Ball Joints – The Hardest Working Parts You Never Think Of

What Are Ball Joints and What Do They Do?

Ball joints are a suspension component on almost all modern vehicles. A ball joint is a sphere, or ball, housed in a socket, much like human ball and socket joints, such as hips. Ball joints connect the control arms of the car to the steering knuckles. Picture under car of shocks, struts, control arm, ball joint, wheel, tire - AAMCO Suspension Service

Cars can have two or four ball joints, depending on the type of suspension. Suspensions with shocks and springs have top and bottom ball joints. McPherson struts only utilize two ball joints, positioned at the wheel hub. Most cars have upper and lower ball joints.

The front ball joints pivot in their sockets to allow the front wheels to turn in conjunction with the suspension moving up and down. As you drive down the road, the ball joints are constantly pivoting and moving with your steering, braking, and bouncing. On top of all that work, some ball joints are “load bearing,” meaning they support the front weight of the car. It’s easy to understand that they are an important part of your car. When the ball joints fail, you are not going anywhere.

Warning Signs That Your Ball Joints Are Worn Out

Usually, there are a few signs that will alert you that the ball joints are failing. Stop at your local Colorado AAMCO dealer for a thorough inspection.

• Clunking or rattling noises coming from the front suspension.
When ball joints wear out they become loose and rattle around in their sockets as the suspension goes up and down. They might knock, clunk, or bang when traveling on rough roads, going over bumps like railroad tracks or speed bumps, or when turning.

• Excessive vibration in the front of the vehicle.
Worn ball joints will shake and rattle as you drive, causing excessive vibration in the suspension, usually on one side. The vibrating can sometimes be felt through the steering wheel.

• Car wanders, steering is off to left or right.
Known as steering wander, when one or more ball joints is bad, the car will wander to the left or right. It might be difficult to tell the difference between steering wander and bad alignment, because both conditions can cause the car to pull or wander left or right. Steering wander, though, can cause the car to drift side to side, instead of pulling hard in a single direction.

• Uneven tire wear.
Irregular and/or excessive tire wear is a strong indicator of ball joints wearing out. Wear on either the inside or outside of the tires is a strong indicator of bad ball joints and can be difficult to catch; so, if you experience any of the other symptoms, be sure to check your tires carefully, especially on the inside of the treads. If wear is occurring on both the inside and outside edges of the treads, it’s probably not due to worn out ball joints.

There are other ways to tell if your car’s ball joints need to be replaced, such as inspection of built-in wear indicators and measurement of amount of play within the joint, as defined by the vehicle manufacturer. These methods are usually best done by a mechanic, so schedule an appointment with your local AAMCO Colorado dealership.

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. If a joint is worn and is exhibiting any of the symptoms mentioned in this article – clunking, knocking, rattling, steering wander and drift, unordinary tire wear – it should be replaced. Worn ball joints can be dangerous, so schedule an appointment at your local Colorado AAMCO for an inspection before they fail. There could be a lot more going on, so the AAMCO multi-point inspection is always a good idea.

Other Articles About Car Maintenance & Repair

Sounds Your Car Makes When It Needs Repairs

Car Maintenance on a Budget

Reasons Your Car is Not Driving Smoothly