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Just replaced K-Frame: (1999) noticed missing stabilizer-bar!

12-07-2011, 01:24 AM
Well, my k-frame / crossmember / xmember / subframe looked fine a few months ago, but did have a crack that ran on the visible top-surface on passenger-side between the vertical pillar and the connection to the j-body(?).

As the wife drove around shopping in the rain earlier, there was a small squeaking noise when making extreme turns in the parking lot. I thought this was just the 'new' snow-tires doing something typical, squealing on a turn due to sticky rubber/rain.

I was wrong. The front tires were rubbing on the plastic guard at the rear part of the front wheel-well, because the k-frame had buckled and the wheel was too far back.

Later wife complained about 'a noise', rough driving. I was thinking "uh oh, could that be either a CV axle failure? or one of the newly replaced front bearings was a flaw..." So we went for a short test-drive around the corner at slow speeds.

Now a much louder tire-grinding was heard. It was night, and raining still. We tried to re-park in driveway but then...

A real LOUD banking/crunching on acceleration to attempt going uphill on driveway. A little experimenting showed it was the passenger-side axle. It sounded like it had ripped loose and was flailing around behind the wheel (unable to see).

Car was blocking street but managed to move it a few feet in neutral with engine running (for steering) to park it. Unfortunately, its illegal to overnight park on street,
so we had to get it out of there.

Upon trying to push vehicle, I noticed the wheels were so greatly out of alignment that it couldn't be pushed by 3 men.

I tried different wheel steering positions, but manuvering the car was hopeless, as was pushing it.
I briefly thought of taking one wheel off entirely, but couldn't get car over sidewalk.

Finally, a combination of replacing one front tire with the undersize spare (so it would slide more easily) and pushing with another vehicle (with a spare tire between them) got it off the street into driveway.
(all this because being broke I couldn't afford a tow-truck).

Now I was able to jack it up in driveway and assess damage:

(1) K-Frame buckled, putting wheels at angles to each other.

(2) Because K-Frame buckled, the axle pulled out of the inner CV joint and started smashing against itself, destroying CV joint and boot.

(3) I was already in process of redoing front brakelines and caliper, so had to accelerate that job too.


Had to drop exhaust-pipe to get k-frame out. The youtube video I saw cut the pipe, but this seemed like extra work, so
I tried unbolting pipe from engine manifold.

Unfortunately, one bolt broke off in manifold. Haven't solved that yet.

K-frame bolts came out fairly easily (mild surprise), and frame wasn't rusted too much so that I was also able to get the two bolts holding in the steering-rack off without too much trouble.

(in video, fellow stripped out inaccessable welded nut for steering rack, and had to drop out steering rack too! Be very careful taking out these bolts, so as not to tear off hidden nuts!)

Still had to pry out steering rack, which was a bit of a hassle. Glad that I watched video, which strongly advised bending k-frame slot to make putting steering rack in easier, and I did this: it worked!.

K-frame was far more rusted than appearance or even inspection would show: Most of the rusting out was on the INSIDE of the hollow portions of the k-frame, at the pillars.

After a lot of phoning and begging, I located a proper replacement k-frame (K-frames are the same for 97 - 2002: Its a different part number for 2003, and one wrecker didn't think it would fit a 1999, so I kept looking and found one - 2002. I am happy to report that k-frame came with control arms and lower balljoints in good shape (although not greaseable - no nipples!) and fit 1999 well.)

Turning to CV axle, I find out that it is a 'discontinued' part, and neither Canadian Tire nor the Dealers can supply it!
A third-party got us one, but it turned out to be about one inch too long (otherwise it would have worked) . Someone else is now promising they have one in stock, but I haven't seen it.

While inspecting the old K-frame, and scavenging for steel bolts (impossible to find - these have to be best steel, I think 10.9 rated),

...I noticed that MY OLD K-FRAME has NO STABILIZER BAR! It has the slots and holes to mount one, but one other difference (or nuisance) was that the power steering line was bolted to the k-frame by a clamp which must be cut or removed to get the k-frame out - watch out not to damage the hoses.

Now either there was no stabilizer-bar as original equipment (I can believe this), or else someone already replaced the k-frame once (without a bar) and/or stole the stabilizer-bar upon replacing it.

This disturbs me, but there is a silver lining:

On the one hand, a stabilizer-bar would probably have stopped or slowed the buckling of the k-frame, preventing the damage to the CV-Axle. Thus it is a critically important part which contributes to the strength, integrity, and safety of the vehicle.

If the k-frame buckles during say a 60 mph ride, I think the car would lose control and become a death-trap.

On the other hand, if the k-frame had not easily buckled at low speeds, I wouldn't have known about how extensive the k-frame damage was, as most of the rusting-out was not on the outside or visible.

This means that cars with a stabilizer-bar will not show signs of the danger until the k-frame is so rusted as to be extremely dangerous, so that is why I am posting all this information, and also to get some comments.

Perhaps other Cavalier owners will want to now re-examine their k-frames a lot more closely and carefully, and take pre-emptive action by replacing or re-inforcing them before there is a bigger problem.

The fact that even the CV-Axles have been discontinued is also a big headache, since its the same part for 1997-2002 vehicles. Thats a lot of cavaliers and Sunfires.

Mine is a 2.2 litre engine, automatic 3-speed, and the right (passenger) side CV-Axle failed.

Another nice thing about getting out the k-frame is that I was able to spray up there some rust-converter and paint, to prevent rear brakelines and gas lines from rusting further and falling apart. Also I was able to paint the power-steering lines on the steering rack, to prevent rust there too.

I bent outward (apart) the ridges which hold in the steering-rack and allow it to bolt onto the k-frame. this tip worked and made putting in the new k-frame easier, as I was able to move the steering rack around a bit and pry it into position with a screwdriver in the bolt-hole etc.

One of the steering-rack bolts can only be removed by a spanner (closed ended flatwrench), and its a difficult fit. Its worthwhile to inspect all the bolts, oil them etc. as some were rather rusty. It looks as if the threads rusted right off on the ends, but these bolts have the threads filed off to allow better feeding them in the holes.

I used a jack to hold up the k-frame, and got all the bolts in the holes loosely threaded before tightening them down. Make sure you get the steering-rack in place first too before tightening the bolts.
I managed to scavenge some more bolts from the old k-frame control arms. I am grateful that the k-frame came with these however, as they are difficult to remove and my old control arms were pretty crappy and rusty.

When I removed the old (half) CV axle, it pops out by prying vigorously, and pops in by tapping on metal grooveof inner joint-case with a hammer and large flathead screwdriver.
Very little automatic transmission fluid came out when I popped the joint out. This could be a function of angle of car.

As explained, I still haven't secured a replacement CV Axle yet, and I am skeptical when a parts place says they have one...I have to return one already. Even in a big city center, there aren't that many wreckers here, and maybe used CV axles aren't much of a bargain, or the best replacment practice.
The wrong axle cost me $160 so far...

On the bright side, it looks as if the failed CV axle did no damage to the rest of the car, or the wheel, but only to itself, smashing the bearings against the end of the housing, and tearing the rubber boot, and splashing grease around.

My final question is,

Do other Cavaliers (sedan, 2.2L, 1999 etc.) are they also missing stabilizer bars for the front end?

12-09-2011, 08:10 AM
Minor update.

The dealer wanted $1,300 for the discontinued CV axle.

Other suppliers were trying to talk me into buying a new one,
but one not equipped with a "stub-axle",
which means I would have to find a machinist to pop the old one off,
and put it on a new one,
again making job ridiculously expensive.

I ended up going to wrecker and getting one for $75 (plus $20 for a 6-month warranty- seems worth it).
It went straight in with no problems or complications.

The K-frame went back on okay.
I found out the torque for the bolts holding it on should be about 71 ft/lbs.

All is good, except alignment is way off, (toe-out!),
So I'm going to adjust by eye using the following string technique just to make it drivable:


On the positive side, I traded in an unneeded steering rack
for a couple of snow tires.


My car actually has a 4-speed transaxle.
I thought it was a 3-speed, because it has 3 speeds, 1,2,3 and Drive.
I assumed "Drive" was just the 'automatic' position, in which 1, 2 and 3 were alternated as needed.
Apparently its a "4-speed" because either "D" or "R" counts as a speed.

There is no "overdrive" or position marked "O",
nor do I discern any special 'overdrive' button or switch elsewhere on car.

A check with dealer using VIN # (only the last 8 digits are needed, starting with 'X')
shows it as a "4T40E" transaxle/transmission.
Apparently the first "4" means "4-speed". I assume "T" means transmission, but I don't know what 40E means.

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