are bolted in with supplied bolts, nuts and washers.  The bottom joints are press-in fit so you will need to press them in with a pipe and socket.  Don't press on the joint with just the vise only.  Use a socket so it will go in evenly.

Control Arm Installation:

Start by installing the lower control arms first.  If you notice, the cross shaft has aligning holes which aligns with studs inside the control arm mounting saddles.  Install both u-bolts and while tightening make sure you get the holes aligned with the studs.  Torque all four u-bolt nuts to 85 ft.lbs.

For the upper control arm, untape your shims and set them back on the control arm mounting studs in the correct order.  Now slide your control arm onto the studs.  If you followed the instructions above the cross shaft should have the side with the holes sunk in toward the frame.  Torque the nuts to 70 ft.lbs.

Take the time to clean up your sway bar and remove the old bushings.  Grease the new bushings and install them on the bar.  You need to put the split side toward the engine for the two middle bushings.  The ones going on the sway bar ends need to have the split toward the wheel.  Push the clamps on the bushings and mount it to the frame brackets.  Torque the bolts to 25 ft.lbs.  Raise the bar up and onto the lower control arm.  After you get all four bolts and nuts started, torque to 25 ft.lbs.

Spindle Installation:

Set the coil spring into the lower control arm spring pocket.  While holding it in place pull up on the control arm so the spring will stay in.  Place the floor jack under the control arm to hold it up.  If you used a chain to hold the spring in, install it now.  Now jack up the control arm and make sure the spring fits in both upper and lower pockets.  Set the spindle onto the lower ball joint stud and start the nut a few threads so it doesn't come off.  Slide the top ball joint into the top spindle hole and again start the nut.  After both nuts are on, torque the upper nut to 50 ft.lbs. and any additional amount needed to align it so you can install the cotter pin, not to exceed 90 ft.lbs.  Torque the lower nut to 90 ft.lbs. not to exceed 130 ft.lbs.  Before lowering the jack, install the bottom of the shock to the lower control arm and torque the mounting nut to 60 ft.lbs.  If you removed the entire shock or are installing new ones, the upper shock mounting bolt torque to 140 ft.lbs.  Now you can lower the floor jack and remove the safety chain.  Make sure you install all cotter pins.  Do all the above steps for both sides.

Tie Rod Rebuild and Installation:

First install the new idler arm (big end to frame mount) and torque the nut to 25 ft.lbs.  Lay your tie rod on the work bench.  Remove the two nuts and cotter pins from ends on relay rod (center link) and use tie rod pickle fork to remove the inner ends.  Now you have two tie rod sections.  Loosen all four of the adjusting sleeve clamp nuts.  So you can get it real close to the same length so it will be driveable for you to get to an alignment shop, measure each tie rod end before you remove them.  Measure from the end of the adjusting sleeve to the center of the grease fitting.  Do this on all four ends  Also measure from the center of the grease fitting on the outside end to the inside ends grease fitting.  Write these measurements down so you don't loose them.  It is a good idea to draw a diagram as to location and direction of each measurement.  After you are done with this part start unscrewing each end one at a time.  Count the number of turns it takes for each one to come out.  This will give a general idea of how far it needs to be screwed back in when you install them.  After you have them all out, clean the relay rod (center link) and adjusting sleeves real good.  Install the new grease fittings in the new ends.  You probably noticed the ends are different lengths, outside are short, inside are long.  Start each one in the sleeve and count the turns you wrote down from before.  When you are close, measure each one as you measured in removal.  Check all measurements from sleeve to grease fittings and grease fitting to grease fittings.  Make sure they are the same as before you dismantled them.  Torque the sleeve clamp nuts to 12 ft.lbs.  Make sure the slot in the sleeve isn't in the same area as the open part of the clamp.  Slide the tie rod boots onto the studs.  Install your new sections back on the relay rod (inside holes) and torque the nuts to 41 ft.lbs.

If by now you are lost as to which way the tie rod goes back on, don't worry, it won't fit but one way.  The relay rod (center link) has a hole in each end.  One is smaller than the other.  Also, the holes are tapered the same as the holes for the tie rods.  The small hole goes to the idler arm (passenger side), and the big hole goes on the pitman arm (steering box).  Install these nuts and torque to 41 ft.lbs.  Install the outer tie rod ends into the spindles and torque the nuts to 41 ft.lbs.  You may need to loosen the adjustment sleeve clamps to get the outer ends in the correct position so they line up with the spindle hole.  Don't forget to put new cotter pins in all the holes that have them.

Finishing Up:

Grease all the new ball joints, tie rod ends and idler arm.  You will have two upper ball joints, and two lower.  Four tie rod ends, and the idler arm.  Install the brake splash shield and torque nuts to 10 ft.lbs.  Slide the rotor onto the spindle and grease the outside bearings and slide it in.  Put on the washer, aligning the tab with the groove in the spindle shaft.  Install the spindle nut torque to 12 ft.lbs.  Back off the nut until loose, then tighten it finger tight.  Loosen it just enough to align it for the cotter pin.  Reinstall dust cap.  Put your brake pads in the caliper and install caliper.  Reattach the brake hose to caliper.  Make sure you have a new copper washer on top and bottom of hose fitting block.  Fill the master cylinder reservoir and bleed the brake system.  Put the tires and wheels back on and lower the truck back to the ground.  Get in the truck and center the steering wheel with the tires going straight ahead.  Measure the front of the tire from a groove in the tread which is the same for both tires.  Now measure the rear of the front tires in the same tread groove.  It should be toed in, which means the front measurement should be less than the rear, about 3/16", +/- 1/8".  If this measurement is off, your will need to first make sure the drivers side is inline with the rear wheel as close as you can get.  You can pull a string from rear to front along the tire sidewall.  The front tires stick out farther than the rear, 1/2" on each side to be exact.  To adjust the drivers wheel, loosen the drivers side adjustment clamps and turn the sleeve until this side is correct.  When the drivers side is right, tighten the adjustment clamps.  Now again, check the front and back measurement of the front tires.  Is it within the above measurements?  If not, loosen the passenger side adjustment sleeve clamps and turn the sleeve until it is within these specs.  When you get it within specs, make sure everything is tight and greased.  Double check it all.  Make absolutely sure everything is installed correctly and back on.  Check and double check.  Drive it around the block to make sure it is working OK.  After you are satisfied with your handiwork, take it to a front end alignment shop of your choice.

Now that wasn't that hard, was it?