How Much Does a Ball Joint Replacement Cost?

The suspension is what ensures you have a comfortable driving experience and also that you can control the car. In this article we will be looking at a particular aspect of the suspension, the ball joints. We will explain what they are, what they do, how to tell when they are bad and of course the cost when they need replacing.

What Is A Ball Joint?

You may have heard of ball joints in regards to the human body as we have them in our shoulders and our hips. These ball joints allow us the range of movement we have with our arms and legs. Ball joints on cars do much the same kind of job.

The ball rotates inside its socket in all directions which allows the control arm and steering knuckle to rotate together. This ball and socket combination are protected by rubber boots which seal them in with grease for lubrication. Thanks to this protective boot the grease stays in and dirt is kept out. When the boot fails however grease leaks and dirt can get in causing the joint to become damaged.

Essentially the task of the ball joint is to keep the tire planted to the road even over a bumpy surface. The range of movement allows the wheel to move up and down to follow the surface of the road. If there was no ball joint the wheel would leave the road surface over larger bumps creating a very rough and rigid ride.

How Do You Know the Ball Joint Is Bad?

Understanding the signs of a certain type of breakdown is important because it can help you get out ahead of the issue. There are some specific signs to watch for when it comes to a ball joint issue so read on to find out if your ball joints may need attention.

Suspension Noise

When all things are good and as they should be with the suspension you should hear very little noise from them when you are driving over uneven road surfaces and next to nothing on a smooth flat road. If the ball joint starts to fail however this can change quickly. If you are driving over a rougher road surface you may start to hear a clunking sound which could indicate the ball joints are no longer working at their best.

This noise is happening because the cushion material in the joint is starting to wear out or may already have done so. You may be left with a metal ball rotating with no padding and essentially banging metal against metal. If you hear this clunk get the situation attended to quickly because the joint may be close to complete failure.

Vibrations in the Steering Wheel

As mentioned the ball joint is connected to the car's steering knuckle which as the name suggests is connected to your steering wheel. As the ball joint starts to fail it becomes looser and the movement of the ball joint is not as smooth.

You will get vibration from this worn joint and it will be noticeable through the steering wheel. The longer you leave the issue unattended the more pronounced the vibration will become.

Uneven Tire Wear

When all aspects of the suspension are working at their best your car's tires are firmly and evenly plated on the road surface. This will mean that tire wear should be even across the entire thread. Assuming the tires are all the same age and the wheels are aligned then you should see no real difference from one to the other.

When the ball joint starts to fail however the tire it is working with does not move up and down like it should over bumps. This can cause wobbling and bouncing which in turn can cause that tire to wear out faster than the others that still have a functioning ball joint.

Pulling Steering

When everything is aligned and the suspension is working perfectly you should be able to drive in a straight line with minimal steering wheel input from you. However if you have a failing ball joint the imbalance created can cause the car to drift in one direction or the other.

It is more noticeable at higher speeds and you may find yourself constantly pulling the wheel back to straight as you drive. This may be a slight issue to start with but it can get much worse.

What to Do to Confirm Bad Ball Joints

If you feel confident in your mechanical skills and suspect you have a bad ball joint then you may want to confirm the issue with a physical and visual inspection. In this section we will walk you through the process of diagnosing a worn ball joint.

  • Start by parking your vehicle on a smooth flat surface, engaging the parking brake and chock the rear wheels
  • Jack up the front of your vehicle making sure to secure it with a suitable jack stand for your safety
  • Grasping the bottom and top of the tire, rock it in and out moving along the axis of the wheel. You will want to see minimal to no play if the ball joint is in working condition.
  • If you detect noises or the wheel moves too much then you likely have a bad ball joint on that wheel. If the sound is high on the tire it will be the upper joint, if it's lower then it's probably the bottom one.
  • Remove the wheel if there are signs that the ball joint is bad so that you can visually inspect the ball joints. Look for rust, leaking grease or noticeable damage to the ball joint boot. Once you know what the problem is you can choose your course of action.
  • Repeat this process for all the wheels.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Ball Joint?

On average with parts and labor you may spend $225 - $375 dollars replacing a ball joint so this is not a cheap repair but also it is not astronomical. If you have the tools and skills to do the repair yourself then you may just need $100 - $175 for parts depending on your vehicle.

The price mentioned so far just refers to replacing one ball joint, it does not factor in the possibility of other suspension issues that may be created by not fixing the ball joint in a timely manner. The pressure placed on other aspects of the suspension by a failing ball joint can create additional repair costs.

Can You Drive With Worn Ball Joints?

Money can be tight at times in life and waiting on a repair can be a tempting idea. There are some things you can get away with delaying but fixing a ball joint issue should not be one of them. You may think you can cope with a bumpy ride for a while but it's not just about that.

A failed ball joint can make the car hard to control and may leave you at risk of a car accident. The longer you leave this kind of issue the worse it gets and the more damage it can do to your suspension as a whole.

The point is then that as soon as you know the ball joint needs attention you should get it looked at. This will save you money in the long run and it may just save you from a nasty accident.

Conclusion

The ball joints are important to drive comfort and your ability to control your car. They should not need to be changed often but when they do fail you should fix them without delay. This should not cost you more than a few hundred dollars and will be worth it.

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