Ball Joint : The Ultimate Guide
Several components make up the suspension of a vehicle. Among them is the ball joint, a small but crucial part. This guide explores the automotive ball joint, or what some may refer to as a suspension-wheel ball joint due to its location. This vehicle part is also called a ball and socket joint for reasons we will see later.
In this guide, we answer questions about the component such as what purpose it serves in an automobile, where it is found, and how to care for it. About the essentials of ball joint manufacturing process, too, and what to look for when buying one. We will examine different types of ball joints and their use in different vehicles, from big trucks to small passenger cars.
On truck ball joints, we explain what is a ball joint on a truck, detailing how it helps to improve drivability. For the small cars, we detail everything you may have wanted to know about the component from the control arm and ball joint relation, to how to install a new one. We also compare the rose joint Vs. ball joint and how suitably one can replace the other.
It is a detailed full-length article that aims to equip you with knowledge about the causes of a bad ball joint. Also ways to tell if the joints are worn. And if the ones in your car become faulty, how to replace them. At the end, we provide you with tips on how to find the best ball joints for your vehicle. Read to the end and become a better car owner and ensure safe driving at all times, with the suspension intact.
Ball Joint Definition, Location, and Function
Ball Joint Definition
The ball joint is a suspension component that forms the connection between a vehicle’s control arms and the steering knuckles. As such, it acts as a pivot point for the wheels and suspension. Virtually every automobile manufactured today will have ball joints, which makes these components one of the most common in the auto parts market.
Automotive ball joints come in the form of hard spherical bearings or balls with a threaded stud. The ball is encased in a lubed housing, with a rubber boot cover to hold in lubrication and prevent the entry of dirt and debris. The threaded stud tapers at the section where it fits into a similarly tapered opening in the steering knuckle.
An auto ball joint is also known by another name as a ball and socket joint. That is because it resembles the human joint at the hip- both in design and working. The human ball and socket joint allows movement of the leg in all directions. Inna similar way, the ball joint in a car facilitates unhindered suspension and steering system movements.
Ball Joint Types
Ball joints can be classified according to usage, position in the suspension, and design. These joint types are explained below.
According to Position
There lower and upper ball joints. Some vehicles use a lower ball joint, while others use both. Heavy-duty vehicles such as trucks utilize a lower ball joint to support the weight, and an additional upper ball joint for pivotal requirements.
The lower ball joint is usually larger to withstand the loads they are often subjected to. Because of the weight they have to bear, lower ball joints wear out fast, mostly if heavy luggage is carried in the vehicle or if driving conditions are rough.
Vehicles with independent rear suspensions have ball joints in the back wheel as well. These allow for steering as well as provide pivoting and weight support. In other words, they serve a similar purpose as the front ones.
According to Usage
A car ball joint can be either ” load-carrying” or “follower.” These two types of ball joints serve different functions. A load carrying ball joint, as the name suggests, provides weight support, makes it an important suspension ball joint.
A follower ball joint is, on the other hand, designed to pivoting for the car’s steering system. It can be said to be a pivot ball joint since it mainly allows the steering system to rotate freely for better vehicle control. These ball joints are commonly installed on the upper suspension component.
Upper ball joints are mostly follower types with little weight to support. Lower ball joints are usually referred to as “load carrying” due to the amount of weight they have to hold up. An exception is the MacPherson strut suspension. This type of suspension uses a single control arm and ball joint at each wheel.
In the MacPherson suspension, the lower ball joint can serve as a follower type. The upper strut in this suspension bears the weight of the vehicle and features an elastomeric bearing that acts as support. The strut connects to the steering knuckle.
According to Design
Ball joints can be sealed or greasable. Sealed ball joints are lubed for life, so you do not need to apply grease now and then. They are the modern ball joint design and the most preferred by vehicle owners. These ball joints are low maintenance. However, they are not serviceable and once worn, can only be removed and discarded.
The greasable ball joints are a traditional design. However, they are still in wide use today. You will mostly find them in light passenger vehicles or heavy trucks that have some weight to support. They require regular addition of grease, which makes them high-maintenance components.
Greasable ball joints feature a fitting called a nipple or zerk for the application of a lubricant. Failure to lube these types of ball joints causes them to wear down rapidly. This could cost you a replacement within no time.
Ball joints also feature different mounting options. There are those that use bolts, joints that screw in, the press in types, and the riveted joints. Press-in ball joints are the most used in factory cars while after market ball joints often feature the other mounting options.
Ball Joint Location
The ball joint is found at the wheel, with one end connected to the steering knuckle and the other the control arm. Automotive ball joints are most common in the front suspension. However, vehicles that use rear or four-wheel steering will have ball joints in the rear as well. Front ball joints work in the same way as the rear ball joints, with the main difference being in their location.
These components are visible without removing any component. When servicing them, you sometimes do not need to disassemble any suspension or wheel hub assembly. This makes inspecting them for damage easy.
Ball Joint Function
When driving down a road, the suspension has to move up and down in a controlled way. But at the same time, the wheels need to move sidewise to the steering rotation. These are the movements that are facilitated by the ball joint.
For a clearer picture, consider driving over a bump while at the same time having to negotiate a bend. As we have seen, ball joints act like the ball and socket joint found in the human body. It swivels allow steering around a corner, and arcs to enable the suspension’s up/down movement for a smooth ride over the bump.
Ball joints also hold the wheels to the car. That is why vehicles whose ball joints are no longer working may have the wheel collapse inwards or outwards. The wheel may even fall off the car in the worst of cases. These components are, therefore, essential for smooth and safe driving. In the next chapter, we examine the different parts of a ball joint.
The Process to Manufacture Ball Joints
Ball joints are precision components that require high-level manufacturing procedures. Because they undergo a lot of stresses and impacts, these components have to be hard and sturdy enough. Premium steel is usually used to make them from the stud, ball, to the housing. Automotive ball joints have to satisfy certain functional and dimensional specifications, which include:
- Compactness and low weight so they do not add unnecessary weight to the steering system
- Constant torques in the face of varying loads and tensile or compressional forces
- Zero or limited play- some should not exceed 0.25 inches for lateral play and manufacturer-specific value for the vertical play. Other ball joints are designed to have no play at all
- Excellent temperature tolerance for increased lifespan even in high heat environments
- Low coefficient friction for improved steering and suspension movement
- Environmental compliance for the different requirements or standards
- Ability to resist salt, dirt and debris damage for a longer lifespan
Despite ball joints serving similar functions, they feature slightly different designs and materials. In the next chapter, we get inside the ball joint, examining the various parts that make it. Also, the different designs that result in visual differences in these components.
Ball Joint Diagram
Although ball joints work in the same ways and feature a spherical threaded stud, they differ slightly according to type. There are the upper/ lower ball joints, loaded/follower ball joints as well as the sealed and greasable or serviceable types. We will look at all those to offer you an all-round knowledge about these vital vehicle components.
Let us start by examining the different parts, both internal and external. These parts vary, and we will only feature the main sections. These are the parts a typical ball joint will have.
Ball Joint Parts
Ball Joint Stud– the rounded part of the joint. This part rotates in a lubed space in the ball joint housing and enables all the movements that the joint is subjected to. The spherical stud has to bear a lot of pressure and is made from tempered steel.
When it wears out, the ball joint is said to be non-functioning. It moves too much due to the extra space created by the wear. In such situations, a new joint is the only option to restore the function of the component in a vehicle.
Ball Joint Bearing– acts to reduce friction inside the ball joint. It can be urethane/nylon or metal.
Ball Joint Spring Washer– found between the back plate and the bearing, the washer acts as a retainer.
Ball Joint End Cover or Backing Plate– the cover of the socket that hoods in the ball end of the joint. The cover is made from strong material that must resist wear and impact.
Ball Joint Housing- this is the part that encapsulates the metal ball stud. It forms the protection that holds grease and facilitates the movement of the ball. The ball joint housing has to put up with wear from both the inside and outside. Externally, the housing has to resist dirt, date, and heat damage. It also has to take in physical impacts from road debris and other situations.
Ball Joint Boot– usually made from polyurethane, the boot form a shield to prevent the entry of water, dust, and debris. These are the elements that would cause corrosion or frictional wear of the ball joint. The dust boot has to withstand damage by heat or moisture and the reason they feature a tough urethane material. As a result, the boot does not tear easily.
Threaded and Tapered Extension– it is the part of the ball joint stud that tapers to fit in the steering knuckle snuggly. It also features threads to allow for the but to be fastened so it mounts tightly. Also made from high-strength steel, this section of the stud has to be sturdy enough.
Ball Joint Grease Nipple– also called a grease filling or zerk, the nipple provides the opening through which to add ball joint grease. In some cases, the grease fitting also acts as a wear indicator. If its portion atop the ball joint is still intact, there is no wear to worry about. If it descends into the ball joint, then there is a reason to worry as it shows a worn joint that requires replacing.
Ball Joint Castle Nut– the nut that holds the lower ball joint after installation.
Ball Joint Cotter Pin– found in lower ball joints, the cotter pin provides a stop to prevent the castle but from coming undone.
Snap Ring– a snap ring secures the ball joint and prevents it from dropping down.
Upper and Lower Ball Joints
Ball joints can be upper or lower. Usually, upper ball joints are non-load carrying, and the suspension rests on them from the stud end. Lower or, as some people would call them, bottom ball joints are mostly load-bearing and hold the suspension from the ball end or top. Exceptions depend on the suspension type, as explained below.
Suspensions that feature both upper and lower control arms with a spring on the lower arm have loaded lower ball joints and follower upper joints. Loaded front lower ball joints help to carry most of the vehicle’s weight. Such lower arm ball joints require careful monitoring as worn ones can be a serious risk to driving safety.
Suspensions with both upper and lower control arms but which use a coil spring on the upper arm will have loaded upper and follower lower ball joints. The lower suspension ball joints in such vehicles, therefore, do not wear quickly and can last a long time.
MacPherson strut suspensions will have lower ball joints as follower types since upper strut holds the load. That means less wear for the lower arm ball joint. This kind of suspension is quite popular in the modern automobile.
Ball Joint Mounting Methods
Ball joints can be press-in, bolt-on, screw-in, or riveted. The type that comes with your vehicle depends on make and model. It also depends on whether the ball joint is a manufacturer or aftermarket product. Factory cars come with the press-in ball joints. If you are replacing the components for the first time, it is likely that they will be the press-in types.
Each mounting method has advantages and downsides, especially when it comes to removal and installations. A screw in ball joint offers no difficulty to remove or install, the same with the bolt-on types. The riveted joints, on the other hand, can be a challenge to take out. When replacing a worn out riveted ball joint, you may need a drill to tear it out. The other types only require a ball joint separator tool, and they are out in a minute.
Rose joint Vs. Ball Joint
Rose or heim joints can be used in place of ball joints. They provide a larger angular reach than ball joints. However, they tend to be weaker and can wear out pretty quickly. They need to be adequately protected from dirt and grit, or they will not last. In situations that require sturdiness and minimal maintenance, ball joints carry the day.
Like any other component in a vehicle, ball joints will eventually become worn. Being such critical parts of the suspension, being able to tell if the ball requires replacing is essential. That means picking up the signs before the damage worsens to a level that would cause safety concerns. Find out about the signs to look out for in the coming chapter.
Symptoms of a Bad Ball Joint
Ball joints are crucial not only to driving comfort but also safety. Failed ball joints can cause dangerous situations such as separated suspension parts, particularly the control arms and steering knuckles. Usually, a ball joint is said to be bad if it moves too much- that is, when the movement exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications.
To know when a ball joint has become a driving risk, you need to understand the symptoms to be alert for. You also require knowledge about how to check ball joints for wear and other damage. That is what this chapter looks at, starting with the signs.
Ball Joint Failure Symptoms
The signs that a vehicle ball points require replacing include:
Clunking or Knocking Noise
This is one of the easiest ways to detect failing ball joints. The first noises are usually faint and occasional at first. They often heighten when the ball joints are under stress such as when turning a corner, or when you encounter a bump or pothole. As the wear or damage worsens, the sounds become more regular, louder, and at every slight bump or corner. Clunking sounds due to a bad ball joint usually seem to come from a corner of the vehicle.
Uneven Tire Wear
It could indicate ball joints that are not in good condition. Excessive wear happens either on the inner or outer surfaces. If you notice wear on both edge at the same time, the reason could be wrong tire pressure and not worn ball joints. You would need to be careful with this symptom or misdiagnose the cause of uneven tire wear. It would be advisable to look out for the other signs discussed here as well.
Wear causes the spherical part of ball joints to become loose in the socket. This causes excessive movement inside the housing and vibrations that go up the suspension. While driving, you may feel the vibrations in the front of the car or even up the steering wheel. Vibrations can be caused by other component failures as well, and you would need to use other worn ball joint symptoms to be sure.
Unsteady Steering Wheel
If the steering wheel drifts wildly to the right or left, the problem could ball joints. The wandering of the steering wheel may become more pronounced when the ball joints are overworking, such as when going over a bump or pothole. If you find yourself struggling to center the steering wheel when driving, you likely have a failing ball joint, and the best thing to do is to change it.
What Causes Ball Joints to Go Bad?
Apart from age, there are several reasons for a worn or damaged ball joint. Theses are:
Over-greasing– too much greasing may cause the protective rubber boot to break and allow in dirt, debris, and water. The entry of these contaminants would lead to a damaged ball joint. This problem is only applicable to the serviceable or greasable ball joints as these allow the application of grease.
Under-greasing– while over-greasing risks damaging a ball joint, under-greasing also presents another problem. It causes increased friction, which then accelerates the rate of wear. In the long run, the ball joint breaks down, and the symptoms of joint failure start to appear. Again, this only applies to the serviceable types of ball joints.
Failure to clean the grease fitting– it is recommended that you remove grime, dirt, and debris before applying lubricant to the serviceable ball joints. Failure to do so leads to the entry of contaminants into the housing. The resulting wear then causes the joint to fail prematurely.
Rough driving conditions– potholes, bumps, and other severe situations cause ball joints to undergo increased stresses. These components are built to be sturdy for such conditions, but prolonged exposure to impacts and excessive torques can take a toll on them. It leads to damage even before the normal lifespan of the ball joints is over.
How to Check Ball Joints for Wear
It is never a good idea to ignore the symptoms of worn ball joints. Apart from servicing the various car joints periodically, always stay alert for any sign ball joint wear. As soon as you notice any of them, perform checks to determine the problem, then prepare to install new ball joints. Use these methods to diagnose a bad ball joint or joints.
Visual inspection– all joints are highly visible components due to their mounting positions. To determine their condition, have a look at them. If they are badly damaged, you will see them severely corroded. The rubber boot will be badly torn and the metal parts show signs of deterioration.
By rocking the tire– lift the car to make the tires hang in the air. Hold one tire tightly in the 6/12 o’clock position and push it in and out. If a ball joint is worn out, you will notice a significant movement. While the wheel is high in the air, insert a crowbar underneath and push it up and down. If you hear a clunking noise, the ball joints are most likely worn.
The next test involves moving the tire sideways like you turning it at the steering wheel. The tire should only have a little play. Excessive movement is indicative of a worn joint.
By observing wear indicators– wear indicators are built into some ball joints. If you have these in your vehicle, then finding out what the problem is would be easy. Some wear indicators come in the form of extrusions in the housing of the ball joint. When the indicator is flush with the housing or recessed into the housing, the ball joint has worn to dangerous levels. In most cases, you may need to use feeler gauges to check the indicator. That is because of the tight clearances of the indicator which you may be unable to pick simply by looking.
Some serviceable ball joints utilize the grease fitting to indicate wear. As long as the fitting remains visible above the housing, the ball joint is working well. If it disappears from view or levels with the housing, it is time to replace the affected ball joint. That is because a recessed grease fitting indicates wear inside the socket that led to the ball stud to move into the housing.
Using a lateral indicator– for accurate determination of the amount of ball joint wear, you may want to use a tool called the lateral indicator. It features a gauge that indicators lateral runout of the wheels. With this tool and other methods to diagnose a bad ball joint, you can catch wear before it affects the control of your vehicle and driving safety.
Common Bad Ball Joint Questions
With the critical function performed by ball joints, people have many questions regarding these components. We answered some of them.
Question 1. What are the dangers of driving with a bad ball joint or joints?
Answer. Ball joints practically hold the suspension together. If they are bad, it could mean the suspension coming apart. You do not want that while driving. If the joints are only slightly bad, you may experience difficulty controlling the vehicle, annoying noises, and tires that wear unevenly; just the things you do not want in your vehicle.
Question 2. Do bad ball joints affect the effectiveness or comfort of steering?
Answer. Yes, the steering wheel will wander or even feel stiff in some cases. The noises produced by worn ball joints can be annoying. The same case with the vibration that may extend to the steering wheel. When the suspension does not move up and down while driving, it can affect driving comfort.
Question 3. Are bad ball joint symptoms easy to pick right away?
Answer. They are not. In most cases, it can take a badly worn joint to produce a sound that you can hear from the driver’s seat. It is recommended that you check for wear periodically using the other means discussed here, including visual inspections.
Question 4. How can you avoid rapid wear of the ball joints?
Answer. By taking care of the component as needed. If the joints are the serviceable types, ensure you add grease on time. Also, avoid driving roughly or on roads that will likely damage your suspension. When buying replacement ball joints, choose quality ones.
Question 5. How much wear is too much?
Any slight sign of a worn ball joint should be enough to cause you to take action. Apart from the uncomfortable driving, bad ball joints are a safety concern. You do not want to run into problems due to negligence. Or even undergo costs due to damaged parts.
After you have confirmed bad ball joints, what next? A replacement is usually necessary, and you may choose whether to use the DIY approach or take the car to a repair shop. Find out about how to replace ball joints next.
Ball Joint Replacement
It is often easy to forget about ball joints. They last a long time, plus most vehicle owners have little knowledge about them. When ball joints finally wear out, the need to be replaced. This is usually when the socket is unable to hold the spherical ball tightly, and there is too much play.
Removing a bad ball joint to install a new one may not be a straightforward job. There are lots of bolts to unscrew, different components to detach, and a variety of other tasks. As such, it is a procedure that requires some basic knowledge about these parts.
Nevertheless, here is how you remove a worn out ball joint to put a new one in its place.
Ball Joint Replacement Process
Materials you will need
A jack and jack stands, socket wrench and different wrench socket sizes, breaker bar, needle-nose pliers, hammer, screwdrivers, a can of penetrating fluid (metal cleaner), brake cleaner fluid, ball joint press (you can loan it), and safety gear. You will also need some length of bungee cord to hold a few components in place.
First, determine if you have a strut suspension or control arms. That is because the procedures for the two are slightly different, and the one explained here are for the control arms suspension.
The procedure below also applies to the ball joints that are pressed into the control arm opening. These are the most common types, especially for cars that have not had the joints removed.
After market ball joints may be a different design such as rivets for mounting. The process to remove these and install new ones may be somewhat different.
Inspect the ball joints, too, to see that they need replacing (you may have done that already before commencing the process).
Step 1-with the car parked on flat and safe ground, remove the wheel cap and the axle nut. Loosen the lugs of the wheel whose ball joint(s).
Step 2- Use a jack to lift the car off the ground, and jack stands to offer safe support. Secure the back tires as necessary.
Step 3- with the car now raised, remove the lug nuts and the wheel.
Step 4- remove the brake caliper and hang it safely using a bungee cord to protect the brake line. Remove the brake rotor, too. You now have clear access to the ball joint, both upper or lower. If there is an ABS sensor, remove it to avoid damage.
(The nuts and bolts on the various components will most probably be covered in years of gunk. Spray them with penetrating fluid for easier removal. Allow the cleaner to set in before you begin working on the various components).
Step 5- locate the lower ball joint. Remove the cotter pin that secures the castle nut by cutting it off with needle-nose pliers.
Step 6- using a socket wrench, unfasten the lower ball joint castle nut and remove it. You may use a breaker bar to provide leverage.
Step 7- locate the upper ball joint
Step 8- the joint will have a nut that secures it to the knuckle. Remove it with a ratchet wrench and force open the hold to release the ball joint stud.
Step 9- press a crowbar on the frame of the car and use it to lift the upper control arm from the knuckle. You may use a rubber mallet to hammer the ball joint down and quicken the removal.
Step 10- separate the steering knuckle from the wheel axle and hang the axle by a bungee cord.
Lower Ball Joint Replacement
Step 11- spray the lower ball joint with penetrating fluid to make removing it easy
Step 12- using needle-nose pliers, remove the snap ring (it is located on the top of the joint). Some types of slip rings require hammering out using a screwdriver.
Step 13- prepare the ball joint press by choosing the right adapters that will remove the joint. The press should push down on the ball joint from the top while the cup underneath presses on the control arm)
Step 14- by turning the ball joint press using a breaker bar or any other appropriate tool, push the ball joint until it falls off through the control arm.
Step 15- clean off seating surface of the ball joint on the control arm using brake clean fluid. Insert the new ball joint and use the press tool to push it in. Use the same setup as if removing the joint but in the reverse direction. Turn the press until you feel some resistance, then leave it. Insert the snap ring.
Upper Ball Joint Replacement and Final Touches
Step 16- use the press to remove the upper ball joint from the control arm.
Step 17- using a reverse of the setup, push in the new ball joint into the control arm.
Step 18- it is now time to insert the ball joint into the buckle. You may use a jack and a mallet to force it in. Once inside, replace the but that holds the joint tight. Torque the nut as appropriate.
Step 19- return the axle into its place in the steering knuckle.
Step 20- insert the lower ball joint into the lower knuckle and screw on the castle nut. Insert the cotter pin and bend it at the ends to secure the nut
Some upper control arms are attached to the ball joint. If your vehicle has this type of suspension, you may not be able to replace the ball joint individually. You would need to change the two components together.
A word of caution: ensure proper torque when replacing bolts. Little torque can result in suspension that falls apart while too much torque would bring about shearing and bolt failure. It is advisable that you follow the manufacturer recommendations when tightening the nuts.
Common Ball Joint Replacement Questions
Question 1. How long does it take to replace ball joints?
Answer. It depends on whether you have experience replacing ball joints or not. On average, expect to spend an hour or so on the task. At a car repair shop, the time taken will depend on other factors beyond your control. Otherwise, you can have your car ready in an hour.
Question 2. For how long do ball joints last?
Answer. Again, it depends. Rough driving conditions and habits wear ball joints at a faster rate. The same with poor ball joint maintenance for the greasable types. The average life of a ball joint lies between 70 000 and 150 000 miles.
For an extended lifespan, avoid severe driving conditions. For the serviceable joints, use the best grease for ball joints on the market. It will keep the joint adequately lubed to prevent wear.
Question 3. Do I need to align the wheels after a ball joint replacement?
Answer. Most certainly, yes. Alignment immediately after replacing ball joints is recommended, especially if the last one was done on faulty ones.
Question 4. Do you need to grease a ball joint upon installing it?
Answer. Ball joints come pre-greased, but the serviceable types may not contain enough grease for operation. You need to apply more soon after installation. Only ensure you do it the right way and via grease fitting on top. You do not need to know how to grease sealed ball joints as these come completely covered and with lifetime grease.
Question 5. What is the cost to replace a ball joint?
Answer. While the amount varies across different regions and vehicle models or makes, it should not exceed $200 in most cases. The component costs slightly below a hundred dollars, and installation charges range around a similar amount.
That brings the overall ball joint replacement cost to between $150 to $200. The lower ball joint replacement cost should equal that of the lower joint. Both require more or less similar labor to remove.
Some vehicles require that you replace them together with the control arm. In such cases where the ball joint is attached to a control arm, replacement costs can shoot up to slightly more than $500.
The ball joint replacement process described here involves using a press. In most cases, vehicle owners do not have this tool. Can you remove and install a ball joint without the press? The next chapter answers that question.
Ball Joint Installation
Removing a worn ball joint and installing a new one requires several tools. While some are readily available, others are not. One of the rare tools but among the most essential is the ball joint press. This ball joint remover comes in useful when you have to replace pressed-in ball joints. These are the type that attach to the control arms without the use of bolts and commonly used in factory cars. There are aftermarket ball joints that also feature this design, making the press such a useful tool.
Ball Joint Installation using a Ball Joint Press
A ball joint press ensures clean, safe, and easy work when replacing ball joints. To remove a ball joint, you position the press underneath the joint, pressed against the control arm and centered around the joint. Then by working it with a breaker bar, you push the ball joint down until it clears off the control arm. A reverse operation installs a new ball joint.
Ball joint presses come with the necessary adapters and cups to ensure successful removal and installation of ball joints. As a result, the tool can remove different types of joints. Also, the stubborn ones that would be too stuck on to come out without using a specialized tool.
The only problem with the ball joint press is its cost. You may need several hundred dollars to acquire all the necessary adapters, which makes loaning it a more economical option. Can you replace a ball joint if you do not have this tool? You can, only that the process may not be as comfortable.
How to Remove a Ball Joint Without a Press
Ball joints are quite tasking to remove. That applies to the upper and lower ball joint removal and installation. Specialized tools can help. However, some of them, specifically the ball joint press are hard to come by. If you lack a press, use these other tools to remove and install ball joints.
A hammer would come in handy in the absence of a ball joint press. While a hammer may not be as efficient or safe, it allows you to carry out a replacement of the joint without expensive tools. However, you have to use the hammer correctly to achieve results. That is because improper use may damage a reusable ball joint or even fail to remove the joint.
To use a hammer, tap the sides of the control arm, and not the ball joint stud. How quickly or easily the ball joint comes out depends on several factors. If it has been many years since it was installed, the joint may be caked with dirt, making it hard to pop out. Also, if the driving conditions are dust, and a lot of debris has settled on the suspension to cause a layer of gunk or corrosion.
Newer vehicles will have ball joints that come off the control arm without difficulty, especially if they have been driven in clean environments. Only a few taps of the hammer should cause the joint to pop out. If hammer taps are not successful, avoid hitting the ball joint. Instead, find a different tool for the job.
The pickle fork is a common tool, and many people use it- both professionals and do-it-yourself car owners. The tool features a fork design with two wedged prongs. To use the pickle fork, you slide its prongs between the knuckle and the control arm, then hit the other end with a hammer. The resulting force and the wedge drive out the ball joint.
Pickle forks often destroy ball joints by ripping the dust boot. They are, therefore, not recommended if only carrying out maintenance of the suspension. That is, when not intending to replace a ball joint. For new ball joint purposes, the pickle for is quite useful.
This is a simple type of press that consists of two forged prongs or claws and a threaded stir. The claw press makes removing ball joints a quicker process. However, the tool may not suit joints that are too stubborn. These presses can also cause thread damage and may not be suitable if servicing suspension components without installing new ball joints.
For better results, a claw press is better used alongside a hammer. By applying pressure to the joint stud while tapping the control arm, the ball joint is bound to loosen quickly. A claw press is not only simple to use but also costs much less than the conventional or professional ball joint press.
Ball Joints Installation Tips
When replacing a ball joint or joints, here are helpful installation tips.
- Always ensure the ball joint is the right one for your vehicle’s year of manufacture, make, and specific model
- Ensure a quality ball joint to avoid having to install a new one soon
- When you only have one side to replace ball joints, consider replacing those on the other side as well. It is likely that they will need to be changed before long even if there are no signs for that at the time
- Using tools makes the work to remove a ball joint safer and quicker. It is advisable to have the essential ones
- During removal and re-installation of ball joints, avoid hitting the different components as that can damage them. Be gentle
- The right torque cannot be over-emphasized. It ensures safe mounting of components or assemblies
- Grease serviceable types. It will save you ball joint squeaks that happen too soon
- Don’t assume everything is right after you are through with the installation. Test the vehicle by driving some distance and check to see that there are no noises, sloppy or stiff steering, and other signs of a bad ball joint. If you experience any of those symptoms, try to fix them. Better still, have a skilled mechanic inspect the vehicle.
Now that we have seen how to replace ball joints, what about the buying process? The right decisions when purchasing these components determine the lifespan or performance of the newly installed joints. In the next chapter, we look at that.
How to Buy Quality Ball Joint
The number of ball joint brands out there is huge. Some are popular, while others are not. When looking for the best ball joints for your vehicle, the sheer number of manufacturers and brands can easily overwhelm you. Due diligence is, therefore, necessary or you may end up with the wrong product.
A quick search online returns results for popular brands such as Moog ball joints, ACDelco ball joints, or Dynatrac ball joints. A further investigation will lead you to the reviews. This can compound your search problem. While a Moog ball joints review will be positive about the brand, a Dynatrac ball joints review will contain Dynatrac praises.
The best approach when buying a ball joint or joint is to look at the things that make the component outstanding. To help you make the right choice, we prepared a list of the considerations to make. These will help you to select the right ball joint for your type of vehicle, driving conditions, and budget.
For a ball joint to last a long time, it has to be manufactured from quality materials. That applies to both the outside and inside of the joint. Usually, these components are made of steel. The metal needs to be high-grade, or the joint will wear only after a few thousand miles.
Other parts include urethane for the dust boot and other inner fittings. If these are not high quality, it can mean fast wearing and a bad ball joint too soon. A company will often specify some aspects of the materials it uses, and you can gauge the quality of their products using those. Reviews from previous users can also help.
Water and Temperature Resistance
Ball joints are built to resist moisture damage and the effects of heat but to different levels. If you drive in wet conditions mostly, the ball joints you buy should have water resistance properties. Water accelerates corrosion, which causes corrosion in the long run. The ball joint should also be capable of putting up to high temperatures. Heat damage is one of the major causes of dust boot tear and the wear of internal parts of ball joints.
Sealed Vs. Serviceable
When deciding which type to buy, consider how much maintenance you can put up with. Greasable ball joints require you to add lubricant at regular intervals. Forgetting to do so even once can result in premature wear and increase the costs to maintain your vehicle. That is taking into account the cost to buy new ball joints and the labor charges to install them.
Sealed ball joints do not need you to remember anything about greasing, which makes them a safe bet. Their only downside is that you have no chance to lube them. If the grease can no longer prevent wear, you have no choice but to install new ones. However, the lifetime grease often offers good sufficient mileage before replacement.
Separate Components Vs. Complete Kits
Some ball joints come as complete kits while some require you to purchase different components separately. A complete ball joint kit most certainly makes the task to replace a worn joint easier. You may need to be keen when making your purchase so you do not end up returning to the auto shop.
With so many different vehicle makes and models, you can expect ball joints to vary the same way. The type and design of the ball joint you choose must fit your car, or you might experience compatibility issues.
Usually, finding the right model for your vehicle should present no problem if you know the year it was manufactured, the model, and other aspects. A ball joint catalog on the manufacturer website is all you need. It will guide you to the joint model that suits your particular vehicle.
Ball joint price is one of the most important considerations. Low-priced joints are likely to be low-quality, and not worth considering for your car. They will likely wear quickly and prove costly in the long run. Over-priced ball joints, on the other hand, are not any better. They will only empty your pockets but will not provide additional quality or longer life.
A better decision would be to go for the moderately-priced ball joints. These will probably be made from premium materials and exceptional designs. Most of the time, it is the popular brands whose prices are usually inflated. While they are undoubtedly quality, the prices often do not match and are abnormally high.
Talking of ball joint prices, there are the exceptions. Price cars, for example, require equally price components. It would appear awkward to install a $20 dollar ball joint on a 4 million dollar Lamborghini, for instance. In such situations, the ball joint-car cost would apply.
For a bargain, you may want to research ball joint prices both offline and online. A search for “ball joint prices Autozone” for example, will give you a hint of the price range for different ball joints. You could search Amazon, AliExpress, eBay, and other online stores. Research, too, the installation rates in your specific region, both upper and lower ball joint replacement cost. That is if you do not intend to do the replacing yourself.
Poor ball joint selection can mean ball joints that do not last. Apart from not offering comfortable driving, such joints would cause you unnecessary replacement costs. As such, it is always advisable to choose your ball joints carefully. And if possible, you may consider carrying out installations for the component yourself. Doing so would greatly lower the overall ball joint cost for your vehicle.
Automotive ball joints virtually hold the suspension together. Despite their small size, these components ensure safety while driving and comfortable rides. Unfortunately, ball joints are among the least understood and one of the most forgotten about. While vehicle owners keep checking tires, brake assemblies, the engine, and other parts, only a few mind ball joints.
With the extensive ball joint information contained in this guide, you can now care for these vital car components. You will know when a ball joint has gone bad and how to replace it. Better still, how to maintain these joints and ensure they server for thousands of miles before they can show noticeable wear. Not only that but also how to choose the best ball joints to replace those that wear out.
With the knowledge contained in the guide, you will, no doubt, drive safely and comfortably- with ball joints that allow you to steer the car adequately and suspension that can handle different road conditions. Ball joints are essential but will only function correctly if maintained or changed on time.