Changing the CV Joints on my 2003 Acura TL 3.2

December 25, 2011

Why do this?

For over a year now, my 2003 Acura TL 3.2 had been making creaking sounds each time I would take the car around a corner. There was no sound when the car was moving straight forward and there was no sound when turning the steering wheel when the car was stationary. I took the car to several shops and they all recommended that the CV joints needed to be replaced. I took the car to an "AutoZone" store where the clerk looked up the exact parts to fit my car. It was $150 to do it myself, or $550 to have it done professionally, based on three hours labor.

I am writing this narrative because I am not satisfied with any of the guides to doing this work I have seen on the internet. At first, I wanted to write this as a guide, but once it became clear to me that I don't have all the answers about this work, I decided to write this as a narrative in the hopes that what I have to say, others will find useful.

Narrative

Last weekend, I was visiting family where we have a large garage to do this sort of project. I tried to follow the directions I found on the internet to do this work, but after many hours of struggling, I wasn't able to do it. In order to get the job done, I returned to "AutoZone" and spoke to the clerk there about my troubles. I was delighted with the knowledge and insight that the people who work at "AutoZone" had regarding my trouble. Following their advice and with some help from family, the work got done on the passenger side.

I completed the work today on the driver's side in the same garage. The total time to complete the work on the driver's side was under three hours, including a short break. Here is what I did today:

  1. First, I cracked the lug nuts on the driver's side, raised the car up on a jack, secured it with a jack-stand, and removed the wheel. Here is what I see when I remove the wheel. The assembly here is known as the "wheel hub". The large nut in the center is called an "axle nut". On my particular car, this is a 36mm bolt. AutoZone will allow you to borrow a 1/2" drive 36mm socket for a $20 refundable deposit.
    wheel hub photo
  2. Next, my assistant removed the axle nut using a ratchet with a 4 foot pipe to extend the handle. This is absolutely essential because the axle nut is very tight!
    axle nut removal
  3. There is a part behind the wheel hub called the "strut fork". It is a fork shaped connector that attaches to the strut (shock absorber). It is held in place with two bolts. I used a 14mm socket to remove to upper bolt. The lower bolt has a nut on one end. The bolt and the nut are both 17mm. I used two sockets at once: one to hold the nut in place, and the other to remove the bolt.
    strut fork photo
  4. Next, I remove two bolts. There is one bolt up and to the right from the wheel hub. There is another bolt at the very bottom of the wheel assembly. Both are held in place with cotter pins. I pinched the cotter pins with a pair of pliers and carefully tapped them out with a hammer. Then I removed both bolts with a 17mm socket. I needed to use my pipe again to get enough leverage to remove the bottom nut.
    upper joint photo lower joint photo
  5. The joint that the lower cotter-pin secured bolt goes into is called the "lower ball joint". The joint must be separated in order to remove the old CV joint. In order to get it apart, I used a tool specifically made for this purpose: a ball joint seperator. AutoZone will loan this tool to you for a refundable $15 deposit. The tool looks like a tuning fork. There is a rubber gasket where the joint comes apart. The proper procedure to separate the joint is to place the U-shaped end of the seperator around the rubber gasket and pound on the other end with a hammer. Eventually, the joint will separate.
    ball join separator tool photo gasket
  6. Finally, with the lower ball joint separated, I could lift the wheel hub assembly from the joint and pull it away from the CV joint. Once that was done, I found where the old CV joint was connected to the transmission. I pried the old CV joint out with a pry bar and tossed it in the trash.
  7. I found installation of the new CV joint to be relatively straight-forward. I had one assistant hold the wheel hub assembly (It is heavy) out of the way while I slotted the new CV joint into the transmission. It took several mallet blows to drive the new CV joint all the way into the transmission. In order to avoid damaging the new CV joint, I tapped a block of wood against the CV joint instead of hitting it directly. I've read that a rubber or plastic mallet also works very well.
  8. Once the new CV joint is installed in the transmission, I simply reversed all the previous steps to put the car back together.

Pitfalls

In working on both sides, I discovered a few pitfalls I would like to help you avoid.

First, when removing the old CV joint, it is very easy to accidentally "dislocate" one of its internal joints, like pulling your arm out of your shoulder. In this case, it will appear that the new joint is shorter than the old joint. This is normal, but be gentle with your car, especially if you don't have the new part ready yet.

The second pitfall is more insidious. When I put the cotter-pin secured nut back on the lower ball joint, I had trouble as the bolt kept turning with the nut. The bolt is not exposed anywhere else, so it seemed like it would be impossible to secure the bolt. Fortunately, before I completely lost all traction with which to secure the lower ball joint bolt, I got the bolt far enough on to secure it with a cotter pin. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who knows of a good solution to this problem.

If you're using this information to work on your own car, I disclaim any responsibility for what happens. I will not be responsible for your car or your safety. I would advice you to make sure you have plenty of time and patience to get the job done. This is not an easy job, but you will save yourself a lot of money that you would have paid someone else to do it for you.