Ball joints are a vital component of your suspension system. They allow you to turn and steer your vehicle smoothly.
If you start to experience issues steering or while you’re turning, you may have a bad ball joint.
While it sounds like an issue that can be overlooked, it’s not.
If not addressed, this easy and inexpensive repair can lead to more extensive repairs and dangerous driving conditions.
If you think you have a bad ball joint, you’re in luck.
In this post, I will go over the common symptoms of a bad ball joint to address it as soon as possible.
Let’s get started.
1. Rattling or Clunking noises
If you start hearing faint noises coming from near your tires, this is a sign of bad ball joints.
This noise is caused when the suspension goes up and down. The movement will cause the ball joint to rattle, which causes the noises.
One great way to determine if your ball joints are making this noise is to drive over a speed bump.
As your car goes over the sped bump, pay attention to determining is any clunking or metal-on-metal rubbing.
This is a clear sign that you need to inspect your ball joints further.
2. Excessive vibration
Another common sign of a bad ball joint is excessive vibration coming from the front of the car. You will typically feel these vibrations coming stronger from the side with damaged or bad ball joints.
A bad ball joint will vibrate as you drive. These vibrations will reverberate through the chassis, axel, and even the steering wheel.
These vibrations are not always felt when the car is idle. But they become easily noticeable when you begin to drive, especially when the suspension is working, such as going over speed bumps, hills, or turning.
3. Suspension Damage
Another common sign of a bad ball joint is suspension damage. This typically happens after extended driving with a bad ball joint.
Ball joints are crucial parts of the suspension system. Ball joints help manage lots of the moment and shock on your suspension.
When they go bad, this moment and stress get directed to another part of your suspension.
Over time this additional stress can cause other parts of your suspension to get damaged, such as your bushings.
The bushings are made of plastic and not meant to withstand the additional stress of driving on a bad ball joint.
4. Uneven Tire Wear
When your ball joints begin to deteriorate, you will also begin to notice additional wear on your tire.
This typically occurs because, without a proper working ball joint, your tires experience additional stress causing them to wear more than they usually would. This stress comes from your suspension’s inability to align while you drive.
In most cases, you can see a significant difference in the wear on your front tires depending on which ball joint is bad.
You might also notice that one single tire may have uneven wear on it.
For example, the inside or outside of the tire may have more wear than the center.
This is typically due to the suspension’s inability to balance the vehicle as you drive.
While your suspension works to balance out your vehicle, the bad ball joint will leave the car unbalanced.
5. Drifting Steering wheel
Bad ball joints can also cause your steering wheel to shift to the right or the left on its own.
This is typically thought to be an alignment problem, but this is not always the case.
Even with proper alignment, bad ball joints can cause the steering wheel to drive.
Ball joints play a crucial role in your vehicle’s suspension and chassis. When your ball joints are damaged, they can lock up or become rigid, not allowing for a smooth ride.
This is the main reason that the steering wheel begins to wander.
Another sign of a bad ball joint is when it starts drifting from left to right on its own.
You shouldn’t ignore this issue since once it escalates, accidents may happen.
What Causes Bad Ball Joints?
1. Normal Wear
Ball joints are the primary reason you can steer and turn your vehicle smoothly. This means that they experience lots of movement and friction.
Like any other part inside your car, it experiences normal wear and tear, which can cause a bad ball joint.
They are expected to last between 75,000 and 150,000 miles. But harsh conditions and erratic driving patterns can reduce that and add additional wear on your ball joints.
2. Dirt and Grime Inside the Ball Joint
Ball joints have a protective casing that is intended to protect your ball joints from dirt and grime.
But, if this protective casing is damaged or defective, this can eventually lead to a bad ball joint.
While your ball joint will operate perfectly fine without a protective casing, over time, the additional dirt and grime that gets inside your ball joint can cause severe damage.
First, the additional dirt can increase the friction and wear on your ball joint.
Second, the dirt and grime can cause the socket to become rough and eventually lock up.
This will prevent movement in your ball joint, and it will eventually break.
Too much of something isn’t good. This also applies to greasing since it may cause the rubber boot to break. Once it does, dirt, water, and other debris would be able to enter.
Of course, this only applies to the serviceable units.
In contrast, if your ball joint doesn’t have enough grease, friction would increase. I hope that rhyme would make you remember it better.
Of course, with increased friction comes a bigger chance of the ball joint wearing out faster.
Again, this also applies only to the serviceable units.
5. Failure to clean the grease fitting
Not cleaning or maintaining the grease fitting can lead to a bad ball joint.
The contaminants and debris can enter the ball joint and cause serious damage.
These contaminants can lock-up the ball joint, absorb the grease, increase friction and cause unnecessary wear on your ball joint.
The more contaminants that enter the grease fitting the more damage they will cause.
6. Harsh Driving Conditions
Rought driving conditions can also lead to a bad ball joint.
Not all ball joints are created equal. Some ball joints are not built for specific movements or extreme conditions.
By repeatedly exposing your ball joints to these extreme conditions it can reduce the lifespan and increase wear.
These harsh conditions can eventually deteriorate or destroy your ball joint.
It’s vital that you purchase ball joints that match the driving you will be doing.
Good Ball Joint vs Bad Ball Joint: What Does A Bad Ball Joint Look Like?
A bad ball joint is not always easy to tell from appearance. They can also take on many different forms.
In some cases it’s easy to identify a bad ball joint while with others it’s difficult.
Some key signs your ball joint is bad are:
- Bent ball joint
- Damaged ball joint boot
- Cracked or damaged ball joint housing body
Ball Joint Anatomy
- Stud: This spherical stud is the rounded part of the joint that withstands the most pressure. It rotates in a lubricated space in the housing.
- Bearing: Made from either nylon or metal, it can reduce the ball joint’s friction.
- End cover or backing plate: Both wear- and impact-resistant, these hoods in the ball end of the joint.
- Housing: Serving as the metal ball stud’s protection, it holds grease and prevents dirt from going inside.
- Boot: Usually, polyurethane acts as a shield to protect the ball joint from water and dirt.
- Grease nipple: It is also known as a grease fitting; it provides the opening to add grease to the ball joint. The grease fitting also acts as a wear indicator. If you see a part of it on top, the joint is still intact.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
how Long Do Ball Joints Last?
Ball joints can last anywhere between 75,000 and 150,000 miles. The lifespan of a ball joint depends more on the driving conditions and maintenance of your vehicle.
If you drive under challenging conditions that put additional strain on the ball joints, they are more likely to last 75,000 miles rather than 150,000 miles.
Likewise, how well you keep maintain your ball joint is crucial.
This can often be requested when you align your vehicle. Inspect and cleaning your ball joints will increase their lifespan.
How Much Does Ball Joint Replacement Cost?
Ball joint replacement will typically cost between $50 and $150 for the ball joint and an additional $100 and $350 in labor cost.
This price will vary depending on the type of ball joint you have and the cost of the labor.
You can lower the cost of the parts by opting for use ball joints. You can ask your repair shop if this is an option or salvage them from a junkyard.
You can also reduce the cost by replacing the ball joints yourself to avoid labor costs.
Can I Drive On A Bad Ball Joint?
Yes, you can drive on a bad ball joint. But, its not recommended that you drive on a bad ball joint for too long.
It’s recommended that you replace your bad ball joint within the next 5,000 miles, and ideally sooner to prevent additional damage.
Continued driving on a bad ball joint can lead to more extensive issues.
For example, other parts of your suspension can begin to break such as the bushings or your steering knuckles.
Over time this damage can eventually cause your entire suspension system to fail and you can loose control of your vehicle.
Is It worth It To Replace my Ball Joint?
Yes, replacing your ball joint is typically worth it if you expect to continue driving your vehicle. Not replacing it will lead to more costly and extensive damages.
Replacing a ball joint is relatively an inexpensive repair for the suspension of a vehicle. An entire repair can be as low as $200.
But weather its worth it or not will depend on your vehicle.
Before you go through with a repair you need to determine if :
- The value of the repair is worth more than your vehicle
- How much longer do you anticipate to drive this vehicle
- Are there other repairs that are needed to make this vehicle drivable
Is it dangerous to Drive with a Bad Ball Joint?
No, driving with a bad ball joint for short periods is acceptable.
But, you should not expect to continue to drive your vehicle with a bad ball joint.
Prolonged use of your ball joint can lead to more extensive damages and eventually dangerous driving conditions.
You should try to repair your bad ball joint within 5,000 miles. Not repairing within 5,000 miles can lead to dangerous driving conditions.
What Does The Ball joint Do?
The ball joint is the part of your suspension that allows your vehicle to turn and steer smoothly.
The ball joint is similar to a the hip bone. It allows for smooth pivoting and directional accuracy.
With a bad ball joint your steering is severely hindered.