How to Check Suspension Ball Joints

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Ball joints are a suspension component that is found on virtually all vehicles. Ball joints are flexible joints that allow components of the suspension to move up and down, as well as side-to-side, usually in a full 360 degree rotation.

Ball joints are typically a ball-in-socket design that is lubricated with grease and covered by a dust boot. Some will have an external grease fitting for adding lubrication, while others will be sealed designs. While this design of the joints is commonly used on many other suspension components, such as tie rod ends and sway bar links, ball joints are responsible for connecting the suspension control arms to the vehicle’s steering knuckles.

Depending on the type of suspension, most vehicles will have upper and lower ball joints that serve as some of the most important joints that connect the frame of the vehicle to the suspension. When they fail, the vehicle may experience issues ranging from minor noises and vibrations in the suspension, to a complete failure which will render the vehicle undriveable.

This article shows you how to check ball joints for looseness and play to see if they need to be replaced. By listening to the vehicle while driving, feeling for any symptoms, and visually inspecting the ball joints while the car is raised, you can find out if your ball joints are causing issues with your car.

Method 1 of 2: Checking the ball joints by driving the vehicle

Step 1: Take the car for a drive. Drive the vehicle up to the speed limit on a public road and listen for any noises that may be coming from the suspension.

Worn ball joints will usually be indicated by an intermittent banging sound that will appear to be coming from one of the vehicle’s corners.

Take note of any unusual feelings in the steering wheel. Worn ball joints may cause excessive vibration in the steering wheel, as well as cause the steering to wander, requiring constant corrective input from the driver.

person in car driving over speed bump

Step 2: Drive over speed bumps. Once you have driven the vehicle at full speed, take it into a parking lot with speed bumps, and drive it at a low speed.

Stop and go a few times, drive over speed bumps, and make a few turns at low speed.

Listen for any banging or thumping noises. These sounds may become more pronounced when turning at low speeds and going over speed bumps.

person turning wheel completely left when parking the car

Step 3: Turn the steering wheel. Once the vehicle has been driven at low speed, park the vehicle.

Turn the wheels back and forth a few times, again listening for any potential signs of looseness in the vehicle’s ball joints.

  • Tip: Remember that any noises due to excessively worn ball joints will usually present themselves as a knocking sound that will get worse over time, having a more pronounced effect on the vehicle’s suspension and steering.

Once the vehicle has been driven, it is time for a visual and physical inspection tests.

Method 2 of 2: Checking ball joints visually

Materials Needed

person loosening up their lug nuts on the wheel of car

Step 1: Loosen the lug nuts. Loosen the lug nuts, however, leave them on hand tight, with the wheel still secured reasonably tightly to the vehicle.

This will allow you to move the wheel around on its axis (without removing it).

person raising up car with a jack

Step 2: Jack up the car. Jack up the vehicle’s front end, and secure it on jack stands. It will be much easier to test the ball joints without the entire weight of the vehicle on the wheels.

Step 3: Place wheel chocks behind the wheels. Put wheel chocks or wood blocks behind the vehicle’s rear wheels and set the parking brake to prevent the vehicle from rolling.

person grabbing wheel from the top and bottom

Step 4: Rock the tire on its axis. Once the vehicle has been raised, grasp the top and bottom of the tire, and rock it in and out along the wheel’s vertical axis.

There should be little to no play if the ball joints are both in sound condition.

Take notice of any play that seems excessive, or noises present when rocking the wheel in and out, and where the sounds or play seem to be coming from.

  • Tip: Any noises or play heard towards the top are most likely indicative of a problem with the upper ball joint, while, any play or noise coming from the bottom of the wheel are probably indicative of a problem with the lower ball joint.

  • Warning: When conducting this test, make sure that the lug nuts are not loose, as that may cause movement when rocking the wheel. The lug nuts do not need to be fully torqued down; they simply need to be tight enough that the wheel is secured on the hub.

Step 5: Remove the wheel. Once you are ready to proceed, remove the wheel and visually inspect both the upper and lower ball joints using the flashlight.

  • Tip: For instructions on how to remove the wheel off its axis, you can see instructions in our article, “How to Change a Tire”.

person using a flashlight to inspect the balljoints

Closely examine the ball joints for any signs of rust, damage to the dust boot, grease leakage, or other potential problems that may indicate a need for replacement.

person using a pry bar between the ball joint and control arm

Step 6: Pry apart the ball joint. Take a pry bar and place it between the lower control arm and the steering knuckle, the two parts that are connected together by the ball joint, and attempt to pry them apart.

Loose ball joints will have an excessive amount of play and movement when you pry on them, may even make knocking or clicking sounds.

Step 7: Put the wheels back on. Once you have visually inspected and tested the ball joints with a pry bar, reinstall the wheel, lower the vehicle, and torque the lug nuts.

Step 8: Check the joints on other wheels. At this point you may proceed to the other three wheels of the vehicle, using the exact same procedures as outlined in Steps 1-5.

Ball joints are one of the most critical components in a vehicle’s suspension, and checking to make sure that they are in sound condition is a relatively easy test to conduct. Worn ball joints can cause all sorts of problems, ranging from play in the steering wheel, to noises when going over bumps, to uneven tire wear.

If you have any suspicion that your ball joints may be worn, do not hesitate to check them. If necessary, have a professional technician, such as one from YourMechanic, assist you with replacing both the front and rear ball joints.


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Mazyar

7 years of experience
171 reviews
Mazyar
7 years of experience
BMW 530xi - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Upper Right) - Tucker, Georgia
Great experience, all the way around. Mazyar Mark is a complete professional, smart, and trustworthy. Fixed my immediate problem and cast a careful eye on other potential issues. I will definitely use him again. The convenience-factor of having a mechanic come to the customer/car is amazing to me.
Honda Civic - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Lower Left) - Lithonia, Georgia
He was very thorough. Was impressed that we went for a test drive after work was complete. Would recommend him again.

Michael

22 years of experience
39 reviews
Michael
22 years of experience
Ford Edge - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Lower Right) - Redford, Michigan
Excellent mechanical skills... great personality! Definitely recommended! Will definitely use his service again!
Pontiac G6 - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Lower Left, Lower Right) - Wixom, Michigan
He was very polite and made it here on time. Excellent aero. I will most definitely recommend this company to a friend.

Gustavo

16 years of experience
55 reviews
Gustavo
16 years of experience
Jeep Wrangler - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Upper Left, Upper Right, Lower Left, Lower Right) - Cibolo, Texas
Gustavo did a terrific job.he delivered on what he promised and in the time frame quoted.kept us updated and gave us a “health”update in the vehicle.i will request him for any future services.
Dodge Durango - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Lower Left, Lower Right) - San Marcos, Texas
It was a hefty job in the early morning, but he came enthusiastic and finished the job fast and told me everything I needed to know to further my cars health . I appreciate everything he’s done . I definitely recommend Gustavo.

Jimmi

25 years of experience
16 reviews
Jimmi
25 years of experience
Ford Mustang - Ball Joint Front Replacement (Lower Left, Lower Right) - Deltona, Florida
In the future if I have mechanical needs Jimmy is who I will ask for. Very friendly, extremely knowledgeable and very good at his job.

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