What do Ball Joints Do?
Ball Joints are the automotive equivalent to the human shoulder. Think of a ball and socket design with a base that mounts onto a control arm and a stem that fits into the tire/wheel assembly. As the control arm moves up and down with changing road conditions, the stem (socket) moves so the wheel assembly stays on the ground. Because this stem is able to rotate independently of the base, when we turn the steering wheel the tire/wheel assembly rotates smoothly on this pivot point.
How to Know Ball Joints Are Worn
Most worn ball joints will be found during yearly state inspections or during a routine service check at the shop. The technician “shakes” the front end of the car while it is on a lift (off the ground). By moving a tire slowly from side to side and up and down, worn parts will have exaggerated movement or “play” which indicates they are worn.
In the meantime, we can also look for symptoms of a worn ball joints. While making a slow sharp turn, a worn ball joint makes a snapping sound – think of the ball being pulled from the socket then released. Likewise, a quick look at your tires may reveal worn ball joints or other front end components. Any uneven wear should merit a trip to the shop for a check over.
Replacement: Urgency, Repair Time & Costs
Because worn out ball joints will lead to uneven tire wear and other front end parts wearing down more quickly, repairs should not be postponed or costs could go up. Usually worn ball joints are discovered early on when they are not a safety hazard, so the repair can be planned and you’ll have time to compare options from local auto-repair shops. Most shops work on ball joints and turn-around time is same day. In general, ball joints are inexpensive with a range between $20 to $80 each. Labor will vary greatly by model with some vehicles as low as $60 to $80, yet others, especially four-wheel drive trucks ranging higher from $160 to $200 per ball joint.
Now, there is not much we can do to prevent ball joints, or any other front-end part, from wearing out. Some ball joints come with grease fittings where newer, cleaner grease can be periodically added to tighten up small spaces and lengthen service time, but these fittings are typical of older model cars. The best strategy would be to keep up with repairs on the suspension in order to slow the wear of good parts.
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