Top 9 Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints
A vehicle's front suspension is a unique system that allows you to get a smooth ride and make it go wherever you need it.
It consists of a complex set of control links and wheel hubs that will enable the wheels to move up and down, running smoothly.
The front suspension components include the upper and lower control arms, the MacPherson strut, and the upper and lower control arms. The ball joint is the most important component to enable them to perform their duties. But how do you know when the ball joints have gone bad?
Some notable symptoms of bad ball joints that you should know about include stiff or sloppy steering, the car making a squeaking noise, clunking noise, your car drifting, and a few others that we will discuss in this article.
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Table of Contents
- What's a Ball Joint?
- Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints
- How Long Do Ball Joints Last?
- How Do Ball Joints Get Worn Out?
- Best Car Deals by Category
What's a Ball Joint?
Like the hip socket, the ball joint of a car is designed to connect the wheels and tires to the other components of the vehicle's suspension system. Without the control arms, the tires would not be able to move when you turn the steering wheel.
The ball joint enables the tires to move up, down, left, or right, depending on driving conditions. It also helps maintain the vehicle's stability even on uneven surfaces.
Some cars have lower and upper ball joints depending on their make and model. The ball joint is placed in a steel casing filled with lubricating grease. It's also covered with a rubber boot to prevent debris and dust from entering the joint.
Modern cars have sealed ball joints, which means they won't be able to be serviced. If you have a problem with one of these components, you should have both balls replaced simultaneously to prevent a repeat of the issue.
Symptoms of Bad Ball Joints
The following are symptoms of bad ball joints:
1. Clunking Noises
If you're noticing a loud clicking sound coming from the front of your car, it might be caused by the bad ball joints.
This can be caused by wear and tear on the suspension system. It can also be caused by a car going over a road or a corner.
The movement of the ball joints causes the clunking noise as the car goes over bumps. The first you hear the clicking sound, it might be a faint clunk.
As the wear and tear on the suspension system continue, this noise might become more frequent.
2. Squeaking Noises
As the wear and tear on the suspension system continue, it might become more frequent. You'll also start to hear other unusual noises as the balls in the joints move. These include a clicking sound when you're driving over uneven surfaces or through curves.
If you hear a distinct clicking sound while driving, it might be caused by the ball joints getting dirt and debris inside.
This could be caused by the rubber seal on the joints breaking down. This can allow road grime and dust to enter the joint.
3. Grinding Noises
Cars can make various grind noises, and it can be hard to tell if they're coming from your car's ball joints.
Older cars might start making noise while driving, which worn-out ball joints could cause. If you hear a loud clicking sound while driving over a hump, this could be caused by the wear and tear on the suspension system.
Another common type of noise caused by worn-out ball joints is grind noise. It can be caused by the loose socket and the ball's movement against the surrounding material. The force from the ball can then cause the noise.
4. Sloppy Steering
Although strange noises might be the first sign that your car's ball joints are failing, they're not the last.
Your steering system comprises the ball joints, which are an integral part of the steering system. The wear and tear on these components can affect how the car feels when moving.
When your car's ball joints are in good condition, they should feel like they're working properly and respond immediately to small changes in the steering wheel. However, as you start to play with them, they might begin to feel a little sloppy.
5. Stiff Steering
The wear and tear on your car's ball joints can eventually affect how it feels when moving. For instance, if you're unable to turn the steering wheel as quickly as you used to, you might have difficulty getting into tight curves.
If the worn-out ball joints are causing both stiff and sloppy steering, this could be caused by the debris and dirt getting stuck in the joints. This can prevent the balls from turning freely.
6. Vibration in the Steering Wheel
Aside from having difficulty steering, you might also notice other unusual movements in your car's steering as its ball joints wear down.
One might be vibration, which you might feel while driving on a straight, level road. You'll most likely know that there's a problem with your steering if you start to feel this vibration while driving down the road.
As the worn-out ball joints wear down, they might eventually cause this vibration to extend to the other components of your vehicle.
Due to the wear and tear on these components, the ball joints might start to vibrate in their sockets. This could cause your car to feel like it's about to break apart.
7. Vehicle Drifting
If you're having difficulty keeping your car in a straight line, you might start to notice that your ball joints are getting worse.
This can be caused by various factors, such as your alignment or tires. If you're constantly drifting left or right while driving on a smooth road, this could be caused by your alignment or your tires.
If you're constantly drifting off the road and going over bumps, this could be an indication that your car's ball joints are failing.
Your vehicle might be unable to stay on a fixed course due to the loose steering and the lack of movement in the joints.
8. Uneven Tire Wear
If you suspect your car's ball joints are starting to get past their prime, you must look at your tires.
Some of the symptoms you might be experiencing are caused by the uneven wear patterns of your tires. The other movement in your suspension and steering can cause your tires to wear and tear.
If your front tires show signs of wear, this could mean that your car's ball joints are getting past their prime.
You might also notice bands of uneven wear across your tire width, which is caused by the movement of the ball joints in their sockets.
If your car's tires are still underinflated, this could mean that they're not working properly.
9. Wear Indicators
One of the easiest ways to check if your car's ball joints are getting past their prime is by having them wear indicators installed on their surfaces.
If you have a newer model, you might not have these wear indicators on your car's ball joints. However, an older model might have a pin or grease fitting that can also be used as a wear indicator.
The wear indicators are designed to stick out from the ball joint and show the rate at which the pins get worn down.
If they stick out from the joint, it's time to contact a mechanic. If the indicator is flush with the car's ball joint, it's time to fix it.
How Long Do Ball Joints Last?
One of the most critical factors you should consider when it comes to your car's ball joints is their durability.
Since they're a vital component of your suspension system, they can last long. However, in most cases, they won't last for the entire duration of your vehicle due to their materials and design.
Depending on the terrain you live in, your car's ball joints can last up to 150,000 miles. If you live in a rural area, you might be able to get around 70,000 miles out of your car's ball joints.
On the other hand, if you regularly drive on well-maintained highways and city roads, you might be able to get around 150,000 miles out of your car's ball joints.
How Do Ball Joints Get Worn Out?
When your car's ball joints were first installed, they were designed to move smoothly in their casings to ensure that their components stay working properly.
The case is also secure, and the system is designed to keep the oil and dirt out of the joint. However, over time, these components might start to break down due to the rough and dirty conditions of the roads.
As you drive more, the dirt and grit you're constantly driving on can wear out the internal components of your car's ball joints.
If the seals of your car's ball joints start to crack, the oil can leak out and cause your steering and suspension to become susceptible to damage.