I think we have all had that conversation with the local mechanic or garage that your car needs a ball joint replacing and simply pay the bill and move on!
But we here at MicksGarage would like to explain to you what they are and put the power in your hands when it comes to your car maintenance as the saying goes “knowledge is power”.
In simple terms they are what they say on the tin, a Ball in a joint! But if I were to say that ball joint is a key part of every vehicle and correct maintenance may save you money. It might make things a little more interesting!
The basic idea of the ball joint is to join two parts together but allow controlled movement in a multiple of directions, UP, DOWN, LEFT, and RIGHT and any combinations of these at the same time.
Cross Section of ball joint
As I mentioned above that ball joints are key to every vehicle on the road i.e. every vehicle will have them fitted, but where & why?
Our vehicles are designed to cope with bumpy roads, country lanes, the dreaded speed bumps, I think it fair to say the wheels move up and down a lot, now match this movement with the fact that front wheels need turning left and right. You might ask how do you actually fit a wheel to the vehicle and creator for all this movement? The answer is simple a Ball Joint
Where the ball joint fitted? 99% of vehicles will have more than one but let’s take it slow. Below is a picture of where ball joints would most commonly fitted. Here you can see that this joint is key to ensuring that the wheel stays where it is meant to.
Front Suspension Ball joint Location
Any excess wear in the ball joint will result in the wheel moving in an uncontrolled manor. This uncontrolled movement will cause increased wear & strain on suspension components along with a feeling of vague steering or a tendency for the vehicle to wonder while driving in a straight line.
I did say this article could save you money and this is where it starts. We spoke about excess wear to suspension components and I could fill the pages with, what suspension components are,? do? etc... (I do hope to in future with further articles)
but let’s stay on track (excuse the pun
The front-line in suspension components is actually your tyre! Its filled with air under pressure and perfect for taking the brunt of the road before the mechanical components take over (springs shocks etc...) but the money saving comes with ensuring the ball joints do not have excess play, this excess play will result in increased tyre wear and reduced tyre life. We know how pricey replacing four tyres can be.
Excess tyre ware is actually because the rolling resistance has increased and the tracking (the angle the wheels are pointing in) is out of alignment, this will increase your fuel consumption as your engine has to work harder to push past this resistance.
In the automotive world we tend to say the ball joint is fitted to the lower suspension arm or wishbones but the actually term Ball Joint can be taken as an engineering term of a ball in socket joint! If we take this on board we can see that nearly EVERY part of the suspension on your vehicle will have a Ball Joint fitted or attached to it! Below are a list of suspension components that may have ball joint fitted to them but are referred to differently in the automotive world because of there location or job.
- Lower Wishbone
- Upper Wishbone
- Inner tie rod
- Tie rod end
- Drop links
- Suspension mounting
- Control Arms
If we take the above list as a reference and have a look at the front suspension of a common vehicle let’s say an 2010 Audi A4.
Front Suspension 2010 Audi - A4
We can count five ball joints per side and a total of ten making up the front suspension, any excess ware on any of the above would hamper and add extra pressure on each of the other components.
All in all I think it is fair to say that ball joints are extremely important when it comes to vehicle maintenance and should not be over looked or put off.
“Awh sure it only needs ball joint” is not something that should be taken lightly. But I do hope you may have an extra incite that will aid you with your next service or future 2nd hand buy!
Words by Chris Driver
, MicksGarage !