A failing ball joint can compromise your vehicle's handling and become a safety problem. Ball joints are continual-use parts (learn more about their job here) and endure significant wear and tear throughout their lifespan. Longevity depends on factors like mileage, age, and operating conditions - but there are some common indicators you'll want to watch for, including:
- Odd or excessive noises
- Irregular vibrations
- Uneven tire wear
- Steering problems
This article will show you how to recognize the initial signs of ball joint wear to prevent safety hazards and avoid more expensive repairs.
Usually, the first sign of ball joint wear is a rattling or clunking noise from the front of the vehicle. The noise might initially be subtle but increases in intensity as the ball joint failure progresses. Ball joints begin to wear from a lack of lubrication. When the outer boot fails, the grease escapes while dirt and debris can enter the ball joint socket. The loss of grease creates a gap between the ball and the socket. This excessive play causes a rattling or clunking sound. As the ball joint is exposed to the elements, the joint begins to wear rapidly from heat and friction.
Lack of lubrication and excessive play in the ball joint socket translates to vibrations you can feel in the cabin and through the steering wheel. Vibration from ball joints indicates that wear is progressing to the point of being a safety hazard. Once vibrations start to occur, it’s critical to have the ball joints inspected and repaired accordingly. When wear reaches this stage, it is very possible that the ball joint could suddenly break, and potentially cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Uneven Tire Wear
Image Credit: ToyotaMaintenance
Ball joints connect the steering knuckle to the suspension control arms. This allows the steering knuckle to pivot. The steering knuckle houses the bearing hub that attaches the wheel. Ball joint wear can allow the steering knuckle to shift and vibrate. The excessive play in the steering knuckle allows the wheels to rotate off-axis. This movement prevents the tire from contacting the road evenly and leads to premature tire wear. A worn lower ball joint tends to cause heavy inner tread wear, while a worn upper ball joint will typically cause heavy outer tread wear.
Shifting of the steering knuckle on a worn ball joint also affects vehicle steering and handling. Excessive play can lead to a loose feel in the steering wheel and reduced steering response. By the time ball joint wear impacts steering and handling, the ball joint is likely near the point of catastrophic failure. The metal ball of the joint can wear to the point where it separates from the socket. A wheel can completely separate from the vehicle at this point, endangering the occupants and other vehicles or bystanders.
Diagnosing a Worn Ball Joint
Inspecting ball joints is relatively straightforward. Placing the vehicle on a lift is ideal for proper inspection. Once the car is off the ground and the suspension and wheel hang freely, firmly grab the tire and wiggle back and forth to detect ball joint play.
Remove the wheel from the vehicle if ball joint movement is not apparent. Inspect the rubber boot on the ball joint for splitting, tearing, and grease escaping from the ball joint. Use a pry bar to apply pressure between the steering knuckle and the control arm while observing for excessive movement.
Find OEM Toyota Ball Joints At Olathe Toyota Parts Center
We have a large selection of high-quality, durable OEM ball joints to fit your specific Toyota vehicle. We back all OEM parts with the standard Toyota 12-month, unlimited miles warranty. We're also centrally located in Kansas City, we provide fast shipping to the east and west coasts.
Do you have questions? We have a large selection of parts and accessories for your Toyota vehicle and we’re here to help with any question you may have about your ball joints. Please feel free to contact us today!