One of the most critical parts of every vehicle’s suspension and steering mechanisms are ball joints. While ball joints do last a long time they do eventually wear. This can be due to navigating uneven roads as well as general wear and tear over time.
Let’s take a look at what ball joints are and various symptoms that yours might be failing.
Why Does Your Vehicle Need Ball Joints?
First things first, for those who don’t know what ball joints are, you can think of them like the ball and socket joints in the human body (shoulders and hips). Ball joints connect the wheel hub (that the wheel and tire are connected to) to the vehicle’s steering and suspension system. This is what allows you to turn the wheel.
This connection needs to be able to rotate horizontally for steering and vertically for shock absorption. Cars will have 2 or 4 ball joints on the front wheels. If the vehicle has McPherson struts, it will only have two located at the bottom of the wheel hub. If the vehicle has shocks and springs, it will have upper and lower ball joints.
It is generally accepted that load bearing ball joints tend to wear out faster than non-load bearing joints. Below is a chart outlining suspension type and the load bearing ball joints.
|McPherson Struts||Non-load bearing||No upper ball joint|
|Spring on Upper Control Arm (both upper and lower)||Load bearing||Non-load bearing|
|Spring on Lower Control Arm (both upper and lower)||Non-load bearing||Load bearing|
As you might expect, ball joints are a critical part of your vehicle’s steering system. Without them you wouldn’t be able to get very far. As we mentioned, over time these parts can wear out. Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms that your ball joints have failed.
Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints
Since your ball joints are under the vehicle, it’s hard to determine through visual inspection that something is amiss. That’s why if something goes wrong with your ball-joints, then notable sounds are likely to follow.
Keep in mind that none of these symptoms guarantees that there is a problem with your ball joints. Other issues with your suspension and steering can cause the same types of symptoms.
1. Metallic Sounds
This is one of the most common signs of bad ball joints. The sound is a faint banging or grinding coming from the corner of the vehicle. As the vehicle approaches bumps or dips, or when the suspension system goes up or down it will start to move the ball joint.
As time goes on, this sound will get worse and worse as the ball joints continue to wear leading to an eventual break.
Below is a video where James Hudson is turning into his residence and as he turns you can hear a metallic noise which are the ball joints grinding.
2. Steering Issues
As we noted, ball joints are connected to the steering and suspension system. If they become worn, you may start to feel your vehicle pulling to the left or right. Steering issues will highly depend on how the ball joints wear though.
For instance you may also experience a vibration in the steering wheel. This will make your vehicle feel very unstable, and the vehicle may even start to shake.
3. Tire Wear
The steering issues above can result in uneven tire wear. Since you can physically look at your tires, you can see how the tread is wearing. If you notice that the outer or inner edges of the front tires are wearing out faster than the rest of the tire than the ball joints might be worn out. You might also notice “tire cupping” which happens because of irregular up and down motion of the tire. This could also be an indication of faulty ball joints.
We should note that if you notice both edges are wearing out faster than the middle, then the issue might be that your tires are under-inflated.
4. Wear Indicators
Some ball joints will have wear indicators (older vehicles). The most common is a grease fitting or pin that doubles as a wear indicator. The fitting will stick out through a hole in the ball joint. As it wears down, it recedes into the housing. As long as the fitting protrudes, the joint should be operational.
If the pin is no longer visible or is flush with the housing, then the ball joints need to be replaced.
What is the Average Cost of Ball Joint Repair
Keep in mind that the cost to replace ball joints varies from one vehicle to another. You need to take into consideration the cost of the part and the labor involved.
On average though, you can expect to pay $150-$450 for ball joint repair. Again this highly depends on the factors detailed above and may fall below and exceed that range.
You shouldn’t overlook the signs of a bad ball joint because this can increase the replacement costs due to additional wear. It may also lead to a break that will prevent you from steering your vehicle and stopping safely. Experts suggest that ball joints need to be replaced after 70,000 to 150,000 miles of driving.
If you suspect there is a problem with your ball joints, consult a professional mechanic and have them diagnose and fix the problem.