When should your ball joints be replaced?
There are many parts in your vehicle that are important for safe driving, and a ball joint is one of them. A ball joint is a part of the front suspension that connects the control arm to the steering knuckle that holds the front wheel. The connection flexes allowing the front wheel to steer and move up and down. Modern cars have at least two ball joints in the front end; many trucks have four. Ball joints are built into the control arm and may be replaced as one unit.
A ball joint consists of a housing (socket) and a stud with a ball; it serves as a flexible joint. In some trucks and older vehicles, ball joints have grease fittings and need to be greased periodically. Most modern cars have non-serviceable ball joints that are factory greased and sealed with a dust boot.
When should ball joints be inspected?
Ball joints need to be inspected periodically and replaced if loose or worn. Some may last for over 160,000 miles, but with bad roads, speed bumps and winter road salts they can cause ball joint failure prematurely. A badly worn ball joint, if not caught in time, can even separate causing a vehicle to lose steering control, creating a very dangerous situation. You may have seen an older car with one of the front wheels collapsed under the vehicle indicating that it was most likely caused by ball joint failure.
A “visual inspection” cannot properly inspect ball joints. To check a ball joint, the front wheel has to be lifted off the ground on a hoist. In some trucks, checking the ball joints is not a simple task: load-carrying ball joints, for example, must be unloaded for proper inspection. We have specific instructions from various vehicle manufacturers on how to inspect ball joints and when a ball joint is determined to be bad.
A ball joint is should be replaced if it loose, has excessive play, or if the dust boot is broken or torn. A damaged dust boot causes the grease to escape then allowing water and dirt can get to the ball joint. In either case, a ball joint won’t last long. In some vehicles, grease fittings serve as ball joint wear indicators. Having a bad ball joint is considered unsafe to drive your vehicle.
It’s a good idea to replace a ball joint if it shows early signs of wear, if it looks dry (lacks grease) or shows excessive rust damage. A major cause for ball joint failures is corrosion damage. A creaking or squeaking noise when driving slowly over large bumps or when turning the steering wheel may be a ball joint that lacks grease. There are also a number of steering and suspension components that can produce a creaking noise, all must be diagnosed properly.
What are the symptoms of a bad ball joint?
A knocking or creaking noise coming from the front end when going over bumps are signs of a bad ball joint. Loose steering and front end excessive play, especially while going over bumps. Importantly some vehicles will not produce any noticeable symptoms even if is bad making it imperative to have the vehicle inspected regularly.
If your car needs new ball joints and is out of warranty check with a local dealer and research whether your car manufacturer issued recalls and service campaign bulletins related to ball joints or other vehicle safety issues.
Use good quality parts if you have to replace ball joints for it’s an investment in safety for you and your passengers. Avoid using cheap aftermarket ball joints that are known to have failed within a year or two.
Do ball joints have to be replaced in pairs?
Often when one ball joint is bad the other could be worn out too, but it’s not necessary. In some pickup trucks with double-arm front suspension, the upper and lower ball joints on one side are often replaced at the same time if the labor overlaps.
In some vehicles, ball joints are riveted or threaded into the control arm. This type is bit more difficult to replace, and the repair will cost more.
Ball joints In many vehicles are press-fitted into the control arms or into the steering knuckles (spindles). This type of ball joint must be pressed out using special tools thus taking more time and costs. Rarely a new ball joint cannot be pressed back in safely then the ball joint is replaced together with the steering knuckle or the control arm.
After ball joint replacement, in some vehicles, wheel alignment must be performed.
Vehicles that we specialize in front end and alignment service and repair.
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