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.