Unlike those effete passenger cars with their sealed steering components, your one-ton Chevy van has grease fittings which will prolong the life of your suspension parts if lubricated at appropriate intervals. Unfortunately, that 18 year old kid down at Jiffy Lube probably doesn’t know or care where all the grease fittings are – they’re different on every vehicle. If you want to make sure they all get a shot of grease and live a long healthy life, it’s easy to do it yourself.
To be a real grease monkey, however, you first need to get a grease gun. Mine is a smaller version of the standard shop grease gun, because it’s easier to get into tight spaces, and a tube of grease will last me a year even in this small size. Any auto parts store sells these guns and the pre-loaded tubes of grease – to load it, unscrew the end, pull out the old cardboard tube unless your gun is brand new, remove the foil seal on the end of the new grease tube, insert it into the metal tube, and screw the end back on. Then go clean your hands – they’ll be covered in grease. Get used to this feeling – at least it’s clean grease 😉
On the end of the gun’s hose is a socket that snaps onto the grease fitting you’re trying to put grease into. After wiping the grease fitting and your grease gun hose end clean, apply firm pressure straight on and it will click into place. Pulling gently on the hose will tell you when it’s locked on – the hose will stay attached to the grease fitting. Give the fitting three squirts of grease, and then unsnap it. You should feel moderate resistance as you squeeze – if you don’t you’re either out of grease, or not on the fitting. The fittings have a spring-loaded ball valve on them to keep road grit out.
So where are all these fittings? Well, first we need to learn the names of your suspension components. Start with the A-arms, so named because they look like a capital letter A. You have an upper and a lower A arm on each front corner. There are upper and lower ball joints at the apex of these A arms, out near the wheel. On the Chevy, the grease fittings are on the top of the A arms, since the big threaded ball studs and retaining nuts with cotter pins are on the bottom. The top one is easy- just reach over the top of the tire and you can find it by feel. It’s in the center of a two inch circle of raised metal – the socket of the ball joint – and sticks straight up.
This is the top ball joint grease fitting, looking straight down over the top of the tire. The bottom one is trickier to get to – mine points out the side of the socket toward the back of the vehicle, with close tolerances around the grease gun hose end to clear the steering knuckle. It will click on the fitting once you get it lined up, though. Make sure you only give these ball joints three squeezes, otherwise you’ll overfill the ball joint rubber boots.
Once you grease the top and bottom ball joints, do the same to both ends of the tie rods (the green and blue arrows in the photo above). The outer one points down and the inner one points inward, toward the center of the vehicle., Again, too much grease will stretch or break the boots on these fittings, so two or three squeezes is all you need.
The center link, which connects the steering box to the idler arm and tie rods, also has two fittings on it. They point upward and a little toward the front of the car, so reach around and feel for these fittings to get the hose end to snap onto them.
The final front steering grease fitting is on the idler arm – this one is often overlooked because it’s out of the way and hard to reach. The idler arm is the mirror image of the arm coming out of the steering box to move the center link – just look on the right frame member to the same spot where the steering box is on the left side, and you’ll see it.
Altogether, there are four ball joint fittings, four tie rod fittings, two center link fittings, and the idler arm fitting, for a total of eleven. Sometimes you’ll see other fittings, depending on what has been replaced – I have fittings on the fixture points for my front sway bar, for instance. My 2003 maintenance schedule says to give each of these fittings a shot of grease every oil change. Yours may be different, but do what the manual says and you’ll not be paying big bucks to replace all your steering components every few years. Suspension components on our vehicles get heavy wear and tear because of the large weight of the vehicles.
Now go wash up – you’re a mess! I have found that requests for physical affection from your spouse are poorly received until you do so. You’d think they’d be grateful for all your efforts on the Chevy maintenance for the family vehicle, but for some reason it doesn’t work out that way. Sadly, there are no “kiss the mechanic” aprons.