Dear Tom and Ray:
My stepson recently discovered something dangling under his 1997 Ford Escort wagon. He took it to some mechanics, who looked underneath and found it to be the rear sway bar. Their solution: Remove the sway bar, because it's not really necessary. Not knowing any better, he took their advice. This does not sound right to me. What do you think? — Claude
Ray: If my brother removed every part that dangled off of his car, he'd have nothing left but a steering wheel.
Tom: Actually, that's dangling, too.
Ray: It would have been better to reattach the anti-sway bar, Claude. The sway bar is a thin metal bar that's attached to the undercarriage by a couple of bushings on top, and then on each end it's attached by links to the wheel's control arms. And as its name implies, it's there to keep the car from leaning too much on turns — which improves handling.
Tom: Removing it won't make the car unsafe to drive. In fact, anti-sway bars were commonly optional equipment a decade ago. But without the sway bar, the car will not handle and corner as well, or as comfortably for the driver and passengers, and your son will have to get used to driving slower on turns.
Ray: I know it's hard to imagine that you can further compromise the handling of a '97 Escort wagon, but you can.
Tom: Most often, when the sway bar fails, it's not because the bar itself has broken; it's usually because one of the links that attach the bar to the control arms has failed. Replacing a broken link with a new one probably costs $100 or less. That's well worth fixing, in my opinion.
Ray: If he doesn't fix it, he'll probably have to spend that 100 bucks on Dramamine for his passengers anyway.
Tom: So if the sway bar itself was intact, and if he still has the part they removed, he can go to another mechanic and ask them to reattach it for him. It's a five-minute job, and that's what we'd recommend.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)