Ball joints are an essential part of both the suspension and steering system. It’s a silent hero of the suspension world that often wears out first, soaking in the damage of horrible roads. When that happens, you’ll start hearing weird noises coming from the front of your vehicle. Today we’ll talk about what a ball joint is, what it does, how to diagnose a failing one, and how to figure out if it’s time for a replacement. Let’s dig in!
What Is a Ball Joint and What Does It Do?
The suspension system on an average car is much more complicated than most drivers realize. There’s a lot of physics involved in making a car stable on the road. However, designing a solid suspension system isn’t all about the flashy features such as minimal body roll and good handling. It’s also about facilitating the core function of the steering system and ensuring that everything moves as designed. This is where ball joints come into play.
Ball joints sit on the end of control arms and are essentially linking the suspension system to the knuckle of the wheel. Wheels are designed to turn, meaning that you need to have a pivot point somewhere in there to allow for lateral movement. That’s why an average vehicle usually has two ball joints per wheel – an upper and lower one.
Upper ball joints tend to be an integral part of control arms, while the lower ones are often a separate unit. Since the lower ball joint deals with most of the weight of the vehicle, it’s often larger and also the first one to go when things go south.
The Anatomy of a Ball Joint
Your average ball joint looks exactly like you’d imagine. It’s a ball that sits inside a socket. Aside from these two components, there’s also a boot that prevents dirt and debris from penetrating the joint and causing friction between the ball and the socket. The ball has a protruding threaded stud that is used to mount the whole thing to the knuckle. As you drive your vehicle, your suspension is working hard to dampen road surface imperfections.
That dampening requires some parts of the suspension system, more specifically the knuckle and control arms, to move in different directions at the same time. A simple yet elegant solution is to have a free moving ball encased in a socket between them.
Why do Ball Joints Fail?
Although freely moving and often generously greased, ball joints tend to suffer from friction at one point or another. Friction can be caused by a number of things. For starters, the protective boot can fail, allowing dirt and debris to penetrate the space between the ball and the socket. Once dirt gets in there, it doesn’t take long for it to wear out either one of these components. The result is a loose joint, while the worst-case scenario might see the ball falling out of the socket completely.
The issue with the catastrophic failure of this part is that it usually includes the entire wheel falling off of the vehicle. Depending on which joint failed, you might see the top or bottom part of the wheel dropping out.
Diagnosing a Bad Ball Joint
There are several ways you can check if your ball joints are about to or have already failed. In most cases, you will either feel or hear something as you drive.
- Noise – One of the first signs that something’s up is a faint clunking noise. You’ll often hear it coming from either front corners of your car, especially when you drive over bumps. Deciding to ignore the noise will only make it worse as this compromised part deteriorates further over time.
- Inability to Drive Straight – Another symptom to look out for is the car’s inability to drive straight. In other words, it will constantly drift to one side or the other despite your correction on the steering wheel.
If you notice any of these symptoms, lift the car so that the suspected wheel is up in the air. Now grab the wheel at the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock position and shake it by pulling the top and pushing the bottom. What you’re looking for is excessive movement. Another way to check is to visually inspect the part and look for signs of boot damage.
Sidem Ball Joints – Experts Know Why
Ball joints are an expendable component that needs to be replaced periodically. However, when you do decide to replace it, it pays to get a replacement made to last. Trusting premier brands is always the way to go in these situations.
Sidem is one of the leading manufacturers of steering and suspension components. Their ball joints are made to meet the highest standards both in terms of build quality and materials used. Sidem has a long tradition of building robust suspension parts for a variety of car brands.
What sets Sidem’s ball joints apart from the rest is increased maximum oscillation angle, high pull-out force, and excellent performance for play. A higher max oscillation angle allows better articulation of the ball joint as suspension reaches max rebound – a feature that prolongs the lifespan of the part. Sidem matches and most often outperforms OE parts in all of these categories and more.
To find out if Sidem offers products compatible with your vehicle, simply enter your car’s info in our online store’s navigation tool. Alternatively, you can enter your car’s VIN and get the results that way.
In case you’re having trouble finding what you’re looking for, feel free to contact our customer service either via e-mail or by phone. We’re standing by to answer any questions you might have about Sidem’s products.