The vehicle’s ball joints are very important for any suspension system. They consist of a bearing placed inside a special socket. These balls are responsible for connecting the wheel to the axle and allowing it to move in all directions.
Over time of use, the ball joint can get damaged, resulting in the wheel getting off the car in difficult situations. Furthermore, bad ball joints affect the overall ride characteristics and driving handling. To avoid such situations, you must maintain good ball joints all the time.
Luckily, the ball joint will tell you when it's getting worse before it even does. There is a unique set of signs of a bad ball joint that you must keep an eye for.
This article provides you with a quick overview of what the ball joint is and how it works. Then, we list the different signs of a bad ball joint. Once you experience any of these signs, you must get the ball joints replaced as soon as possible. Lastly, we answer a list of most frequently asked questions about ball joints.
What is the ball joint, and how does it work?
Your vehicle’s suspension system consists of bearings, bushings, joints, and links. This system helps your wheels move independently both in the vertical and the horizontal directions.
The ball joint is one of the most vital components in the suspension system of your vehicle. The boil joint is a special flexible connection allowing movement in more than one direction.
Within your vehicle’s wheel, there can be two ball joints: one upper and one lower. These ball joints have multiple jobs. For instance, the ball joints connect the wheel to the rest of the suspension system.
Furthermore, the boil joint allows the wheel to move up and down while driving and turn at the same time.
Over time of use, the boil joints can wear and become looser due to wear in the ball or socket. Consequently, the ball can come out of the socket, causing the wheel to come off the vehicle. For instance, you might see some cars on the side of the road with wheels folded in or out, which is a bad ball joint.
Signs of a bad ball joint
After fully understanding what the ball joint is and how it works, it's important to keep the ball joints in good condition to avoid the risk of wheel coming off the car and cause risk issues.
Luckily, there are clear signs of a bad ball joint that you must keep an eye for. Once you noticed any of these signs, you must get your vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic as soon as possible
Hearing a clunking noise around the front suspension
As a rule of thumb, when you hear any weird noises coming from any part of your vehicle, you must take action and have the vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional mechanic.
While some of these weird noises might be related to simple issues, some noises can cause significant problems if not complete vehicle failure.
In the case of a bad ball joint, you might hear some clunking noise, especially in the front suspension. The clunking sound gets louder when driving on a bumpy road, speed bumps, and when trying to turn.
As the ball joint gets older, it might wear and become loose. The loser the ball joint, the higher the clunking noise resulted from the ball joint hitting the socket walls.
Experiencing vibration, especially on the front side of the vehicle
As the ball joint gets older, it starts vibrating inside the socket, and this vibration can be transferred to the entire suspension system. That’s why you might experience excessive vibration on the front side of your vehicle while in motion and especially when hitting a bump.
In difficult situations, a loose ball joint vibration can be felt in the steering wheel. While steering wheel vibration can be due to a bad ball joint, this symptom can not confirm it as the steering wheel vibration might happen due to multiple other reasons.
The steering might wander to the right or the left
Another common sign of a bad ball joint is when your vehicle drifts to the left or the right while driving, or what’s called “wandering.”
Vehicle wandering is mostly related to its alignment. A bad ball joint affects the vehicle’s alignment as it wears out and becomes looser.
Uneven tire wear
A bad ball joint can cause your tire to wear unevenly. While uneven tire wear might happen due to other causes, taking a closer look at the tire wear confirms the culprit.
If the tires' outer and inner edges are wearing before the middle of the tire, then the culprit is not the ball joint. On the other hand, if the inner and outer edges before the rest of it, then it's for sure the ball joint.
What can happen when the ball joints go bad?
A bad ball joint can cause significant uneven tire wear, resulting in many alignments and driving handling issues. Furthermore, the bad ball joint can damage your suspension system if not putting you in car accidents. A completely damaged ball joint can also cause safety issues like your wheel getting off your vehicle, putting your life at risk.
Lastly, with a bad ball joint, you will not pass the inspection or roadworthy test.
As a driver, you must maintain your vehicle’s ball joints in good condition to drive your vehicle smoothly and keep yourself and your family safe.
Can I drive a car with a bad ball joint?
While a bad ball joint does not always cause catastrophic problems, the wheel comes off the vehicle while driving if the ball joints were very loose. Furthermore, in difficult situations, the front suspension might come apart, disturbing the overall control of your vehicle.
How long does the ball joint last?
On average, the ball joint lasts between 70,000 and 150,000 miles. However, this number varies significantly depending on your road condition, driving habits, and getting exposed to road salt.
How much does it cost to replace a ball joint?
It is replacing the ball joint costs between $20 and $150 on parts only. However, the price can increase significantly when accounting for labor costs. Knowing that it takes about an hour to replace the ball joint, the expected total replacement cost for a ball joint ranges from $100 to $400.
Several people choose to replace the ball joint at a small repair shop rather than a dealership to reduce labor costs. Other people with good mechanical skills choose to replace their ball joints using available DIYs online.
How to check for a bad ball joint?
There are several inspections you can perform to confirm a bad ball joint. First, listen for a clunking or squeaking sound when your vehicle is in motion.
Second, perform a visual inspection by looking at the ball joints behind your wheel. A bad ball joint’s boots might be cracked, causing water and dirt to get inside the ball joint socket. Unfortunately, if the upper ball joint is damaged, you can not replace the ball joint, and the entire arm must be replaced.
For further inspection, you can jack up your vehicle and hold the 6-12 o’clock position, try to move the wheel back and forth, looking for any play. You can also try the 3-9 o’clock wheel position, while any wiggle might indicate a bad ball joint, it could be the bearing or other components of the suspension system.
Finally, using a long bar, try to place it under the wheel and push the wheel up and down, looking for any clicking sound.
Lastly, taking a step further, you can look at the ball joint itself and try to push it and move it. A bad ball joint looks very loose, worn out, not smooth, and rusted.
How to replace the ball joint?
Replacing the ball joint takes about an hour of work and is not considered a very complicated problem than other mechanical repairs. Here is all that you need to do to replace your vehicle’s ball joints:
- Get the vehicle and the work area ready by parking on a flat surface and secure the wheels locked.
- Raise your vehicle using a jack
- Perform a quick inspection to ensure that the ball joints need replacement
- Review your vehicle’s owner’s manual and confirm the type of ball joints you need to install. You can always compare your new ball joint to the old one to confirm they match. If you don’t have a copy of your vehicle’s owner manual, you can find a copy online or request a printed copy from your mechanic.
- Take off the wheel with the bad ball joint
- Before installing the new ball joint, it is recommended to clean all the bolts with a WD-40 or using a PB blaster
- Take off the old ball joint and install the new one
- Lower your vehicle and give it a test drive
- Listen and look for any of the mentioned signs of a bad ball joint. If you noticed any of the previous signs, its either you did not install it properly, or there is another faulty ball joint in your suspension system.
Is it worth repairing my vehicle’s ball joint?
While replacing the ball joint is not the most expensive repair, it is always important to ask yourself the following questions before paying for any repairs:
- Is your vehicle at a very high mileage?
- Are there any other complicated problems with your vehicle?
- Is repair cost getting close or more than the value of your vehicle?
If your answer to any of the mentioned problems is a yes, then it might not be worth repairing this vehicle.
Fortunately, you always have an option to sell your car as junk to a Cash Cars Buyer. At Cash Cars Buyer, we buy all cars despite their condition, make, model, or year.
We pay the top-dollars for every vehicle as each vehicle is worth something for us. Furthermore, we provide free towing to all customers despite their living location. Lastly, we have a very flexible schedule and can pick up your car in the evening, weekends, and any other time. Therefore, you don’t have to cancel your important meeting of appointment.
All that you need to do is to give us a call, provide us some basic information about your vehicle, receive our instant offer and accept it, schedule your pickup time and location, get your vehicle removed within one to three days, and get your cash payment right on the spot.
Your vehicle’s ball joint is responsible for keeping your wheel connected to the suspension system and allows for up and down movement and allows for turning and left and right movements. That’s why your vehicle’s wheel doesn’t have a problem going over a rough road and turn at the same time.
Over time of use, the ball joint can get damaged, especially around 70,000 miles. It is never recommended to drive with a bad ball joint. Thanks to the sings of a bad ball joint that helps you detect the problem before worsening.
A bad ball joint results in excessive vibration in the suspension system, clicking noise from the front part of your vehicle, uneven tire wear, and steering wandering and vibrating. Once you notice any of these signs, you must take your vehicle to a professional mechanic to avoid getting into high repair costs.