Ball joints are an important part of your car’s suspension assembly. Therefore, if it has gone bad, you will notice some troubling symptoms and more importantly, it can be dangerous for you to drive with a bad ball joint. One of the most common symptoms would be a knocking noise as you drive along, if you notice this, then you may have a bad ball joint. We’ll be explaining more about how it works, the symptoms, as well as ball joint replacement cost.
- What is a Ball Joint?
- Symptoms of a bad ball joint
- How to check a ball joint
- Ball joint replacement cost
- Questions and Answers
- How to replace ball joints yourself
What is a Ball Joint?
The ball joint is part of your car’s lower control arm which connects the control arm to the steering knuckle. A control arm is an important component that connects your car’s frame or body to the wheels, while the steering knuckle is the part that contains the wheel hub. All of these components are connected by a ball joint, which consists of a bearing stud and a socket in an enclosed casing. The ball joint allows your wheel hub to pivot and it also helps to accommodate your car’s up and down motion. Additionally, ball joints also help to keep your car stable since they help to constrain your wheel’s angle.
When a ball joint wears down, it may become loose, affecting wheel alignment and stability. In a worst-case scenario, they may fail entirely and cause a loss of control while driving. If you’d like to learn more about ball joints, we found this great video that you can watch:
The placement and assembly of ball joints vary from one car to another. For example, if your car has what’s called a ‘short-long arm suspension’, then it would have four ball joints. In this assembly, there would be two ball joints on each wheel: one as the upper ball joint and another one as the lower ball joint. Meanwhile, if you have a MacPherson strut suspension, you will have two ball joints. One on each side of the front wheels, which acts as a lower joint.
As a result, a ball joint replacement cost will vary depending on your car’s make and model. There are different assemblies used, not to mention manufacturers charge different prices. Before we discuss more the costs, here are some of the symptoms you should look out for:
Symptoms of a Bad Ball Joint
1. Noises from Your Suspension Assembly
This is the most common and obvious sign of a bad ball joint. If you have a bad ball joint, there are two possible noises that you might hear: a knocking noise and a snapping noise. A knocking noise caused by ball joints usually appears when your car is going over a speed bump or a rough patch of road.
Meanwhile, a snapping noise usually appears while you’re trying to make a sharp turn. This is usually caused by the ball being pulled from the socket then released. If you suspect you have a bad ball joint, try making a sharp turn such as when you’re pulling out of a parking space, and listen for a snapping noise.
Keep in mind that noises from your suspension can be caused by other things as well, such as bad CV joints. However, your suspension assembly isn’t supposed to make any noise. So, if you do hear noises, it would be best to get your car checked.
2. Unstable Car or Side-to-Side Shifts
On top of the knocking noise, you may experience your car shifting side-to-side. Ball joints help to constrain your car’s motion, so when they become loose, they will lose the ability to do so. This can be dangerous as this affects the stability of your car as you drive along. In tricky conditions, you might completely lose control of your car since the car might wander from side to side.
Needless to say, this puts you and other drivers at significant risk, and a ball joint replacement should not be postponed. If you notice this as you drive along, we recommend immediately taking your car to a repair shop for a diagnostic.
3. Wheel Misalignment and Irregular Tire Wear
A bad ball joint may cause your wheels to be misaligned. If your wheels are misaligned, you will often notice your car pulling to one side as you try to drive in a straight line. Misaligned wheels will also often lead to irregular tire wear. So, be sure to check your tire wear the next time you do a tire rotation.
It’s important to note that irregular tire wear might be caused by other things such as bad wheel bearings and over or underinflation of the tires. However, if you notice irregular tire wear, and you see the other symptoms, then you might have a bad ball joint. In which case, it’s time to get your car to the repair shop for a diagnostic.
How to Check For a Bad Ball Joint
If you’re experiencing the symptoms above but still unsure and you want to visually check your ball joints, you can do this by following these steps:
- Slightly loosen the lug nut until they are hand-tight, but do not remove them completely.
- Park on a flat surface and engage the parking brake. You can also place wheel chocks behind the rear wheels just to be safe.
- Jack up the front of the car and secure it on jack stands.
- Grab the top and bottom of the tire and rock it in and out along the wheel’s axis. There should be little to no play at all if you have a good ball joint.
- If you hear noises and there’s play, then there’s a problem with your ball joint. If it’s coming from the top that means there’s a problem with the upper ball joint. Meanwhile, noise and play from the bottom suggest there’s a problem with the lower ball joint.
- Remove the wheel if you want to do a visual inspection. If you see signs of rust, damage to the dust boot (the rubber that encases the ball joint), or grease leakage, then you may need to replace the ball joint.
- Pry the ball joint apart with a pry bar to inspect for play or clicking sounds. A good ball joint shouldn’t be loose.
- Once done, put your wheels back on and repeat steps 4 – 7 on the other wheels.
To help with your inspection process, you can watch the video below to learn more:
Ball Joint Replacement Cost
A ball joint parts cost for most cars is usually around $80 – $150 each, but it can cost as high as $350 each in some luxury or performance cars. Meanwhile, labor cost is usually around $250 – $300. However, sometimes they can be as cheap as $150 depending on the repair shop’s labor rates. Most of the time, a ball joint replacement cost is between $400 – $800.
To give you a better idea, we did a little research on ball joint parts cost on some common car models. For example, a ball joint for a 2005 Toyota Camry will set you back $85 each. That’s $170 if you want to replace both front ball joints. Add labor costs into the equation and you could be looking at a total cost of $450.
Meanwhile, if you own a larger or luxury car such as the 2010 ML-Class Mercedes, then that’s going to be $134 for each ball joint. If you’re looking to replace both front ball joints, the total would be around $578 including labor cost. Keep in mind that these are just rough estimates, and they can easily be more expensive (or cheaper) depending on how much the repair shop charge for labor.
Also, it’s important to note in severe cases you might experience damage to the control arm. You will need to replace this as well as it’s a crucial component for your suspension assembly, which can cost up to $450 each to replace. This is why we recommend that you replace your ball joints as soon as it goes bad before it damages other suspension components.
Questions & Answers – Ball Joint Replacement Cost
How Long Do Ball Joints Last?
Unlike some other components, ball joints have no exact lifespan. They can last for up to 150,000 miles, but it’s not uncommon to see them fail at around 70,000 miles. Driving through rough roads or going off-road may shorten its lifespan since your ball joint will have to work harder. You can prolong your ball joint’s lifespan by taking smoother roads whenever possible. If you have no choice but to take the rough road, then be sure to drive carefully. Excessive speeds on rough roads will put more load on your ball joints.
Do I Really Need a Ball Joint Replacement?
If it has gone bad, then yes. We urge you to not postpone a ball joint replacement as it can be dangerous. As mentioned before, a bad ball joint can affect your car’s stability. This could lead to loss of control during tricky conditions, endangering you and other drivers around you. In severe cases, it may even fail completely and your wheel could fall off while you’re driving. We’re pretty sure that you want all four wheels to stay intact as you drive along.
How Do I Maintain Ball Joints?
In most cars, the ball joints will not require you to regularly maintain them. As mentioned before, you can help ease the stress your ball joints go through by driving more carefully and drive on rough roads less often. However, some cars will have what’s called a ‘serviceable ball joint’, which will have a grease fitting. If your car has this, then use a grease gun to grease the ball joints. You will normally need to do this every time you do an oil change.
Other than that, the only other thing you will need to do is a visual inspection of the ball joint. You can do this every time your car needs a major service and see if there are any signs of wear and tear on the ball joints. If there are, you can replace them early to avoid further damage to other components.
How Can I Reduce Ball Joint Replacement Cost?
If you think the ball joint replacement cost is a bit high, then there are two ways you can save some money:
Buying Aftermarket Parts
Aftermarket parts are made by third-party manufacturers and not your car’s original manufacturer. Sometimes, these aftermarket parts can be cheaper. This is not necessarily because they have lower quality, it’s just that sometimes the original manufacturer will charge a premium for their parts. Aftermarket parts can be as cheap as $20 each for certain car models, bringing your parts cost down significantly.
However, it’s not uncommon that aftermarket parts can be of lower quality. It’s all about managing expectations when you’re buying a cheaper aftermarket part. We would advise that you check the user reviews first when buying aftermarket parts, making sure that they are at least of decent quality. It’s also advisable that you buy aftermarket parts that come with a warranty, so you can get a replacement for little-to-no cost at all should they fail prematurely.
Replacing Ball Joints Yourself
You can also reduce your ball joint replacement cost by doing the replacement job yourself. A ball joint replacement cost is quite expensive because of the labor cost. This is because the process requires your mechanic to disassemble most of the suspension assembly and it can be time-consuming, hence the high cost.
By doing the replacement yourself, you take the labor cost out of the equation. Saving you nearly $250 on average. However, if you’re not comfortable with the idea of disassembling your suspension unit yourself, then we don’t recommend doing it. Best to leave it to the professionals and suck up the labor cost.
How to Replace Ball Joints
Keep in mind that replacing a ball joint is a moderate to difficult job to do. It can be quite complicated as you need to take apart a lot of your suspension assembly to gain access to the ball joint. Some of the tools you will need are an axle nut socket, a torque wrench, a grease gun, and a ball joint splitter. If you don’t have the tools, some major auto parts stores will rent you some of these tools such as the presser.
Note that the process to remove an upper and lower ball joint is different, here’s a guide on how to remove the lower ball joint:
Removing the Lower Ball Joint
- Ensure you’re working on a flat surface and slighty loosen your car’s wheel nuts.
- Jack up your car and put it on jack stands, ensure that the car is stable.
- Remove your wheels and remove the axle nut afterward. You will need to consult with the manual to find out your car’s axle nut size.
- Spray the nut and bolts you will need to remove using a penetrating fluid. This includes the lower and upper caliper bracket bolts, the control arm nuts and bolts, and the ball joint itself.
- Loosen and remove the caliper bolts to remove your brake calipers.
- Remove the cotter pin on the lower control arm nut, and then remove the nut itself. Then remove the upper control arm nut, and disconnect it from the upper ball joint.
- After removing the control arm from the steering knuckle, make sure that the knuckle isn’t pulling on anything such as the ABS wire. Do not disconnect them, but make sure there isn’t any tension on the wires.
- Remove the steering knuckle from the lower ball joint. This will give you access to your CV joint as well as the lower ball joint.
- Spray the ball joint area with a brake cleaner and remove the snap ring.
- Finally, use a ball joint press or splitter to remove the lower ball joint.
Now that you’ve removed the lower ball joint, follow these steps to install the new lower ball joint:
Installing the Lower Ball Joint
- Spray brake cleaner to clean the ball joint area.
- Insert the new ball joint from below, then use the ball joint presser to put it in place. You will need a wrench to use the presser. Press the ball joint until you can’t turn the wrench anymore.
- Once pressed and installed, put in the snap ring using nose pliers.
- Install the ball joint’s grease fitting on the top, but this is usually only for serviceable ball joints. Sealed ball joints won’t come with a grease fitting.
- Insert the ball joint stud into the steering knuckle to reconnect it to the control arm. Afterward, put on the lower control arm screw back on, and hand-tighten it.
- Use a jack stand to lift the entire knuckle assembly. Once lifted, slide the control arm into the steering knuckle. You can use a hammer or ideally a rubber mallet to hammer it in.
- Put in the upper and lower control arm. Ideally, you should use a torque wrench. Consult with your manual to see the recommended torque.
- Reinsert the cotter pin into the lower control arm nut to secure it.
- Reinstall your brake caliper. Then reinsert the upper bolt first and align it with the lower bolt. Afterward, tighten both bolts with a torque wrench. Again, check your manual to see the correct torque amount.
- Grease the lower ball joint with a grease gun.
- Reinstall the axle nut, and then put the wheels back on.
We understand that this is quite a long and complicated process, so a visual guide would really help. This video from ChrisFix is an excellent guide on how to replace your lower ball joint:
Replacing the Upper Ball Joint
The process to replace an upper ball joint is largely similar to replacing the lower ball joint. You will need to jack up your car and remove the wheel and then remove the axle nut. Afterward, you may need to loosen the brake and ABS line so there won’t be any tension in the line as you reposition the steering knuckle. If your brake or ABS line snaps, it will be another costly repair job.
Afterward, unlike the lower ball joint process, you won’t need to remove the brake caliper and steering knuckle entirely. Once the knuckle is loose, tilt the upper knuckle outwards until it stands out from your wheel arch. Then, you can remove the ball joint and begin the process of installing a new one. The process is also quite similar: remove the snap ring, use the presser to remove the old ball joint and then install the new one, and then grease the new ball joint and reinsert the snap ring before you reconnect it to the upper control arm. Here’s another video guide to help you understand better how to replace an upper ball joint:
Keep in mind that this guide is for cars where the upper ball joint is built into the steering knuckle. Your car may have a different assembly, so we recommend that you research how to do a ball joint replacement on your specific car model.
Ball Joint Replacement Cost: In Conclusion…
The ball joint’s role is to connect your steering knuckle to the control arm, which then connects to your car’s chassis or body. It’s doing this while allowing your steering knuckle to pivot, as well as accommodating your car’s motion as it moves. It virtually holds your car’s entire suspension system together. Because of this, the ball joint plays an absolutely crucial role in your car’s operation and cannot be neglected.
Most cars will run for 150,000 miles without any ball joint damage, but they may fail prematurely if they undergo excessive stress while driving. A damaged boot may also cause premature wear as it allows dirt and moisture to seep into the ball joint, which isn’t ideal. If your car’s ball joints does fail, we urge you to replace it immediately. Bad ball joints can make your car unstable and you will be prone to an accident.
Be sure to shop around to get the best quote for a ball joint replacement job. If the cost is still too high for you, then buying aftermarket parts or doing the job yourself is a good way to save some money. Just be sure to follow the precautions and guide that we’ve mentioned above.