How to Replace Ball Joints
Do you know how to replace ball joints? Hmm, you say! Why should I? Well, let us start with the basics: suspension parts wear out. We all have our share of experience!
Now, what’s upsetting is that an annoying clicking sound Monday morning escalates to a thump Tuesday afternoon. And it’s then when you know that there is most likely a problem with your car’s ball joints.
More often than not, ball joints dry out. For crying out loud, you yell! The ball joints of my car are lubricated for life!!! Surprise! Surprise!
No matter what the manual says, ball joints DO go bad. And when they do, the solution is simple: replacement. And at this point, you simply have to learn how to replace ball joints or get the car to the mechanic.
Image via https://grassrootsmotorsports.com
Why ball joints go bad?
But hold on a sec! Ball joints don’t go bad only due to lubrication failure. Don’t forget that they are made up of bearings, a housing and ball stud, an end cover, and a spring or Belleville washer.
Any of these parts might break or corrode. On top of that, ball joints support the car’s weight and pivot at several angles. So, they do wear. And then, there are ball joints and there are ball joints. Their quality and type both vary.
One more thing: in spite of the presence of the end cover, debris can still find its way in causing damage. (Surprise! Surprise! Once more)
- Do you hear a banging noise?
- Having trouble keeping the wheel straight?
- Do you feel intense vibrations when driving?
- Is one of the tires worn faster than the rest?
If you do, you must replace the ball joints.
Why should you learn how to replace ball joints?
The ball joints replacement cost varies based on the car’s make, year, and model. But the job doesn’t come cheap. An average price for the replacement of only one ball joint would translate to a couple of hundred dollars.
BUT… when one ball joint is damaged, chances are that the rest will wear soon too. And since you don’t want to go through the same hassle of banging sounds, inconvenience during driving, feeling unsafe and these sort of things, it’s best to replace them all. And this will cost more.
With that said, let me just point out that replacing ball joints is not easy. If you are not a handyman or anywhere close to knowing the difference between ball joints and eggs, it’s best to trust a pro. After all, if the job is not done right, driving won’t be safe.
Now, if you know your way around cars, you can easily follow our instructions on how to replace ball joints.
One thing is certain: if ball joints are somehow damaged, they must be replaced or your safety will be questioned, especially at high speeds.
Image via https://grassrootsmotorsports.com
First things first: what to do before you replace the ball joints
Gather the tools you will need. These would include:
- A jack to lift the car and jack stands
- A rock, brick or any other item you find handy to place behind the tires and keep the car from sliding – that won’t be nice
- Lubricants to loosen up the bolts, especially if they are corroded
- The right wrenches to remove the fasteners
- New fasteners (bolts and nuts), gaskets, etc., etc., etc. (in other words, replace all components)
- A drill for the rivets – if it’s necessary for your vehicle
- A hammer & pickle fork to help you pop the ball joints
- You might also need a wire to hang the brakes
- A grease pump
- A castellated nut
Now that you have all the tools gathered, prepare the working area. Make sure the surface the car is parked on is flat and block both rear and front tires. Then jack the car and place the jack stands.
How to make sure the ball joints must be replaced
With the car lifted, it’s time to check the ball joints and see if they are really damaged. If the suspension system of your car utilizes a control arm, shake it to see if there is a wheel play.
If this is a strut suspension, shake the car and use a pry bar to see if there is a wheel play. If there is a wheel play or space between the ball joints and the contact point, they should be replaced.
How to replace ball joints
Assuming you have bought the new ball joints for your car, start by removing the existing ball joints.
- First of all, remove the wheel. This will allow you to have access to the ball joint. If the brakes stand in your way, hang them by using the wire. To create more space and work with ease, loosen the control arm.
- Now, the next step is to remove the ball joints. But they are often corroded, dirty, and stiff and so it will be hard for you to loosen them up. That’s where the lubricant comes in. Spray some WD-40 to remove the ball joints easier.
- Once you remove the bolts with the wrench, you can use the pickle fork to bang out the upper ball joints and a hammer to remove the lower ball joints.
- Remove the slotted nut and cotter pin with a socket wrench and then pop the ball joints off by pressing the pickle fork on the hammer.
Some suggestions when removing the old ball joints:
- If some parts are corroded, they are removed easier if you use some heat. But be extra careful with that. You want to torch the components off and not burn yourself.
- If your car has pressed-in ball joints, you can’t avoid the visit to the mechanic. Pros have this special tool, called the hydraulic press, which is used to remove and install these types of ball joints.
- Don’t be afraid to put some force when you try to remove the components. They are often very stiff due to the accumulated dirt, lack of lubes, and corrosion. Don’t worry if any of the components, like the rubber gasket, breaks. It’s best to replace them all anyway.
- Be careful when you remove the ball joints. You don’t want them landing on your feet. It’s helpful to use a castellated nut.
Second phase: ball joints installation
Here we are at the last and most important stage of the ball joints replacement task. It’s time to install the new ones. So, let’s get started:
- Place the new rubber gasket over the stud and put the new ball joint through the knuckle hole. Then bolt the ball joint.
- Now you have to torque the bolts but must follow the instructions of your manual down to the last detail as far as numbers are concerned. You will need a torque wrench for that and a castellated nut will also help you. If you have a McPherson strut, you will need to install a pinch bolt.
- Place the grease fitting.
- Pump grease.
Don’t forget two major things:
- Once the ball joints replacement is completed, it’s best to align the car.
- Since the brakes are most likely hanging, bleed them. If there is a problem with them, this is a good opportunity for you to find out.
One last advice: although ball joints installation is relatively easy, the job becomes easier if you install first the upper ones and then continue with the installation of the lower ball joints.
Let us elaborate a bit further:
- To install the upper ball joint, make sure the area around the upper control arm is clean before you place the ball joint. It’s vital to pay attention to the rubber gasket. You don’t want it pinched by the control arm hole or it will be ruined allowing dirt to enter into the grease. Tighten the nut to secure the bolt, then align it and tighten the bolts and washers with the wrench. Lastly, install the cotter pin.
- To install the lower ball joint, bend it about 90 degrees. This will help you put it in the geared hub hole easier. This should be under the lower control arm. Once you align the holes, place the washers, bolts, and nuts and tighten them.
Don’t forget to grease the ball joints. If there is no problem with the brakes, put them back and then take the tires and put them back too. Only then, you can align the car.
All done, folks!
It wasn’t so hard, now! Was it? Learning how to replace ball joints might not come easy for those who know little about cars. But it’s a process you can easily learn so you can save some money.
The key to succeeding is to have the right tools all gathered around you and some time to spare. Not that it takes very long to replace the ball joints, but you don’t want to rush with such tasks. For your safety’s sake!
With that said, let us just say once more that if you don’t feel comfortable doing this job, simply don’t. Don’t risk your safety. On the other hand, if you are up to it, we just hope our how to replace ball joints instructions were clear and helpful.