With a good set of instructions, a small amount of mechanical knowledge, and a bit of patience, you can change the ball joint yourself and save a tremendous amount of money in labor costs.
The basic tools you will need to replace a ball joint are:
- The replacement ball joint
- 8mm hex head wrench
- 22mm or 15/16″ combination wrench
- ball joint separator tool (also called a ‘pickle fork’)
First, you will want to diagnose the problem to be certain that replacing the ball joint is going to resolve the issue.
How to Check if a Ball Joint is Bad
Jack the car up until both tires are off the ground. Grab the tire at both the top and the bottom and rock it back and forth. The ball joint should not have excessive spacing or a gap around it. If you can actually see a gap in the ball joint, it is time to replace it.
Jack up the vehicle so that both wheels are off the ground and secure the back wheels with blocks to make sure it doesn’t roll while you are working on it.
Work from the inside of the wheel structure on the side with the bad joint. Try to work around the caliper and rotor without removing it to make reassembly easier. If you must remove them, you will later have to bleed the brakes when replacing the parts, a detail best left alone if at all possible.
Using the combination wrench, remove the largest nut from the joint, at the bottom of the structure. Next, the shank of the ball joint should be guided through the hole of the steering knuckle. Then place the new nut on the joint. This is a particularly tight joint that is difficult to ‘pop’ loose. Once the nut is removed, drive the pickle fork between the control arm and the steering knuckle.
This particular tool will destroy the rubber boot around the ball joint, so make sure you have purchased a replacement. The pickle fork, however, does a very good job of popping out the ball joint, a task virtually impossible without this tool. To make the pickle fork do its job you will have to hammer it. Don’t be afraid to hit it hard…they are built to withstand the pressure and won’t work without you hitting it with a hammer hard.
Once the joint is free, usually after several whacks with the hammer, remove the two Allen bolts. Cleaning them will make removing them a bit easier. If they are corroded into place, heating them with a propane torch for a few minutes will help with the removal. Once you have successfully removed these bolts, simply raise the control arm and slide out the ball joint.
Now the hard part is over! Installing the new one is easier than removing the existing one. The shaft of the new ball joint can easily be guided through the hole created by the steering knuckle and then tightened down with a new nut on the ball joint.
Nothing about the replacement of the ball joint should affect the vehicle’s alignment so once you have completed all the steps and replaced the tire you are ready to go! Check with your particular vehicle’s manual regarding the torque of the bolts but most will recommend around 44 ft-lbs. for the upper screws and 80 ft-lbs. on the other bolts. Once you have properly torqued the bolts, you are ready to roll.
How to Replace a Lower Ball Joint (short, quick version)
How to Replace a Ball Joint (in depth, ultimate guide)