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.
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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.