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Ball Joint Service and Inspection, Bill Williams, Brake & Front End, May, 2003

Ball Joint Service and Inspection
By Bill Williams Technical Contributor The ball joints are the best known of the suspension components. They are also the most important. The ball joints must allow the steering knuckle to rotate to provide steering and pivot to allow for suspension jounce and rebound. The condition of the ball joints is critical to proper system operation. They are categorized into what are known as loaded and unloaded types. Unloaded ball joints are often referred to as follower ball joints. The classification of the ball joint on a suspension system is determined by the ball joint’s location in the system. Loaded ball joints bear the load or force of the vehicle’s spring. In a load-carrying ball joint, the vehicle weight forces the ball joint stud into contact with the bearing surface.

Loaded ball joints fall into two types, tension and compression. A typical tension-loaded ball joint is shown in Figure 1. In this type of load carrying ball joint, the vehicle weight is acting on the lower control arm. The wheel and tire assembly is supporting the steering knuckle. The force from the vehicle weight is trying to pull the ball joint apart. The ball joint stud is being pulled into contact with the bearing in this type of ball joint. Figure 2 shows a cross sectional view of a typical tension-loaded ball joint. The bearing surfaces are located at the ball housing opening. A compression-loaded ball joint works opposite of a tension-loaded ball joint. The control arm is located above the steering knuckle, as shown in Figure 3. The vehicle weight is forcing the control arm down which compresses the ball joint. In this style the bearing is located on top of the ball joint stud (see Figure 4). The force pushes or compresses the bearing into the ball joint stud.
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it will affect the vehicle‘s handling. the ball joint is a compression-loaded ball joint. If the clearance exceeds the maximum allowed. In this type of ball joint. If you take the time to check an out-ofthe-box brand new compression-loaded ball joint for axial play you will see between .babcox. A dial indicator is necessary to check both axial and radial movement. Brake & Front End. Figure 5 shows a dial indicator setup to measure axial play and Figure 6 shows one mounted to measure radial. If the steering knuckle is above the control arm which supports the vehicle weight. 2003 Identifying whether a ball joint is a tension or compression is most easily done by looking at the relationship between the control arm and steering knuckle. the ball joint is a tension-loaded ball joint. These ball joints do not fall under the category of "no perceptible movement. The first is axial. If the control supporting the vehicle weight is located above the steering knuckle." A good example of why this is important can be seen by looking at a typical compression-loaded ball joint. Bill Williams. A typical specification for a compression load carrying ball joint is . Over time the bearing surface of either type of loaded ball joint will wear. wheel alignment and tire wear. Most manufacturers use axial. The measurement is compared to the vehicle’s specification to determine if service is needed. The stud on a compression-loaded ball joint will point down.050" of play! This is by design. May.com/editorial/bf/bf50344. This style ball joint is "held" together by the forces acting upon it. A key point to understand about most loadcarrying ball joints is that they have a wear specification.030" and . Radial movement is side to side. Axial movement is the vertical movement of the ball stud in relationship to the ball housing. The wear specification for a ball joint will specify whether it is an axial measurement or a radial measurement. when measuring radial play there must be no wheel http://www. It should be noted that due to the fact the measurement is taken at the rim. Most manufacturers provide a specification for the maximum allowable axial play.Ball Joint Service and Inspection. Ball joints are checked for two types of movement. the ball joint stud faces up. Some manufacturers use the amount of radial movement as an indicator of the ball joint’s condition.125" (1/8") axial movement.htm (2 of 6)3/7/2009 6:11:43 PM . This wear will cause additional clearance in the ball and socket assembly.

Non-load carrying ball joints are often referred to as "follower ball joints. Type I vehicles have the coil spring or torsion bar acting directly on the lower control arm. Thus. Type II vehicles have the coil spring or torsion bar acting directly on the upper control arm. a pre-load spring is used as shown in Figure 8. Load-carrying ball joints wear faster than non-load carrying ball joints. Supporting the vehicle by the lower control arms will place the lower ball joints in an artifically loaded condition and prevent accurate inspection. The upper ball joint is the load-carrying joint and must be unloaded to check for looseness.com/editorial/bf/bf50344. Bill Williams." Their function is to provide the second pivot point for the suspension. A number of load-carrying ball joints are equipped with a builtin wear indicator because of this (see Figure 9). Brake & Front End. Inspection of FWD follower ball joints is done by supporting the vehicle by the frame and letting the suspension hang. the lower ball joint is the load-carrying joint. It is often described as "no perceptible movement. These ball joints require a ball joint checking gauge and must be checked according to what specification is being measured (axial/radial). Most manufacturers allow no or zero play in follower ball joints. Lower ball joints without wear indicators must be "unloaded to check for looseness. Place a wedge tool between the frame and upper control arm.babcox. Non-load carrying ball joints are preloaded to provide improved steering quality and vehicle stability. If any movement is seen." This includes both axial and radial. 2003 bearing play.htm (3 of 6)3/7/2009 6:11:43 PM . Raise the vehicle and place supports under both lower control arms as close to the wheels as possible to unload the ball joint(s). Typically. The ball joints require a ball joint checking gauge. Loaded ball joints are classified as either Type I or Type II.Ball Joint Service and Inspection. Check for play by grasping the tire at the 12 and 6 o-clock positions and attempt to move the tire in and out while observing the ball joint. The upper ball joint in the suspension in Figure 7 is a nonload carrying ball joint. ball joint replacement is required. http://www. Raise and support both sides of the vehicle on the frame or cross-member. Ball joints which are not subjected to the weight of the vehicle are known as non-load carrying ball joints. This spring presses the ball joint stud into the bearing. May.

If the dust boot is damaged. Brake & Front End. As the bearing wears. The wear indicator is designed to protrude . This is done by disconnecting the tie rod end so the knuckle can be rotated while checking for the bind. This is done with the tires on the ground and the wheels in a straight-ahead position. Loaded wear indicator ball joints must be checked in a loaded condition. A rubber pressure ring pushes the wear indicator against the ball joint stud.com/editorial/bf/bf50344. the ball joint stud will move up in the housing.babcox. In addition to checking the ball joints for the amount of wear they should also be checked for other conditions. The bottom portion of the wear indicator protrudes from the ball joint housing through a small opening. Perform a visual inspection of the ball joint dust boot. Binding ball joints can cause handling problems such as memory steer and can also cause noise. Older Chrysler "K" cars have wear indicator lower follower ball joints. The manufacturers who build the vehicles are also the ones who determine the acceptable inspection procedures. The inspection procedures for both the "K" cars and these newer Chryslers is to grasp the grease fitting and attempt to wiggle it without the use of any outside force. The same is true of newer Chrysler vehicles equipped with the double wishbone suspension shown in Figure 11. The wear indicator is located on the bottom of the ball joint stud. Inspection of the ball joint is done by checking the location on the wear indicator in reference to the ball joint housing (see Figure 10). The bearing is located on the top portion of the stud and rides against the opening in the housing.050" (fifty thousands of an inch) past the housing. If the fitting moves easily. The rubber pressure ring will keep the wear indicator in contact with the ball joint stud so it will also move up. Sometimes the ball joint ball and socket will bind due to a lack of lubrication or from moisture intrusion. the vibration caused by the binding will be most intense at the ball joint.Ball Joint Service and Inspection. The top part of the wear indicator fits against the round part of the ball joint stud. The upper ball joint on this suspension is a wear indicator follower ball joint. it requires replacement. http://www. Sometimes it is best to isolate the ball joint to check for the binding. Bill Williams. Some follower ball joints also have wear indicators.htm (4 of 6)3/7/2009 6:11:43 PM . This is a good example of how you can’t apply generic inspection procedures to all vehicles. May. They use a half ball tapered stud and are secured with a castle nut and cotter pin. Some wear indicator ball joints use a grease fitting to allow periodic lubrication of the ball joint. the grease necessary to keep the ball and socket lubricated will not be retained and wear will occur. If the ball joint is the cause. 2003 Most wear indicator ball joints use a press-in housing and are tension-loaded ball joints. A binding ball joint will sometimes cause creaking and can be traced by the intensity of the creaking.

separate Remove nut and insert. (T83T-3132-A1). I thought I would include one that might be the source of a little surprise if you haven’t done one before. To install. Remove lower ball joint nut and steering knuckle. Brake & Front End. The vehicle in question is a 1999 F350 Super Duty with 4WD. Remove nut. Place steering knuckle in a vise. Reverse removal procedure for both upper and lower ball joints. Remove and discard tie rod ball joint cotter pin. drive main seal out of steering knuckle. tie rod end from steering knuckle. install new main steering knuckle seal onto axle shaft (see Figure 12). The ball joint setup in this vehicle is quite similar to other solid axle 4WDs. Remove caliper and support by wire to frame. press upper ball joint from steering knuckle. Using pitman arm puller.Ball Joint Service and Inspection. Perform wheel end vacuum leak test. Position axle shaft into axle housing. 2.babcox. Remove snap ring.com/editorial/bf/bf50344. Install nut on lower ball joint finger tight. Removal & Installation of Ball Joints 1. 2. but there are some addition steps necessary that aren’t required on other vehicles. Using receiving cup and "U" Joint Tool. Before driving vehicle. Clean and inspect steering knuckle ball joint bores. clean steering knuckle ball joint bore. Remove caliper anchor plate. Install steering knuckle. Here are the procedures: Removal of Steering Knuckle 1. Remove hub and wheel bearing assembly. http://www. Remove axle. Using a drift. install main seal into steering knuckle (see Figure 13). May. 2003 Ball Joint Service Most ball joint service is straightforward and doesn’t require a great deal of effort or thought. Install new cotter pin. Repeat process for lower ball joint. Tighten remaining bolts and nuts to specification. Bill Williams. 3. Using steering knuckle seal installer (205-429) and driver 3. Raise and support the vehicle. Tighten lower ball joint and then the upper ball joint retaining nuts. reverse removal procedure.htm (5 of 6)3/7/2009 6:11:43 PM . Remove wheel assembly. Remove brake rotor. Remove and discard upper ball joint cotter pin. Installation of Steering Knuckle 1. Using knuckle seal installer and driver. Install insert and nut on upper ball joint finger tight. To complete installation.

Bill Williams. The addition of the steering knuckle seal to this procedure complicates the installation of the ball joints. Brake & Front End.Ball Joint Service and Inspection.com/editorial/bf/bf50344. May.htm (6 of 6)3/7/2009 6:11:43 PM . I’m not a salesperson for any of the information providers I’m just a realist that knows the days of being able to figure things out on your own are gone forever! http://www. Not having this knowledge and the right tools will make this job near impossible.babcox. This procedure is another good example of how the technician cannot survive without access to electronic service information. Investment in one of the electronic information providers is a must in today’s day and age. 2003 pump pedal several times to restore normal pedal position.