The loud banging noises and excessive vibrations you head while driving are primary symptoms of bad ball joints. Ball joints are vital suspension components found in all modern vehicles. They function like normal ball and socket joints in the human body. Ball joints are the key suspension pivot points that attach all control arms of the car to the steering knuckles.
The most common sign is the clunking noise, which means there is increased damage to the ball joints, and it is now loose. The ball joints may knock on your suspension as you drive.
Mostly, you will hear the clunking noise when you hit a speed bump or drive through rough roads. The bad ball joint noise is caused by damage to the rubber boot protecting the grease inside the ball joints, making the ball joints squeak. The more worn out the ball joints become, the louder the noise.
What Are Ball Joints?
Ball joints have studs and bearings that are encased in a snug and lubricated casing. Your vehicle may have either a rear or front ball joint depending on which type of car you drive. The joints help keep the tires flush against the road surface as your suspension moves while driving.
Ball joints sit on the furthest ends of the lower and upper control arms connecting to the steering knuckles. What causes ball joints to go bad?
Similar to other vehicular parts, ball joints wear down with time and need to be replaced. Failing to replace the worn-out ball joints can damage the car or cause a fatal accident.
If the ball joint breaks, the wheel is dislocated and can move in any direction which damages the tire, fender, and other suspension components. Therefore, act quickly to make auto repairs before the problem gets worse. In order to act, you must know the signs of a bad tie rod or ball joint.
Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints
The front ball joints allow back-and-forth movement of the front wheels and suspension and up and down movements during steering while driving. There are several ways to check bad ball joints. Drivers can check the symptoms while driving or through a visual inspection by checking the overall vehicle performance.
If your front suspension is making clunking noises as you drive, then you have a bad ball joint. As the ball joints wear down, they become loose in their sockets. The joints rattle and knock mostly because of the vehicle movements. Worn-out ball joints clunk or knock when driving on speed bumps, rough roads, and when turning.
The clunking noises get louder as the wear increases until they break and completely fail. So, how long can you drive on squeaky ball joints? Not long before you cause an accident.
If the front of your vehicle is vibrating extremely, you may have a loose or broken ball joint problem. The vibrations can radiate your steering wheel and move from left-to-right making it less sturdy and difficult to maintain control. Listen to the vibrations and note the movements as it radiates.
You feel the vibrations in your steering wheel as they are coming from the suspension system. When the lower ball joint is damaged or worn out, it loosens hence the vibrations. The loose ball joints continue vibrating as you drive. Any kind of shaking is a sign of a problem with the ball joints.
Uneven tire wear is a sign of bad ball joints. Check the interior and exterior edges of the tires for unusual or excessive wear or tire is worn out. A cause of the alarm is when the outer and inner edges of the front tires wear out faster than other treads. This is a confirmation that you have worn-out ball joints.
Loose ball joints cause misalignment of the entire suspension leading to steering problems and making the rubber treads make inconsistent contact with the road surface or ground. The problem can affect both tires at the same time or only one tire, depending on the number of bad ball joints.
Wandering steering wheel
Your steering wheel is only straight because the suspension alignment and ball joints are in good condition. This makes the steering wheel straight and responsive. However, if you notice a drift in your steering wheel either to the right or left by itself, you have bad ball joints.
Wandering the steering wheel causes tire feathering and above mentioned bad joint symptoms. As a driver, it forces you to compensate for not having suspension control. Take the vehicle to an auto shop for inspection and repair or replacement immediately. The mechanic will remove the ball joint and replace it with a new one.
A worn-out suspension can lock up, which means the suspension can’t absorb shocks from bumps and rough roads when driving. Ball joints usually compensate for the normal motion which due to the wear are transferred to the suspension.
Other suspension components can’t absorb the increased force and motion because of bad ball joints causing damage to the suspension. The damage starts with the control arm bushings, which are rubber and easily damaged. The damage to the control arm bushings causes the vehicle to shake at high speeds and on rough roads.
Loss of control of the steering
Severe wear of ball joints causes complete breakage of your suspension, and the wheels move in different directions. Ball joints can break in different ways, causing you to lose control of the steering. Your wheel can break off at the steering knuckle or control arm. Watch out for the uneven car movement and take action because failure will cause an accident.
What Next: How to Manage Your Ball Joints
Monitor the above bad ball joint symptoms and pay attention to the wheel alignment and how it feels when you drive. Regularly check the tire treading and inspect for signs of a bad ball joint.
Schedule suspension inspection for a thorough diagnosis of the problem. The inspection gives you an opportunity to fix the problem and boost your driving experience as you get a perfect wheel alignment.
Driving on bad ball joints is dangerous, so inspect the ball joints for wear. Consult a trusted mechanic if you have little knowledge concerning the suspension system.
Diagnostic measures on bad ball joints
Start by rocking the tires. Lift the vehicle up to ensure the wheels are hanging and grasp a tire as you push the top and bottom sections in and out. If the tires rock and the movements are accompanied by clunking noises, then you have bad ball joints. Diagnostic tools include ball joint press tools and basic toolbox supplies.
The test shows you have a bad wheel bearing which will vibrate and grumble when driving on a straight line. Also, try rocking your tires sideways like you want to turn them and listen to clunking noises or watch ball joints and other tires on your steering end-link. In case the tire is only moving your steering end-link without moving the other tire or linkage, then you have a wear problem.
Check wear indicators
This is how to check ball joints. Lower ball joints have wear indicators located at the bottom. As the ball joint wears, the socket case slides over into the joint and sinks up. The joint should rest on the shoulder (exposed protruding part) and not the joint case edges. If the shoulder is recessed or the joint bottom is completely flat, then the ball joint is worn out.
Q: How much does it cost to replace bad ball joints?
The ball joint replacement cost ranges from $230 to $300 including spare parts and labor costs. Parts cost roughly $100 -$120 and labor costs range from $130-$180. However, the cost doesn’t factor in additional fees and applied taxes which can lower or raise the cost.
This is a simple process that takes a short time to complete. You are free to shop other repair shops in your state or location for better deals. Definitely, there is someone offering better deals and possibly cheaper hourly labor costs.
Q: Is it bad to drive your car with a bad ball joint?
If you suspect you have a bad ball joint or it’s worn out, take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic immediately. Never ignore ball joint problems as they can tear apart your suspension, making you’re to lose control of the vehicle when driving.
So, it’s unwise to drive your car when the ball joint is broken or bad. Replace the broken ball joint for safety and to improve your driving experience. A rule of thumb is to replace the ball joints after driving 70,000-150,000 miles. Liaise with your mechanic to address the problem promptly before more damage occurs on your wheel alignment, steering wheel, or suspensions.
Q: What happens when a ball joint goes bad?
Ball joints keep the tires running flat against the road and the suspensions moving in an upward and downward motion. So, if there is a bad ball joint, the following things will happen:
Wheels move in unpredictable directions resulting in uneven tire wear. Therefore, you will replace your tires more frequently.
The suspension is damaged when your ball joints lock up, which means the motion it absorbs is not eliminated, forcing it to be transferred to other suspension components that can’t withstand the added motion like the control arm bushings. Since the control arm bushings are rubber, your vehicle experiences increased wear of control arm bushings, and replacing them is costly.
Ball joint breakage can have catastrophic results on the road when driving. The breakage happens when the stud breaks or the ball detaches from its socket making the wheel move in an uncontrollable direction and can turn outward or slam against the fender dragging the tire on the road.
You run into a safety inspection problem with your state. If you live in a state that requires annual vehicle inspection, then a bad ball joint can mean trouble. No state in the USA will allow a vehicle with a faulty suspension component.
Q: When should ball joints be replaced?
Replace the ball joints when the vehicle exceeds a milage of 70,000 to 150,000 in the absence of any defects. You can replace the ball joints when you hear clunking noise or extreme vibrations when driving. The ball joint is difficult to see and is vital to a smooth driving experience.
Ball joints connect your wheel and the suspension for efficient movement. To know when to replace the ball joints, understand the symptoms of bad ball joints like uneven tire wear.
Car tires have a set lifespan and should not wear out easily before that time. If only one set of tires is wearing out while the rest are in great conditions or only a single tire is damaged, then you have a ball joint that is overdue for replacement.
If the steering wheel is wandering or experiences extreme vibrations, it means the ball joints are worn out, causing too much movement in the suspension system. The loose suspension makes the vehicle wander instead of going straight. Replace the ball joints when you have any of the symptoms.
Q: What does a worn ball joint sound like?
You feel extreme vibrations on your steering wheel or through the floor as you drive. You hear squeaking noise when driving over speed bumps or rough roads. The squeaking noise is caused by the rattling of the ball joints as your suspension moves up and down while driving.
It’s the sound of a worn-out rubber boot that protects the grease fitting; hence the ball joint squeaks. This sound gets louder as the wear continues until you replace the ball joints. Always be sensitive to any abnormal noise.
There is much to learn about the vehicle, and it can overwhelm you if you have limited knowledge. Check the built-in ball joints wear indicators for proper diagnosis. The wear indicators have a movable grease fitting, making it easier to diagnose loose ball joints. Replace the ball joints the moment you see a flush below the ball joint housing or in the collar of the grease fitting. Every part of the vehicle undergoes wear and tear, and it manifests differently.
The ball joints are there to ensure the tires flush against the rough road as the suspension moves around. Ball joints need replacements when they wear out to avoid compromising your steering and driving experience. Failure to replace the ball joints causes damage to your suspension and other components and makes the vehicle prone to accidents which can be fatal. Mevotech provides extensive guides on auto parts and how to solve bad CV joint problems.