A vehicle’s suspension is a critical component that keeps the wheels supported on the road, enables steering control and absorbs the impact of undulation on the road surface. These shock-absorbing components improve handling and they keep the tyre aligned while steering. Ball joints are an important part of the suspension system and it is important to know how to replace a ball joint when they get worn out.
Ball joint replacement keeps the suspension in good condition, assists vehicle dynamics and reduces uneven tyre wear while driving.
This article describes how to replace a ball joint and details its basic function in a Car Suspension system.
What is ball joint?
Ball joints are located on the front suspension of a car, but how does ball joint work? They form the connection between control arms and steering knuckles, providing articulation of the suspension as it moves up and down. Ball joints also facilitate the steering knuckles to move at different angles, providing the wheel with the necessary motion while keeping the hub attached to the car frame.
A ball joint is a ball and socket mechanism that consists of a metal housing, ball stud and a casing. The ball stud can move freely in all directions within the metal housing and the casing contains lubricating grease to reduce friction and facilitate smooth movement.
Ball joints can be situated on both the upper and lower control arms of the suspension. The upper control arm and lower control arm have a coil spring strut in between to absorb road impacts. A pair of bushes are used between the control arm and the car frame, while a ball joint is used between the control arm and the wheel.
Symptoms of a worn-out ball joint
The suspension system goes through daily wear and tear due to its constant movement while the car drives along. The space between the ball and the metal housing slowly increases with time and the ball joint may become loose. If the impact is severe enough, the ball joint may come undone and cause the wheel to detach from the hub leading to loss of control of the vehicle.
Symptoms of worn-out ball joints include the following:
Steering drift – the vehicle will suddenly lose control and start drifting in one direction. Further steering inputs will not improve the situation and you have no recourse but to slow down.
Knocking or rattling sound from the suspension – when the ball joints are worn out, they will rapidly vibrate causing all sorts of unpleasant noises from the suspension. You may hear knocking or rattling when going over speed bumps or potholes.
Uneven tyre wear – ball joints keep the wheel aligned and flat on the road. If they are faulty, the wheels will rotate at an odd angle causing the tyre treads to wear out unevenly.
Heavy vibrations in the steering wheel – a sign of worn-out ball joint function will result in vibrations in the steering wheel. You will be able to feel the suspension shaking as you drive.
Steps to replace a ball joint on your suspension
Changing ball joints may not be an easy job, but for those well acquainted with suspension systems may not find this task too challenging. Certain suspension systems make use of ball joints that are part of the control arm or they could be a replaceable unit. Figure out which is the best way to tackle the job before getting started.
Some equipment that may come in handy includes a ball joint press, ball joint fork, wrenches, spanners, a cut-off wheel and a good-quality mallet.
Here are the steps to replace the ball joints on your suspension:
- Park the car on stable ground in a garage or parking lot
- Use a car jack to lift the car, and chock the rear wheels so that the car will not roll away.
- Take off the wheel and place it securely away from the car
- Undo the brake callipers, brake rotors and all the hydraulics attached to it
- Take off sway bars that may be attached to the wheel hub
- Separate the upper control arm and lower control arm from the suspension using a ball joint fork. Detach the steering knuckle and coil spring
- You may require a mallet to force the steering knuckle away from the ball joint
- The ball joint needs to be removed from its housing. Take away any snap rings that are holding the ball joint in place
- The ball joint press should be used to remove the ball joint from the control arm
- Inspect the ball joint for any signs of damage or defects. A service manual will describe the state of a worn-out ball joint
- The new ball joint should be pressed into the control arm using the ball joint press
The new ball joint should be in the range of Rs.2000 and you will end up saving a lot of money on service and labour. Ensure to use protective gloves and goggles, especially when you get underneath the car. As always, follow instructions in the service manual if you are in doubt. Once you replace the ball joints, you will notice that the suspension reacts better, you will have more control at slow and high speeds and your tyres will wear much slower in the long run.
Also read the difference between a strut and a shock absorber?
Ball joints are a safety-critical component that will go a long way in enhancing your driving experience. A shoddy suspension can be a nightmare to deal with, so replacing ball joints when they are worn out will benefit you in several ways.
Each suspension system is unique so ensure you refer to the service manual to figure out what kind of ball joint mechanism is used in your car. Keep an eye open for unusual sounds from the suspension, instability while driving, loss of control or uneven tyre wear.
The integrity of the ball joint system keeps you on the road in a safe and controlled manner. We hope you found this article on ball joints helpful. Have a look at some of our other articles like How Do You Know When Your CV Axles Are Going Bad? and Top Reasons to Service Your Car on Time & Why It’s Important or visit Carorbis Blog for more.
Frequently Asked Questions?
Q1. Where is ball joint on car?
Ans. Ball joints can be found on the front suspension of a car. They form a connection between the steering knuckles and the control arm component of the suspension. Ball joints are used to smooth the suspension operation and allow the joints to move in all directions while staying connected to the vehicle chassis.
Q2. How many ball joints does a car have?
Ans. Usually, you can find two ball joints in the suspension and four in the steering linkage. This includes the track rod ends and steering rack ends. In vehicles without MacPherson strut suspension, the suspension will have 1 upper ball joint and 1 lower ball joint.
Q3. Where is the upper ball joint?
Ans. The ball joint is a ball and socket component that pivots between the suspension and wheels of the vehicle. The suspension consists of upper and lower control arms, usually with a spring in between to absorb bumps. The upper ball joint is found in the upper control arm.
Also read All About Wheel Bearings + Faqs
Q4. What is ball joint suspension?
Ans. A ball joint suspension is made of a ball and socket component that has a metal housing and a stud. A front suspension consisting of a ball and socket offers a pivoting mechanism between the suspension control arms and steering knuckles. It provides a smooth ride and precise control of the vehicle.
Q5. What are ball joint spacers?
Ans. Ball joint spacers are used for camber adjustments and can provide 2-3 inches of suspension lift in the front. During off-road use, spacers reduce ball joint angle to prevent premature failure of the suspension during rough driving. It allows more suspension travel so that you can traverse tricky routes and unpaved roads.
Q6. How often should ball joints be replaced?
Ans. Manufacturers generally recommend a replacement of ball joints in the suspension after 100,000 km of driving. Worn-out ball joints cause excessive free play in the suspension which can lead to additional wear and tear. A ball joint that fails can cause the suspension to collapse and vehicle control could be lost.
Q7. What happens when ball joint breaks?
Ans. A broken or seriously worn ball joint will cause loud rattling noise from the suspension and steering may be affected leading to loss of control. The ability to absorb jolts and impacts will diminish and steering may start to drift off course. A failed ball joint may cause the wheel to detach from the suspension.
Q8. Why ball joint is bad?
Ans. Ball joints have a lifespan of around 50,000 km and have to be replaced if they emit clicking, squeaking or knocking sounds. If a ball joint gets damaged and fails during driving, it may lead to total loss of control of the vehicle. Worn ball joints also dramatically affect the wear and tear of wheels causing uneven tread wear.
Q9. Why replace lower ball joint?
Ans. A defective or broken lower ball joint will hamper your ability to steer the vehicle and you may lose control while driving. Replacing the lower ball joint will prevent further damage to the suspension and provides safe, smooth and stable driving. A bad lower ball joint can cause serious accidents if not replaced.
Q10. Is a bad ball joint dangerous?
Ans. It is not a good idea to drive your car with a faulty ball joint. A ball joint forms part of the steering and suspension mechanism and driving with a bad ball joint is dangerous because you could lose control of the steering or the wheel may detach from the suspension. The ball joint’s main function is to keep the wheels flat and aligned with the road as the suspension moves up and down.
Q11. Why do ball joints fail?
Ans. Ball joints fail if dirt and debris get inside the metal housing or the lubricating grease escapes from the ball and socket. Without lubrication, the ball joint will deteriorate. Rust and corrosion can also lead to wear and tear of the ball joints leading to excessive free play and loose operation.
Q12. What causes a bad ball joint?
Ans. The ball joint forms part of the suspension which is exposed underneath the vehicle. Dirt, mud, salt and asphalt get thrown onto the suspension while driving and can cause them to lose lubrication, get rusted or corroded and deteriorate over time. Give the underbody a good wash after driving to keep the contaminants away from your suspension.
Q13. Where is the ball joint on a control arm?
Ans. The control arm is part of the suspension that connects the steering mechanism and wheel hub to the frame of the vehicle. On the frame side, the control arm consists of bushes while a ball joint is equipped on the wheel side. The ball joint allows the wheel to flex according to the contours of the road and depending on steering input.
Q14. Where is the ball joint on a truck?
Ans. Trucks have similar suspensions to passenger cars, but they are bigger and can handle heavier loads. Ball joints exist in truck suspension at the wheel side of the lower and upper control arm. The frame side of the control arm has bushes to absorb impacts and provide a cushioned ride. The ball joint allows the wheels to stay aligned with the road as the suspension operates.
Q15. Where is the lower ball joint?
Ans. The suspension consists of a control lower arm and an upper control arm that has a strut coil spring in between. The lower ball joint can be found at the wheel side of the lower control arm which provides wheel articulation as the suspension moves up and down.
Q16. Is it dangerous to drive with bad ball joint?
Ans. You should not drive with a bad ball joint because it can lead to damage to the suspension, coil spring, control arms and steering knuckle. In the worst-case scenario, the ball joint can completely fail to cause loss of control of the vehicle, and perhaps even the wheel coming off. A worn ball joint will also cause uneven tyre wear in the long run.