This is the story of a thump noise coming from the left front on a 2003 Nissan Maxima. The article will identify the exact cause of the problem and a better explanation of the symptoms experienced by the driver.
Maybe even more important than what was wrong with the car was the difficulty in getting this diagnosed properly from an independent auto repair facility. Initial estimates and second opinions came in at around $1K-$3000.
In the end the actual repair to fix the complaint was closer to the $200 range. This including an egg muffin sandwich for the mechanic. Whenever something like this happens it seems to be a great opportunity to learn something from the experience.
Nissan Maxima a Safe Family Car
Before we dig into the nuts and bolts of the symptoms and solutions of the thumping noise, I wanted to provide a little background about the car and the family that drives it. You can skip this and scroll to the next headline.
This automobile is named Max and it belongs to an ex-customer and friend from the Northeast. I lost touch with the family when I moved to Florida, but interestingly enough I stumbled upon them on the G+ plus social network.
She contacted me and stated she was having a problem with Max and we did a couple of hangouts to video chat about a severe thump they were experiencing when braking.
Unfortunately, her personal situation had worsened since I left NJ. She was now divorced and a single mother of two children with learning disabilities. Her life had become a constant struggle to survive. The Maxima provided the only form of transportation to the family and was approaching 160,000 miles.
Nissan Making Scary Noises
There’s no question that the Maxima is a great car capable of lasting a long time if properly maintained.
The driver said the noise was a loud single thump that could be heard from the left side tire area when the brakes were applied quickly at Highway speeds.
At first it was only during emergency braking, but now it was happening with every application of the brake pedal. It’s very difficult for me to diagnose suspension noise problems on a video chat.
I did however start to get a feeling like she was describing a problem with the left front strut mount. She had taken it in for diagnosis and received a $3100 estimate. The shop stated they provided a discount to her because of her family situation.
She sent me a copy of the estimate and it was easy to believe that everything listed could be needed on this automobile, because of the high mileage and age.
Front strut mounts were on the estimate so I was still leaning towards this component as causing the problem, but there was something else that caught my attention and this was lower control arms.
Second Opinion on the 2003 Maxima
When evaluating the first estimate, there was a lot of things on there that would not generate a thump sound when you apply the brakes on the lower left side.
Things like engine mounts and rubber transmission mounts that were recommended would make noises when shifting from park to drive and to reverse.
Other items on the first estimate raised some red flags for me, because they included fuel injector cleaning and throttle body service, brake system flush, power steering fluid service and a rotate and balance the tires. With this list of needed services I recommend a second opinion.
The driver agreed and moves the vehicle to a chain store for another estimate. I asked her to drive with the service adviser and point out the noise that she wanted evaluated. The second opinion was far less than the first one coming in at $1200.
The only item on both the second and first opinion estimates was the lower control arms. In both cases the shop recommended a complete replacement of the control arm that came with new bushings and the ball joints.
Parts estimates were over $300 per control arm. My first thought was maybe we could get the bushings separate and have those replaced instead of the entire control arm to save money?
As I looked into it further, it turns out you can get a new control arm with bushings and a ball joint in the eighty dollar range from Amazon. This is a good deal in my opinion, so the driver purchased the parts.
I hooked her up with an old friend that was an excellent mechanic interested in doing the job on the side for some extra cash. In the end she was out of pocket $175 and the car was fixed.
This Thump or Bump Taught Me a Lesson
When it comes to independent front suspension problems in my mind these are considered safety related. They point the car in the right direction and keep it there.
Having the lower control arm jumping around should be corrected immediately and the item highlighted by the repair center as a serious problem, not buried in an estimate with twenty eight hundred dollars worth of preventative services.
In this situation both of the estimates provided from the local repair centers included a lot of high profit services that didn’t address the driver’s complaint.
Look, no one can argue an eleven-year-old car with 160,000 miles could probably use most of the things on the estimates. The point is the customer’s situation warranted repairing the most serious problem first which was the thump sound when braking.
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5th Generation Maxima Suspension Parts
We all know when a first estimate sounds high we should get a second opinion. In this case a second opinion was helpful, but not the solution. Maybe drivers should seek a third and fourth opinion and discuss it with a trusted mechanic.
With the amount of money saved on this one job it would seem an exercise in good judgment to fully evaluate the situation before approving repairs. See what else the website offers on the homepage.