3 Good Reasons Why Ball Joints Go Bad
With the assurance that most ball joints last for the car’s lifetime, we drive down the road whistling away. That’s until we start hearing a banging noise or make a true effort to keep the car in a straight line.
Oh, boy! Don’t we have bad news for you! These are simple signs of damaged ball joints. How damaged, you wonder! Damaged to the point that they must be replaced?
And why do ball joints go bad, you ask? Well, the truth is that although ball joints are made to last for a long period of time, their condition is subject to a number of factors. And so they often go bad – at least earlier than expected.
Why are ball joints so significant in the first place?
As you most likely know, the ball joints of your car are vital parts of the suspension system. They literally connect the wheel/tire with the rest of the vehicle.
And so they act as tiny bridges, which must keep the vehicle’s weight and enable you to turn the steering wheel. Don’t forget that the suspension and steering system serves as a cushion, which absorbs impact and allows you to drive the car without feeling the vibrations coming from the road bumps.
Understanding the parts of ball joints
Why do ball joints go bad? To answer this question, it’s important to understand the parts of ball joints first.
Since there are two main types of ball joints – loaded and follower ball joints – there are some slight variations between them. As an overall, the basic parts of ball joints include the ball stud, a steel bearing, and a housing.
There is a rubber gasket, which keeps grease from dripping and road dirt from coming in. There is often also a spring or a Belleville washer, which is also a spring type. Springs are very helpful because they help maintain tension while ball joints wear so that there won’t be a play as the control arm vibrates.
But they will help up to a point. If there is lateral wear, there is nothing they can do.
A simple maintenance tip
The majority of car ball joints utilize a grease fitting, which allows you to add oil and thus keep this significant part of the suspension system in good shape. So, it’s good to check and add grease (if necessary) in every oil interval.
3 reasons why do ball joints go bad
On the other hand, some ball joints are maintenance free. In other words, they are lubed for life. Does that mean these types of ball joints won’t go bad? Hmm, let’s see.
- Grease failure is the number one reason why do ball joints go bad. That happens when their lubes have dried out and new lubes are not added. In the case of ball joints, which need lubrication, their metal parts come in contact and wear much faster since there is not a layer of lubes to protect them. Without grease, ball joints won’t rotate well and so problems during driving will begin. Without grease, the parts of ball joints will wear.
How about the maintenance free ball joints which don’t need lubrication, you ask? Well, the paradox with these types of ball joints is that they might go bad anyway.
And there is also the matter of the gasket, which is there to keep oil from dripping. If it’s pinched from adjacent components, it will crack. But it might wear and break due to the road or weather conditions as well.
And if the seal is cracked, oil will escape and in turn the ball joints will dry out which will lead to their wear. And that brings us to the second reason why do ball joints go bad!
- Road dirt and debris find their way in when the seal is broken. And that’s not good for the car. Oils mixed with debris and other road impurities will result to a stiff mixture which will rather harm than help the ball joints. And it’s very easy to get sand, dirt, and debris inside grease. All it takes is driving off-road or on a muddy street.
- Now, without sufficient lubricants, parts corrode. Since most ball joint parts are made of steel, they might corrode anyway if they are exposed to high moisture environments. And that’s highly likely! So, another answer to the question why do ball joints go bad is because they simply wear due to the street and weather conditions.
How to tell the signs of ball joints going bad
- One of the most distinguished signs indicating a problem with the ball joints is strange sounds. That’s actually the easiest way to know it’s time to check the ball joints. It usually starts with a sudden noise, which soon becomes a clicking and then banging noise.
- The faster you drive, the louder the noise. If you go over street bumps, the noise will be even more intense. You will also hear sounds when you turn. All these noises are indications that the ball joints have come loose and if you don’t check and replace them soon, they might break.
- Regardless of why do ball joints go bad, they affect the steering wheel! You suddenly realize that you don’t have full control when you are driving. The steering wheel will most likely wander to the right or left. You simply can’t keep the car straight. You might also experience a strange feeling of stiffness when you are driving.
- Another sign is excessive vibration when you are driving. When the ball joints are loose, they will vibrate and you will feel it intensely too.
- Last but definitely not least, it is the sign of uneven tire wear. You will probably notice that either the inner or outer part of the tires is worn. You might also notice that one front tire is worn faster than the other. This might indicate that the ball joint at that part of the car is damaged.
How to check ball joints
In order to check the condition of the ball joints, you need to jack the car and shake the control arm. There shouldn’t be any wheel play.
The grease fitting shouldn’t wiggle either. While you are there, check the seal too. It should be intact. Keep in mind that these are only the basics of how to check the ball joints.
Since there are various types, there are several ways to check each ball joint model. So, if you don’t have a manual or know little about vehicles, take the car to the mechanic.
As a rule of thumb…
It’s good to check the ball joints regularly and never ignore any of the signs indicating there is a problem with them. If ball joints are not replaced in time, they might break disconnecting the wheel from the chassis. So, keep in mind the reasons why do ball joints go bad for safe driving.
5 Super-Fast Ways to Check Ball Joints – #5 Is so Easy It Will Make You Laugh
Do you drive? If so, you probably want to know how to check your car’s ball joints! Don’t feel like it? Do you prefer to take the car to the mechanic? I feel you! But stick around! Don’t go yet! Take a moment to skim through the content. It will help you recognize the main signs of ball joint wear. Why should you be interested in that? Because the ball joints of your car connect the chassis to the wheel. And enable you to turn. Should they wear (and they will one day), driving the car won’t be safe.
So here’s the best recipe for checking the ball joints – or recognizing the signs of wear – or both. Do you need to have expert skills? Not particularly! They are rather easy ways to check the ball joints. And we saved the easy-peasy one for last. So let’s go! Let us bring the hidden mechanic out of you!
1. Visually check the ball joints
This is the hardest way to check the ball joints. That’s how mechanics do it. But you are not a mechanic. Since it involves lifting the car, make sure you know how. You should jack up the front end of the vehicle. Make sure it is well supported, check the manual for any specific instructions, and make sure the transmission is placed into park.
Making the right preparations and taking the right precautions before you jack the car up are both very important. You can’t check visually the ball joints without jacking the car because the wheels won’t be able to move freely. With the car on the ground, you will only be able to check the upper joints. So if you have McPherson struts, you have to jack the vehicle up.
Okay, first things first. You have to locate the ball joints. Check if your car has both lower and upper ball joints. If so, check both but be aware that the lower one wears much faster.
- The rubber cover. It’s easy to tell it’s damaged if lubricants leak out of the joint.
- The boot. It must be in good condition. If it’s torn, worn, or gone, you must replace the ball joint.
- Play with the joint. It shouldn’t move. If it plays, it’s bad news.
- Wiggle the wheel up and down to see if there is axial looseness.
- Shake the wheel to check the lateral looseness
- Place a pry bar between the wheel hub and the lower control arm. And make an effort to pry them apart. If they do, one of the ball joints is not good.
2. Look for worn tires
When your tires wear unevenly, it’s often a sign of ball joint damage. So you have to check your tires more often. After all, most ball joints would last for at least 70,000 miles. Some even last for over 150,000 miles. It will depend on their quality, the surface of the road, and exposure to corrosive elements. During this time, I like to think that you will check your tires at least once or twice.
When the ball joint is damaged, it doesn’t enable the tire to come in contact with the ground correctly. So eventually there is tire tread separation – you will notice that if you check the edge end of the tires.
What to look for:
- Premature wear at the inner or outer part of the tires
- If the front tires are worn much faster than the rear ones
If you fail to check the tires, the condition of the ball joints will worsen. And as the condition of the ball joints will get worse, the tires will be rendered useless too. Finally, you will have to replace both tires and ball joints. So the earliest you discover the problem, the better for your pocket.
3. Check the wear indicator
What is the wear indicator? It might be a grease fitting or collar. But what you are interested in looking is the part the fitting is screwed into. To check the wear indicator, the car must stand on its wheels. So no jacking up this time! The indicator should protrude for approximately half an inch from the ball joint cover plate – how much it will protrude also depends on car make and model too. If it’s not protruding sufficiently, there is a problem. So what you must look for is whether or not the indicator has receded inside the ball joint’s housing. And if it has, you should replace the joints.
4. Just drive around
Checking the condition of the ball joints is getting easier and easier. What we suggest now is taking a drive. What your goal is during the ride is to:
- Test the car’s stability
- See whether or not you have full control of the steering wheel
- Listen to odd noises
So go for a drive in a street where you can speed up to the car’s limits – no need to break a record though. And keep the music down – this is not a leisure trip. You need to be able to hear for any noises coming from the front of the car.
If your car has a strut suspension, the ball joints shouldn’t make any noise. So if any rattling and scraping alarms you while you are driving, it’s most likely the ball joints. The strange banging sound often comes from the front corners of the car – or it seems so. You might notice it when you drive over street bumps. It’s hard to miss when you drive on uneven and rough roads. The noise is more intense when you turn the wheel – naturally since the ball joints allow steering wheel rotation. As time goes by, the noise gets worse. And this means that the problem with the ball joints has deteriorated.
Does the steering wheel pull? When you drive at high speeds, worn ball joints will not only pull the steering wheel but will also make it vibrate. You will not have absolute control over the steering wheel because it will kind of wander. So it requires great attention.
Once you make this high speed ride, take a deep breath and find a road with speed bumps. Uneven terrains will also do. Now what you want to do is drive slowly over the road bumps and still try to listen to banging noises.
5. Turn the steering wheel
Now it’s time to relax. This is the easiest way to check whether or not the ball joints are worn. Once your ride at low speed is over, park the car. And turn the steering wheel right and left. Don’t forget that the prime job of the ball joints is to allow you to turn the car with ease. So you should be able to turn the steering wheel with ease even with the car parked. Do you feel any ball joint looseness? Do you have a difficult time turning the wheel? Is there a noise? These are not good signs.
- What you feel as a driver is not always a clear indication of bad ball joints. Some signs are common to all vehicles. But the best way to check if the ball joints of your car are damaged is by jacking the car and visually checking their condition. And if you don’t have much experience, it’s always best to take the car to a mechanic.
- Still, don’t ignore any sound or car behavior which is out of the ordinary. Even if there is no problem with the ball joints, there might be another serious problem which might compromise your safety.
A quick sum up…
If you have some experience with cars and their components, you can check the ball joints. And it takes no experience to read out the signs warning you that there is a problem with these important car components. Although feeling the car, listening to noises, and checking the steering wheel are all important when trying to understand the messages ball joints might be sending you, checking visually is the safest method.
So if you have no experience or even don’t know how to jack up the car with safety, it’s better to leave it to the experts.
I just hope the information provided here was a tad helpful to those with some experience in car maintenance and to those with no experience whatsoever.
At the end of the day what I think it’s crucial is safety on the road. With the ball joints ready to separate the wheels from the chassis, there is no safety at all. And accidents can happen due to broken ball joints, especially at high speeds. So keep listening and why not checking the ball joints once in a while to have peace of mind on the road.
How to Replace Ball Joints
Do you know how to replace ball joints? Hmm, you say! Why should I? Well, let us start with the basics: suspension parts wear out. We all have our share of experience!
Now, what’s upsetting is that an annoying clicking sound Monday morning escalates to a thump Tuesday afternoon. And it’s then when you know that there is most likely a problem with your car’s ball joints.
More often than not, ball joints dry out. For crying out loud, you yell! The ball joints of my car are lubricated for life. Surprise! Surprise!
No matter what the manual says, ball joints DO go bad. And when they do, the solution is simple: replacement. And at this point, you simply have to learn how to replace ball joints or get the car to the mechanic.
Why ball joints go bad?
But hold on a sec! Ball joints don’t go bad only due to lubrication failure. Don’t forget that they are made up of bearings, a housing and ball stud, an end cover, and a spring or Belleville washer.
Any of these parts might break or corrode. On top of that, ball joints support the car’s weight and pivot at several angles. So, they do wear. And then, there are ball joints and there are ball joints. Their quality and type both vary.
One more thing: in spite of the presence of the end cover, debris can still find its way in causing damage. (Surprise! Surprise! Once more)
- Do you hear a banging noise?
- Having trouble keeping the wheel straight?
- Do you feel intense vibrations when driving?
- Is one of the tires worn faster than the rest?
If you do, you must replace the ball joints.
Why should you learn how to replace ball joints?
The ball joints replacement cost varies based on the car’s make, year, and model. But the job doesn’t come cheap. An average price for the replacement of only one ball joint would translate to a couple of hundred dollars.
BUT… when one ball joint is damaged, chances are that the rest will wear soon too. And since you don’t want to go through the same hassle of banging sounds, inconvenience during driving, feeling unsafe and these sort of things, it’s best to replace them all. And this will cost more.
With that said, let me just point out that replacing ball joints is not easy. If you are not a handyman or anywhere close to knowing the difference between ball joints and eggs, it’s best to trust a pro. After all, if the job is not done right, driving won’t be safe.
Now, if you know your way around cars, you can easily follow our instructions on how to replace ball joints.
One thing is certain: if ball joints are somehow damaged, they must be replaced or your safety will be questioned, especially at high speeds.
First things first: what to do before you replace the ball joints
Gather the tools you will need. These would include:
- A basic two-ton floor jack to lift the car and jack stands
- A rock, brick or any other item you find handy to place behind the tires and keep the car from sliding – that won’t be nice
- Lubricants to loosen up the bolts, especially if they are corroded
- The right wrenches to remove the fasteners
- New fasteners (bolts and nuts), gaskets, etc., etc., etc. (in other words, replace all components)
- A drill for the rivets – if it’s necessary for your vehicle
- A hammer & pickle fork to help you pop the ball joints
- You might also need a wire to hang the brakes
- A grease pump
- A castellated nut
Now that you have all the tools gathered, prepare the working area. Make sure the surface the car is parked on is flat and block both rear and front tires. Then jack the car and place the jack stands.
How to make sure the ball joints must be replaced
With the car lifted, it’s time to check the ball joints and see if they are really damaged. If the suspension system of your car utilizes a control arm, shake it to see if there is a wheel play.
If this is a strut suspension, shake the car and use a pry bar to see if there is a wheel play. If there is a wheel play or space between the ball joints and the contact point, they should be replaced.
How to replace ball joints
Assuming you have bought the new ball joints for your car, start by removing the existing ball joints.
- First of all, remove the wheel. This will allow you to have access to the ball joint. If the brakes stand in your way, hang them by using the wire. To create more space and work with ease, loosen the control arm.
- Now, the next step is to remove the ball joints. But they are often corroded, dirty, and stiff and so it will be hard for you to loosen them up. That’s where the lubricant comes in. Spray some WD-40 to remove the ball joints easier.
- Once you remove the bolts with the wrench, you can use the pickle fork to bang out the upper ball joints and a hammer to remove the lower ball joints.
- Remove the slotted nut and cotter pin with a socket wrench and then pop the ball joints off by pressing the pickle fork on the hammer.
Some suggestions when removing the old ball joints:
- If some parts are corroded, they are removed easier if you use some heat. But be extra careful with that. You want to torch the components off and not burn yourself.
- If your car has pressed-in ball joints, you can’t avoid the visit to the mechanic. Pros have this special tool, called the hydraulic press, which is used to remove and install these types of ball joints.
- Don’t be afraid to put some force when you try to remove the components. They are often very stiff due to the accumulated dirt, lack of lubes, and corrosion. Don’t worry if any of the components, like the rubber gasket, breaks. It’s best to replace them all anyway.
- Be careful when you remove the ball joints. You don’t want them landing on your feet. It’s helpful to use a castellated nut.
Second phase: ball joints installation
Here we are at the last and most important stage of the ball joints replacement task. It’s time to install the new ones. So, let’s get started:
- Place the new rubber gasket over the stud and put the new ball joint through the knuckle hole. Then bolt the ball joint.
- Now you have to torque the bolts but must follow the instructions of your manual down to the last detail as far as numbers are concerned. You will need a torque wrench for that and a castellated nut will also help you. If you have a McPherson strut, you will need to install a pinch bolt.
- Place the grease fitting.
- Pump grease.
Don’t forget two major things:
- Once the ball joints replacement is completed, it’s best to align the car.
- Since the brakes are most likely hanging, bleed them. If there is a problem with them, this is a good opportunity for you to find out.
One last advice: although ball joints installation is relatively easy, the job becomes easier if you install first the upper ones and then continue with the installation of the lower ball joints.
Let us elaborate a bit further:
- To install the upper ball joint, make sure the area around the upper control arm is clean before you place the ball joint. It’s vital to pay attention to the rubber gasket. You don’t want it pinched by the control arm hole or it will be ruined allowing dirt to enter into the grease. Tighten the nut to secure the bolt, then align it and tighten the bolts and washers with the wrench. Lastly, install the cotter pin.
- To install the lower ball joint, bend it about 90 degrees. This will help you put it in the geared hub hole easier. This should be under the lower control arm. Once you align the holes, place the washers, bolts, and nuts and tighten them.
Don’t forget to grease the ball joints. If there is no problem with the brakes, put them back and then take the tires and put them back too. Only then, you can align the car.
All done, folks!
It wasn’t so hard, now! Was it? Learning how to replace ball joints might not come easy for those who know little about cars. But it’s a process you can easily learn so you can save some money.
The key to succeeding is to have the right tools all gathered around you and some time to spare. Not that it takes very long to replace the ball joints, but you don’t want to rush with such tasks. For your safety’s sake!
With that said, let us just say once more that if you don’t feel comfortable doing this job, simply don’t. Don’t risk your safety. On the other hand, if you are up to it, we just hope our how to replace ball joints instructions were clear and helpful.
How Long Does It Take to Replace a Ball Joint?
Did you decide to replace the ball joints of your car alone? Are you wondering how long will it take you? There is not a fixed answer to that. One thing we can say is that with average knowledge and all the right tools on hand, you will need at least a few hours. But the time required for the replacement of ball joints has also to do on whether or not you have to replace one or two ball joints and whether or not you must replace other parts of the suspension system too. So allow us to take a short trip to the hidden parts of our cars and estimate the time needed for ball joint replacement based on several factors.
What is involved in the replacement of ball joints?
Time is always relative. If we assume you are fully prepared with the necessary tools all around you and some experience in the replacement of ball joints, you will need at least 2-3 hours. But don’t take that for granted. There are many factors, which affect the time required for such a job – as you will read down below.
After all, the replacement of the ball joints involves several steps:
- Getting prepared
- Buying the new ball joints
- Jacking the car
- Inspecting the ball joints
- Checking the condition of all other parts
- Removing the wheel
- Removing the pins, nut, and bolts
- Removing the ball joints
- Installing the new ball joints
- Reassembling the hardware/wheel
What determines the time needed for ball joint replacement?
There are four main factors, which determine the time required to replace the ball joints:
1. The type of the car
Do you have a VW Bora? Do you own a Honda? Is it a sedan? A truck? The car’s model and brand play a role to the time needed to replace the ball joints. And then again the time is also relative to whether or not the ball joints have been replaced before. As an overall, factory-installed ball joints take longer to replace because they are often riveted to the control arms. So they must be cut off without causing any damage to the control arm. If they have been replaced before, it only takes the removal of bolts to replace the ball joints.
2. The type of the ball joint
Do you want to replace ball joints at the front of the car? At the rear? For example, if you have a strut type suspension, which requires no control arm unloading and spring compression, the job is easier. You won’t need many tools either. But if there are upper and lower control arms, the job is more difficult. And more risky by the way. And that’s because it involves compressing the springs and their energy stored can become dangerous. For this, you will also need a spring compressor.
3. Whether or not you have the right tools
Since you need to remove the wheel and control arms in order to replace the ball joints, you must have several tools by your side. And these would include:
4. Whether you replace the ball joints yourself or take the car to the mechanic
A mechanic always does the job faster. After all, they have the experience and the tools required. If you lack both, you will take much longer to replace one single ball joint.
So how much time would a mechanic need to replace a ball joint? A minimum of half an hour is required taken that we are talking about the replacement of one ball joint. Whether it has been replaced or not, an experienced mechanic won’t take more than one hour to do the job. And the time needed would also depend on whether or not he finds more problematic parts in the suspension system.
To trust or not to trust the job to a mechanic
It’s always best to trust the replacement of the ball joints to a mechanic. And there are some very good reasons for you choosing to do so:
- The mechanic will have the job done in approximately an hour – more if we are talking about the replacement of more than one ball joint or other parts. You would have to devote the entire Sunday if you lack the experience.
- Don’t think of the cost. You will have to buy the new ball joints anyway whereas the mechanic might get a better deal. And then it’s the matter of the tools. If you are to buy the full list of the tools required for the job, you might as well give the money to the pro to be sure the job is done correctly.
- Due to limited knowledge and experience, you won’t know whether or not to replace both ball joints. It’s often recommended to replace both. And this means more time during their replacement. The advantage of trusting the mechanic is that he can check both ball joints but also the adjacent parts to see if the control arms or other components must be replaced too.
- If you don’t install the new ball joints properly, you will have several problems. And you will have to go through this hassle and expense one more time. When you trust the job to the mechanic, you are sure of your safety.
Why is it important to replace the ball joints correctly?
It’s important to remember that the ball joints are installed for a purpose. By connecting the steering knuckle and the control arm, they actually make sure the suspension system remains steady. And as you probably know, they are not just the connecting point of the wheel and the chassis. They enable the wheels to turn. Actually the reason for replacing them in the first place was their wear. When they make noise or keep you from turning the wheel with ease, it’s time for them to go. In the same manner, their good installation is equally important.
The consequences of improper ball joint installation?
And such problems will lead to worse headaches or even accidents because:
- The suspension might fall
- The new ball joints will wear faster
- The wheel might separate from the chassis
- You might lose control of the car
A short final recommendation…
You are probably asking: what should I do? Should I devote next weekend to the replacement of the ball joints? Or should I talk to my mechanic?
We recommend taking the car to the mechanic. And these are the basic reasons for our answer:
- It will take you much longer to replace the ball joints yourself
- You won’t be sure if the job is done right with consequences to your safety
- The cost won’t change much considering that you will need to buy several tools
- Even if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you will still need to take the car to the mechanic to align the wheels
Time is precious to everyone! If you don’t mind wasting it on gaining the experience of ball joint replacement, be our guests. But our recommendation would be to save time and energy and take your car to the local mechanic.