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Summary
  • Ball joint failure can significantly affect your steering and suspension, which may lead to their partial collapse or the vehicle’s wheel and tire moving outward. In some cases, your wheel and tire assembly may come off completely.
  • Common symptoms of bad ball joints include loud popping or squeaking, steering wheel vibrations, and steering issues. It’s never safe to drive with bad ball joints, and they should be replaced as soon as possible.
  • Ball joints work like ball-and-socket joints, allowing your front wheels to move up and down and side to side. Rough driving conditions, vehicle weight, and lubrication can lead to their failure.

Ball joint failure is not considered a common problem, but it can still happen. Lack of proper maintenance and lubrication are typically the most common reasons why the ball joints in your vehicle tend to fail over time.

A worn ball joint will significantly affect your steering and suspension. If the ball joint fails completely, your steering and suspension may partially collapse, causing your wheel and tire to move outward from the vehicle. This is dangerous because it can make you lose control of your vehicle. In some cases, your wheel and tire assembly may come off completely.

Most typically before failure, a ball joint will suffer a burst grease boot and the joint will either dry out and begin to squeak or will become compromised by road dirt and wear out. Ball joints can break and come apart, but that usually happens during slow, sharp turns as in parking lot maneuvers. Replacement ball joints usually have grease fittings but OEM ball joints usually don’t have them.

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Thankfully, there are ways to find out whether your ball joints have gone bad. Read on to learn more.

What are the Symptoms of a Bad Ball Joint?

Here’s a list of the most common bad ball joint symptoms:

Loud Popping or Squeaking

Hearing loud sounds from the corner of your vehicle when driving over uneven road surfaces may be a sign that you have a loose suspension. The popping and/or squeaking sound may be faint at first, but it will get worse if you don’t replace the faulty ball joint/s immediately.

Steering Wheel Vibrations

A bad ball joint may also cause shimmy-type steering vibrations while driving. This is because loose ball joints can send vibrations into the chassis and through the steering wheel.

Once you start to feel noticeable vibrations in the steering wheel while driving, have your vehicle checked right away. If the problem isn’t one of your ball joints, chances are something else is wrong with your steering or suspension system.

Steering Issues

Worn-out, misaligned, or damaged steering components can cause your steering to wander. They may also lead to excessive free play in your steering wheel.

Your suspension system is designed to keep your vehicle straight even with minimal effort. If your car keeps drifting or pulling to one side, you may have bad ball joints.

Steering issues will not only make driving difficult and exhausting, but it will also put you and your passengers at risk. Take your vehicle to an auto repair shop immediately to resolve the problem.

Uneven Tire Wear

Inspect your tires. If their inner or outer edges are more worn out than other areas of the tire tread, this could be a sign that your ball joints are loose or damaged.

However, note that this symptom is also associated with other failing suspension components, as any fault that causes misalignment can cause abnormal tire wear.

Have your suspension components checked once you spot uneven tire wear. If it is indeed your ball joints that are faulty, have them replaced right away. There are many top-quality aftermarket ball joints available on the market today.

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Misaligned or Damaged Parts

Conducting a visual inspection will help you spot most of the other symptoms of bad ball joints. Determine if a suspension component is bent or misaligned using alignment equipment.

Look for signs of damage. Any noticeable scrape marks or rust may indicate contact with the road or other suspension components, which could cause your suspension to loosen.

If you’re not familiar with the suspension and wheel assembly, it is best to let a professional do the checking for you.

What are Ball Joints?

Ball joints work like ball-and-socket joints. Functioning just like the joints of your shoulders, they allow your front wheels to move up and down and side to side.

short-long-arm suspension system diagram
On traditional non-strut suspension, the steering axis passes through both ball joints. This diagram shows a short-long-arm suspension system typically found on older vehicles. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian
strut suspension diagram
Strut suspension typically has a lower ball joint but no upper ball joint, with the steering axis passing through the center of the strut and the weight of the vehicle supported at the top of the strut with a bearing so the strut can rotate on the steering axis as the wheels are turned. The steering axis on strut suspension passes through the centerline of the strut cartridge on down through the lower ball joint. | Image Source: Richard McCuistian

Ball joints allow the steering knuckle to turn and also allow for suspension action at the same time. They enable your wheels to turn and change directions. They are also partially responsible for allowing the wheels to move up and down when driving over potholes or bumps on the road.

There are two kinds of ball joints, which vary based on the location of the knuckle and control arm. The ball joints are tension loaded if the steering knuckle rests on the control arm. If the control arm rests on the knuckle, then the ball joints are compression loaded.

What Causes Ball Joints to Fail?

Several factors may affect the lifespan of your suspension’s ball joints, such as rough driving conditions, vehicle weight, and lubrication. Usually, ball joints that are on the same side wear out simultaneously.

Even with proper maintenance, load-carrying ball joints tend to wear out faster than follower ball joints. It’s why experts recommend replacing ball joints in pairs to ensure better handling and long-term functionality.

Since ball joints are crucial components of your steering system, it’s important to ensure that they are in good condition at all times. Replace faulty ones right away.

How Much Does a Ball Joint Replacement Cost?

An aftermarket ball joint replacement usually costs around $50 to $500 for the part itself. Some may be priced as high as $1000. Take note that this ballpark figure is for the replacement ball joints only. There are other additional expenses that you may have to pay, such as labor and installation costs.

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Ball joints are usually sold individually or in sets. They come in greasable and non-greasable variants, so make sure to check on these things first before deciding on anything. Make sure the ball joints you are buying are compatible with your vehicle.

Is it Safe to Drive with Bad Ball Joints?

No. It is never advisable to drive with bad ball joints. When your ball joints break or fall off, the steering and suspension may fall apart. This may cause your wheel and tire to move away from the vehicle, leading to a loss of control.

Faulty ball joints may also eventually cause damage to other suspension components, which could result in even more dangerous driving conditions.

Make safety your number one priority while on the road. Prevent these potentially dangerous events from happening by replacing faulty ball joints right away.

How to Get New Ball Joints For Your Ride

Don’t take your ride out until you’ve replaced your vehicle’s faulty ball joints. Fortunately, getting a replacement that fits your vehicle is easy with CarParts.com.

You don’t even have to hop from one auto parts store to another just to get yourself some brand-new ball joints. Shop for high-quality replacement parts on our website, and use our vehicle selector to check for fitment.

We source our suspension parts from some of the most reliable names in the industry. These components are manufactured in world-class facilities and have gone through strict quality checks. Get OE-quality performance and reliability for a fraction of the cost.

Don’t wait too long to replace your vehicle’s faulty ball joints. Shop now, and get the parts you need in a matter of days.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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