What Are Ball Joints and What Do They Do?
A ball joint is a sphere, or ball, housed in a socket, much like human ball and socket joints, such as hips. Ball joints connect the control arms of the car to the steering knuckles.
The front ball joints pivot in their sockets to allow the front wheels to turn in conjunction with the suspension moving up and down. As you drive down the road, the ball joints are constantly pivoting and moving with your steering, braking, and bouncing. On top of all that work, some ball joints are “load bearing,” meaning they support the front weight of the car. It’s easy to understand that they are an important part of your car. When the ball joints fail, you are not going anywhere.
Warning Signs That Your Ball Joints Are Worn Out
Usually there are few signs that will alert you that the ball joints are failing.
- Clunking or rattling noises coming from the front suspension.
When ball joints wear out they become loose and rattle around in their sockets as the suspension goes up and down. They might knock, clunk, or bang when traveling on rough roads, going over bumps like railroad tracks or speed bumps, or when turning.
- Excessive vibration in the front of the vehicle.
Worn ball joints will shake and rattle as you drive, causing excessive vibration in the suspension, usually on one side. The vibrating can sometimes be felt through the steering wheel.
- Car wanders, steering is off to left or right.
Known as steering wander, when one or more ball joints is bad, the car will wander to the left or right. It might be difficult to tell the difference between steering wander and bad alignment, because both conditions can cause the car to pull or wander left or right.
- Uneven tire wear.
Irregular and/or excessive tire wear is a strong indicator of ball joints wearing out. Wear on either the inside or outside of the tires is a strong indicator of bad ball joints and can be difficult to catch; so, if you experience any of the other symptoms, be sure to check your tires carefully.