How to Check Ball Joints, Tie Rods, and Control Arms
Do you hear a squeaky noise or get a clunky feeling when you turn the steering wheel? Hmm, you might want to consider parking the car and avoid driving it till you fix it.
Such symptoms are often indications that the tie rod has gone bad. And that’s just one problem with the car’s suspension system. The ball joints and control arms might also get damaged causing trouble on the road. And I guess that’s the last thing you want.
So why do ball joints, tie rods, and controls arms wear out? The simplest explanation is that these parts wear with use. And that’s natural! Just think of your own joints.
Your hip joints are very similar to the ball joints of your car. Your legs move thanks to the little suspension-like system all humans have.
And just like doctors do when it comes to your physical examination and checking the hip joints, you have to diagnose the reasons why your car’s ball joints, tie rods, and control arms are worn.
Why You Need to Know If Ball Joints, Tie Rods, and Control Arms Worn Out
Allow us to pause for a minute to explain the meaning of ball joints, tie rods, and control arms and hence explain their significance to your car (and safety).
- Ball Joints connect the car’s chassis to the wheels enabling you to turn the steering wheel. And that’s because they connect the control arms to the steering knuckles. They support the car’s weight and are the pivot point for the vehicle’s steering system.
Image via www.whichcar.com.au
- Control arms have a pivot at their ends. There are upper and lower control arms forming the letter A – and so they are often called A-arm. They connect the steering knuckle to the chassis. To ensure the car’s suspension system works fine during up and down movement, the control arms are attached to bushings, which are made of rubber and are flexible. What’s the relation of control arms with ball joints? The ball joints connect the outer end of the control arms to the steering knuckle and that’s how your wheels turn.
- The tie rod has an outer and inner end and carry tensile loads. It connects the components of the suspension & steering system to the wheels. And so it enables your vehicle’s wheels to turn.
So these parts are all about allowing your car wheels to turn and enable stability while you are driving. You won’t like what will happen if one or all of these parts wear out. Check out the potential problems when they wear out:
- Tire wear
- Erratic steering
- Losing control of the car
- Steering wheel vibration
How would you know there is a problem with the ball joints, tie rods, and control arms of your car?
- You will hear strange noises, especially when you turn
- You won’t be able to drive the car straight
- There will be a banging noise when the car is going over bumps
- There will be no comfort when driving the car
- The wheels might separate from the car
Even the slightest problem when driving is a nightmare let alone the possibility of the wheels separating from the chassis. And that’s why you should check the suspension system once a year.
Image via www.yourmechanic.com
How to Inspect Ball Joints
An easy method to check the condition of ball joints is to drive the car and listen if there are any noises. If so, the noise will be intense when you turn the steering wheel. There will also be a banging noise when you go over bumps.
For visual ball joint inspection, you will need:
A jack and jack stands
A pry bar
A lug nut wrench
Wheel chocks or wood blocks
- Set the car at parking brake
- Loosen the lug nut (on hand tight)
- Jack up the vehicle
- Place the jack stands under the car to secure its load
- Put the wood blocks or wheel chocks behind the rear wheels to keep it from moving
- Check if the tires play. If the ball joints are in good condition, there won’t be any play
- If there is noise at the bottom, there is most likely a problem with the lower ball joint
- If you want to visually check the ball joints, remove the wheel
- Check the ball joints for rust, dust boot damage, oil leaks, or other issues
- Place the pry bar between the steering knuckle and lower control arm making a pretend effort to pry them apart. If there is movement or clicking sounds, there is a problem
- Repeat the procedure with the other wheel
How to Inspect the Tie Rods
You will need:
A jack and jack stands
A lug nut wrench
Wood blocks to secure the vehicle when jacked up
- Pull the hand brake
- Jack up the car and secure it with the jack stands
- Try moving the wheel. If there is any play, the tie rod is bad
- For further inspection, remove the wheels
- Inspect the boot of the inner tie rod to see if there are any leaks or damage
- Then check the outer tie rod focusing on the boot
- The boot might crack overtime accumulating road dust. The good news is that if only the boot is torn, you can get a new one without having to replace the entire tie rod
- Then try moving the tie rod with your hands. There shouldn’t be any play. If there is movement, you should replace it
It’s Hard to Check Control Arms Alone
It’s hard to check the control arms without actually lifting the car on a hoist. Even if you have some experience with car mechanics, you will have to get the car to a shop for proper inspection.
So the only way to suspect control arm related problems is to listen to clunking and popping noises, especially when you are driving over bumps. When you are driving, you might also feel like the car is wandering or is not stable when you go over bumps or are braking.
Some Final Words…
There is a good reason why do ball joints, tie rods, and control arms wear out. They might get eroded due to humidity, break due to intense bumps, or simply wear naturally. What we tried to show here is that such damage might lead to accidents on the road.
And this is not a stressed-out situation. It can happen to the most experienced driver. So what you should do is check these parts or take the car to the mechanic for annual inspections.
We just hope our tutorial was helpful to those who wouldn’t mind attempting to check the ball joints and tie rods on their own. So if you like what you read, share the article with your friends. Everyone deserves some useful how to instructions!