Here’s Why Your Ball Joint Failed (2022)

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Over time, parts of your fancy new car will start to break down and cause problems. Some of them are easy, some are extremely difficult to do at home, and some are expensive. Ball joints fall right in the middle of that spectrum. They’re not super expensive but may tax the home mechanic’s skills and equipment.

The Drive’s editors have done their fair share of home ball joint repairs, and they’re here to tell you that, unless you are extremely confident in your skills and equipment, it’s best to pay someone the little bit of cash that it’ll take to do the repairs.

But for those still weighing their options, we’re here to answer the question, what does a ball joint do, exactly? Why do they break? And why is it best to entrust someone with the tools to fix it? In this post, we’ll dive into the details and help lay the foundation for your successful repair job. Stick with us, and you’ll have a solid understanding of ball joint basics in no time.

Let’s dive in.

[Ed. Note: This post was modified on 3/25/2021 with added information]

Ball joints can wear out like anything else., Depositphotos

What Is a Ball Joint?

In cars, ball joints consist of a spherical bearing that moves inside a small socket. They are used to connect control arms to steering knuckles. When they start to fail, they can allow movement in directions that are not conducive to safe steering and handling.

What Causes Them To Wear Out?

The underside of your vehicle is exposed to everything. Dirt, grime, oil, salt, and anything else on the road can make its way into the ball joint and lead to a loss of lubrication. Ball joints can also rust and deteriorate, which will cause unintended movement and looseness.

Can I Drive With a Bad Ball Joint?

No. You should not drive with a bad ball joint. Continuing to drive can cause damage to other vehicle components and if the joint fails completely you could lose control of the vehicle, leading to a crash and injuries.

Here’s How To Check Your Ball Joints

Checking your car’s ball joints will require both a road test and a visual inspection, but the process is neither difficult nor expensive.

(Video) How to Check if a Ball Joint is Bad

Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 1-2 Hours, Depending on vehicle and skill level

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Suspension

Safety

  • Don’t ignore the symptoms of a failing ball joint. It’s not only unsafe for you to drive with a bad one, it can be fatal for others if you lose control.
  • Any time you’re working under your vehicle, it’s important to use jack stands instead of leaving the vehicle on the jack. Stands are designed to hold the vehicle’s weight for an extended period of time, where the jack is only meant to lift the vehicle.
  • Wear protective safety glasses and mechanic gloves during this process, as there could be debris or other materials that can damage your skin or get into your eyes.
  • It’s vital that you work on a flat surface, away from traffic. If you don’t have a safe spot to work, it’s best to find a professional or locate a quiet parking spot to be safe.
  • Even with the vehicle secured on jack stands, don’t yank on the wheels too hard. You can still knock it off the stands, potentially hurting yourself and damaging the car in the process.

Everything You’ll Need To Check Your Ball Joints

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tool List

  • Jack
  • Jack stands
  • Light
  • Lug wrench
  • Wheel chocks
  • Flat head screwdriver

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Go For a Test Drive

  1. Take your car out for a drive. Be mindful of steering, turning, and handling feel. Are there any vibrations or noises that you didn’t notice on your normal commute?
  2. Pay attention to the steering wheel feel. Does the wheel pull to either side? How is steering accuracy? In other words, when you turn the steering wheel, does the car’s direction change as expected? Or is there more random movement than normal?
  3. Be sure to test the vehicle over bumps and varied road surfaces. Pay close attention to noises and other vibrations that seem out of the norm. Travel at both low speeds and near the speed limit to observe changes.
  4. Stop the vehicle and turn the steering wheel back and forth. Do you hear popping or grinding sounds as the wheels turn?
(Video) Why It's Unsafe To Drive With Bad Ball Joints

Perform a Visual Inspection

Each wheel has multiple ball joints, so it’s important to check each. Typically, you'll see an upper, lower, and lateral joint on both sides up front, but every car is different. Use your owner's manual to locate the joints on your car.

  1. Make sure the vehicle is off and in park, or neutral with the parking brake set.
  2. Jack up the front of the vehicle and set it on jack stands. Place chocks under the back wheels. (Read more in our article, How To Use Jack Stands).
  3. Observe your front tires for uneven wear. If the ball joints are failing, they can allow the wheels to move in ways that cause tires to develop wear in weird places. Are the tire treads worn evenly across? Do the tires’ shoulders show wear that could show uneven camber or toe?
  4. Grab the top and bottom of the wheel/tire. If you’re able to rock the wheel with either hand, or if you hear grinding or popping sounds, the ball joint may need to be replaced. There will typically be some play left and right due to the steering, but you should be able to tell if something is off/wrong.
  5. Next, remove the wheel. Take your screwdriver and place it between the lower control arm and steering knuckle, which are joined by the ball joint. If you’re able to observe movement or sounds during this process, it could indicate a bad ball joint.
You can do the work yourself, but make sure you're prepared., Depositphotos

Ball Joint Terms You Should Know

Learn more about ball joints with these related terms.

Control Arm

Control arms connect the front wheels to the car. One side of the control arm is connected to the wheel assembly and the other is connected to the car’s frame.

CV Joints

CV joints, or constant velocity joints, connect the transmission to the wheels. They are part of the driveshaft and are mostly seen on front-wheel drive vehicles, though they can show up on other drive types as well.

Suspension

The suspension system in a vehicle is used to keep the ride comfortable while keeping the tires in constant contact with the road. The shocks, struts, and other components all work together to help the vehicle stay planted and safe over rough roads and while driving around corners and curves.

Pro Tips For Inspecting Your Ball Joints

  • Don’t cheap out on ball joint repair. If you’re doing the work yourself, opt for the best part you find and afford.
  • It’s best to replace ball joints as soon as you notice an issue. Beyond the dangers of driving with a bad one, you could end up burning through tires and other suspension components more quickly as a result of the failing joint.
  • Check both front wheels while you have the car up on jack stands. It’s best to replace worn parts together to avoid accelerated wear on other components.

Even if you don’t notice the symptoms of a failing ball joint, check the rubber boots for wear or damage to catch problems before they develop.

FAQs About Ball Joints

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. Okay, How Much Is This Going To Cost To Fix?

A. Replacing a ball joint won’t break the bank. The joints themselves cost less than $100 each, while the labor to install them can come in as low as $100. Large trucks and high-end vehicles may carry a higher replacement cost, but you’re still not looking at a major repair cost.

(Video) TIRE FALLS OFF WHILE DRIVING ON VIDEO - BALL JOINT FAILURE TOYOTA TUNDRA

Q. Can I Replace a Ball Joint Myself?

A. You absolutely can, but the process can be taxing for beginners, especially since you need a press to get the ball joint into the receiver. If you’re dead set on doing the work yourself, grab a maintenance manual for your vehicle and study the construction, as well as the tools you’ll need to do the job. You can check out the video below for more instructions.

Q: Should I Replace All Ball Joints at the Same Time?

A: Plenty of mechanics will recommend that you replace both the upper and lower ball joints at the same time. They may also recommend checking related components at the same time, such as the stud hole in the steering knuckle.

Q: How Long Should Ball Joints Last?

A: A ball joint’s lifespan will depend heavily on the type of vehicle and the kinds of driving it’s subjected to. In general, you can look to get at least 70,000 miles out of a ball joint before it needs replacement.

Q: Do Some Ball Joints Last Longer Than Others?

A: Yes. Depending on the location of the joint, some may fail more quickly than others. This is especially true if the joint is load-bearing.

Q: Do Ball Joints Need To Be Pressed?

A: They do, but depending on your vehicle and the way it was constructed, you may be able to find ways around it. The Drive’s editors have experience with the workarounds and are here to tell you to have someone else do the work for you, if at all possible.

Q. Do I Need an Alignment After Replacing Ball Joints?

A. You won’t always need an alignment after replacing your ball joints, but suspension systems can vary so wildly from make to make that it’s worth at least having the alignment checked to be sure you’re not missing something.

Let’s Talk: Comment Below To Talk With The Guides & Gear Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below, and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles. Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com.

(Video) Lower Ball Joint Testing - How To Diagnose

Featured Products

K Tool Floor Jack

Pro-Lift Jack Stand

Haynes Repair Manual (model specific)

Mechanix Work Gloves

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com

(Video) What causes ball joint failure?

FAQs

Can you still drive with a bad ball joint? ›

Can I Drive With a Bad Ball Joint? No. You should not drive with a bad ball joint. Continuing to drive can cause damage to other vehicle components and if the joint fails completely you could lose control of the vehicle, leading to a crash and injuries.

What does a failing ball joint feel like? ›

Vibrations – when a ball joint wears out, it becomes loose which can create a vibration that you can feel through the floor or the steering wheel while you drive. Steering wheel wandering to the left or the right – worn ball joints cause the steering to pull from left to right on its own.

How much does it cost to repair a ball joint? ›

In general, a new ball joint should run $20-$80. The labor costs will be different for every mechanic, but, for this repair, you should normally be charged $160-$200.

Is a ball joint expensive? ›

In general, ball joints are inexpensive with a range between $20 to $80 each. Labor will vary greatly by model. Some vehicles cost as low as $60 to $80. Yet others, especially four-wheel drive trucks, can range from $160 to $200 per ball joint.

Are ball joints easy to replace? ›

From that standpoint, yes, it is hard to replace ball joints - more than basic DIYr skills and tools are required. There is also the safety dimension for being in close proximity to a suspended vehicle, and a compressed spring that has enough force to cause serious harm if it comes loose.

What do worn ball joints sound like? ›

Sound — Usually the first indication of worn or loose ball joints will be a faint, intermittent clunking noise that seems to be coming from a corner of your vehicle. The sound may be more pronounced when going over a bump or a dip or when going around a corner.

How often do ball joints need to be replaced? ›

Generally speaking, you should expect to have to have your ball joints replaced between 70,000 to 150,000 miles of driving. Excessive play in the joint can cause additional wear, and if a ball joint fails, your car's suspension could collapse and you could lose control of the vehicle.

How long does it take to replace a ball joint? ›

A ball joint replacement will typically take around one hour, but it can take less or more time depending on several factors.

How are ball joints diagnosed? ›

4 Signs Your Vehicle Needs The Ball Joints Replaced
  1. Clunking, Rattling Noise.
  2. Loose, Wandering Steering Feel. ...
  3. Harsh Cabin Vibrations. ...
  4. Uneven Wear On Front Tires. A loose ball joint in the front suspension will introduce some "play" that allows one of the front wheels to come out of alignment with the other. ...
5 May 2021

How many ball joints does a car have? ›

Ball joints are most commonly found in the lower arms of front suspensions, depending on your vehicle you may have four ball joints on your front suspension and some ball joints in the rear of your vehicle.

Which ball joints wear out first? ›

The lower ball joint usually takes the biggest hits and wears out first. Not only does it need to handle the load of the vehicle, but it also absorbs the shocks of potholes and other bone-jarring road hazards.

Should I replace upper and lower ball joints at the same time? ›

If one ball joint is worn out, chances are the ball joint on the opposite side is also bad or nearing the end of its service life. Many technicians recommend replacing both joints at the same time (both lowers, both uppers or all four).

How long do lower ball joints last? ›

How Long Do Ball Joints Last and When Should They Be Replaced? Ball joints can last 70,000 to 150,000 miles or more. Lifespan depends on use, road conditions, and weather.

How long does it take to replace ball joints and tie rods? ›

The inner and outer tie rods on your vehicle can take up to some time. The dealership will change out the tie rod ends and then perform a vehicle alignment, so the time there will be to the upper 3 to 4 hours.

Can you replace just the ball joint without replacing control arm? ›

If the control arms and bushing are in good condition, then only the ball joints need replacement.

Is there a difference between upper and lower ball joints? ›

Upper and Lower Ball Joints

You can have upper or lower ball joints, depending on the type of vehicle and suspension. The difference is usually that upper ball joints are nonload-bearing (also known as “followers”), while lower ball joints are typically load-bearing.

Do ball joints come with control arms? ›

A control arm connects the wheel hub and steering knuckle to the frame of the vehicle. They are typically equipped with bushings on the frame side of the vehicle and a ball joint on the wheel side of the vehicle that allow flex and controlled movement according to road conditions and steering input from the driver.

How do I know if my ball joints are bad while driving? ›

4 Signs Your Vehicle Needs The Ball Joints Replaced
  1. Clunking, Rattling Noise.
  2. Loose, Wandering Steering Feel. ...
  3. Harsh Cabin Vibrations. ...
  4. Uneven Wear On Front Tires. A loose ball joint in the front suspension will introduce some "play" that allows one of the front wheels to come out of alignment with the other. ...
5 May 2021

How do I know if my ball joints or wheel bearings are bad? ›

Worn Ball Joints or Wheel Bearings How to check for each - YouTube

Are ball joints only in the front? ›

Ball joints are most commonly found in the lower arms of front suspensions, depending on your vehicle you may have four ball joints on your front suspension and some ball joints in the rear of your vehicle.

How long does it take to replace ball joints? ›

A ball joint replacement will typically take around one hour, but it can take less or more time depending on several factors.

What sound do bad ball joints make? ›

Sound — Usually the first indication of worn or loose ball joints will be a faint, intermittent clunking noise that seems to be coming from a corner of your vehicle. The sound may be more pronounced when going over a bump or a dip or when going around a corner.

How do you check ball joints? ›

How to Check if a Ball Joint is Bad - YouTube

How do I know if my lower control arm is bad? ›

Below are five common signs that your vehicle's control arms need replacing.
  1. #1) Clunking Noise. One of the first things you'll notice when one or more of your vehicle's control arms goes bad is a clunking noise. ...
  2. #2) Vehicle Pulling to the Side. ...
  3. #3) Uneven Tread Wear. ...
  4. #4) Vibrations When Driving. ...
  5. #5) Visual Damage.
14 Jan 2019

How often should ball joints be replaced? ›

Generally speaking, you should expect to have to have your ball joints replaced between 70,000 to 150,000 miles of driving. Excessive play in the joint can cause additional wear, and if a ball joint fails, your car's suspension could collapse and you could lose control of the vehicle.

What does a worn wheel bearing sound like? ›

The classic sounds of a bad wheel bearing are cyclic chirping, squealing and/or growling noise. You can also tell that the sound is related to wheel bearings if it changes in proportion to vehicle speed. The sound can get worse with every turn, or it can disappear momentarily.

Should you replace both ball joints at once? ›

Many technicians recommend replacing both joints at the same time (both lowers, both uppers or all four). Another item that should be checked when ball joints are replaced is the stud hole in the steering knuckle — especially if the ball joint stud has broken or is loose.

Which ball joints wear out first? ›

The lower ball joint usually takes the biggest hits and wears out first. Not only does it need to handle the load of the vehicle, but it also absorbs the shocks of potholes and other bone-jarring road hazards.

How many ball joints are in a front end? ›

We talked to the experts, and this is what we found out. Most trucks have four ball joints; two load-carrying and two follower ball joints. The load-carrying ball joints are considerably larger and experience a higher wear and tear rate due to the weight of the front car that rests on them.

Can you replace just the ball joint without replacing control arm? ›

If the control arms and bushing are in good condition, then only the ball joints need replacement.

How much does it cost to replace tie rods and ball joints? ›

The average cost for tie rod replacement is between $155 and $217. Labor costs are estimated between $49 and $62 while parts are priced between $106 and $155. This range does not include taxes and fees, and does not factor in your specific vehicle or unique location. Related repairs may also be needed.

Where are ball joints located? ›

Ball joints are components located on the front suspension system of a vehicle. They help form a connection between control arms and steering knuckles. This provides smooth movement within the suspension.

Videos

1. How My Toyota Balljoint Failure Almost Killed Me ...
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3. Ball Joints Rubber Boot Easy Fix | Japanese Made Cars
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4. Wheel Clunking Over Bumps? How to Diagnose Front End and Ball Joints!
(1A Auto: Repair Tips & Secrets Only Mechanics Know)
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