Top 6 Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints

Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints – Ball joints are critical components of the car suspension system which link the control arm of the suspension system to the steering knuckles, and in the process, it provides a smooth and coordinated movement within the suspension.

Ball joints are made up of a rotating spherical bearing stud and socket designed in such a way that it fits within a lubricated metal casing.

The car’s front suspension itself is made up of joints, bearings, and links, which help the front wheels to make coordinated movements—up and down; left or right. 

The ball joints also supervise how the tires make contact with the road as well as how it wears out. 

When it’s working properly, the tires wear naturally with regards to frequency of use but once it becomes bad, the tires wear very fast and unevenly. This is just one of the symptoms of bad ball joints.

Generally, the ball joints help to keep the tires in place and allow for smooth and perfect control of the vehicle.

Ever wondered why you hear a faint rattling or creaking sound from the front suspension of your car? Or a continuous vibration from the front of the car? Any of these noises indicate that one or both of the ball joint is faulty and needs urgent attention.

symptoms of bad ball joints
A typical bad ball joint.

What Causes Bad Ball Joints?

Ball joints deteriorate due to lack of lubrication, this is as a result of grits, dirt, and other impurities getting in and grease escaping from the ball joint. 

Some part of the ball joint is made of rubber which can naturally wear out or tear thereby causing damage to the ball joint. 

Generally, the following are the causes of bad ball joints. 

Over-greasing or under-greasing

Over-greasing or under-greasing the ball joint is bad for its functioning. Too much greasing can cause the rubber boot to break, letting debris into the ball joint. 

On the contrary, inadequate or under-greasing will increase the friction in the ball joint causing it to wear out faster.

Normal wear and tear

Since some parts of the ball joints are made of rubber, there is a tendency for them to tear over time. 

Ball joints experience a lot of movement and friction which makes them wear out with time. This wear and tear can easily lead to a ball joint becoming worn.

Nothing last forever and even your ball joints are not exempted. Nonetheless, if you feel that the time is too short for the unit to breakdown then you should check for other causes. But if you’ve used it for an appreciable period of time then just know it’s time to change it. It wasn’t meant to last forever.

Harsh driving conditions

Brisk driving, driving through potholes, and having to climb high bumps can reduce the lifespan of a ball joint. 

Continuous exposure of the unit to these harsh driving conditions will make the ball joint go bad quickly. Since ball joints are of different types, it is important to purchase the one that will suit your driving needs.

Dirt in the ball joint

Dirt can cause huge damage to your ball joints. This depends on your area and there’s little to nothing that you can do about it.

Dirt can increase the friction in the ball joint and make it wear out fast. It can also make it become rough and lock up.

Insufficient maintenance of the grease fitting

Failure to clean and maintain the grease fitting can damage the ball joint. 

The dirt which enters the grease fitting can lock it up, absorb grease, increase friction, and cause wear out to the ball joint.

symptoms of bad ball joints
A car tire pulling off as a result of bad ball joint

Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints

Ball joints can go for up to 100,000 miles of driving but a time comes that it needs to be replaced. There are several signs and symptoms of bad ball joints. 

Even though all the symptoms may not be noticeable on a car at once, whichever you can notice could point to the fact that your ball joints are getting bad.

Unstable movement of the steering wheel

When the ball joint is not in a good condition or perfectly fitted, the wheels move from left to right and vice-versa regardless of your intended direction. In such cases, you’d have to adjust immediately.

It visibly wanders from left to right and it’s most noticed when the car tries to climb a speed breaker. When it does, the car seems to tilt towards left or right indicating that the ball joint there is bad.

Unstable movement of the steering wheel happens mostly when you climb a speed bump. Sometimes, you may not notice it when you climb the bump slowly.

Excessive vibrations

When a ball joint becomes faulty, the driver will experience continuous vibrations from the front of the car while driving. 

The vibration is usually severe from the side of the car with the bad ball joint because it’s not held tightly to its socket again.

The axle, chassis, and steering wheel are usually affected as well.

Suspension damage

When you continue driving with a faulty ball joint for an extended period, the suspension of the vehicle will eventually get damaged. 

As stated earlier, ball joints are vital parts of the suspension that helps to manage shock on the suspension. When they go bad, the stress is transferred to other parts of the suspension which can cause damage to the entire suspension.

Uneven wear of the front tires

When the outer or inner edges of a tire wear out more than other tires, it indicates that the ball joints are also wearing out. 

The unusual tire wear is due to the additional stress the tire goes through because the suspension of the car is unable to align while you are driving. The wear clearly points to a problem within the suspension system. Most times, the ball joints are the culprit.

However, having your tires wearing out can also be a result of the car tires not being properly inflated. This can cause both the inner and your outer tire thread to wear out.

Creaking, clunking, thudding, or rattling noise from the car

Creaking, clunking, thudding, or rattling noise from the car is usually one of the most common symptoms of bad ball joints.

Once the ball joint has become loosened or deteriorated, you’ll start hearing sounds from the front suspension of the car. 

The noise is usually more noticeable when driving on rough roads or when going over a bump and progresses as the component keeps deteriorating.

Breakdown of vehicle

If the ball joint is bad and has been left unattended for a while, you will lose control of your vehicle while driving which will lead to a breakdown. 

Things can become messy. Hence, you need to check and fix the bad ball joints when there is a need.

symptoms of bad ball joints
Typical ball joint and its labeling | Image credit: moogparts.com

Good Ball Joint vs Bad Ball Joint

A good ball joint comprises the stud, bearing, backing plate, housing, boot, and grease fitting.

It is not usually easy to tell a bad ball joint from its looks. However, there are some indicators of a bad ball joint.

They are;

  • the ball joint boot appears damaged. 
  • the ball joint looks bent. 
  • the ball joint case seems cracked. 

What Does the Ball Joint Do?

Ball joints are flexible joints in the vehicle.

Just like the ball and socket joint in the human body, it includes a small ball and socket which allows the tire to move in different directions. 

Ball joints connect a car’s control arm to the steering knuckle. 

Ball joints are usually found in the front suspension of a car, they allow the car to move up and down and also allow the wheels to steer left or right. 

The ball joint also allows tires to stay in constant contact with the road surface by allowing wheels to move up or down depending on the surface.

Can I Drive on a Bad Ball Joint?

You can drive on a bad ball joint, but it is not advisable to drive for too long as this will cause more damage to the suspension of the vehicle. 

It is recommended that a bad ball joint be replaced in the next 5000 miles or even sooner to curb further damages.

Dangers of Driving with a Bad Ball Joint

It can be dangerous to drive with a bad ball joint. 

Your car might not break down immediately if your ball joint is faulty, but continuous driving with a bad ball joint can make you lose control of the vehicle leading to a crash. 

Driving with a bad ball joint can;

  • cause a breakdown of the vehicle. 
  • damage the suspension of the vehicle. 
  • lead to a crash which can cause injuries or death.

How Long Do Ball Joints Last?

Ball joints can last between 75,000-150,000 miles.

However, this majorly depends on the driving conditions and how you maintain your vehicle. 

Harsh driving conditions will decrease the lifespan of a ball joint.

How Much Do Ball Joint Replacements Cost?

Ball joints can be replaced for $50 to $200 including labor though the prices can also depend on the type of ball joint that your car may be using. The cost of labor varies also.

Wrap up

The ball joint is a vital part of the suspension of automobiles and it plays an important role in holding the tires of a car firmly to prevent them from separating while the car is in motion.

The ball joint connects the control arm to the steering knuckle. This connection is quite flexible and allows the front wheel to steer and move up and down. 

However, when the ball joint is bad, these movements become erratic. Even though ball joints can last for a long time, they eventually get worn or wear out and become faulty due to road conditions or driving habits.

This usually leads to vibrations in the front suspension of the car and other safety issues.

Often, bad ball joint noise bad or ball joint sound comes in the form of creaking, clunking, thudding, or rattling noise. We also have excessive vibrations, suspension damage, and uneven wear of the front tires, as some of the symptoms of bad ball joints.

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