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Your legs would be useless without the hip, knee, and ankle joints that allow these limbs to pivot so you can walk, run, kneel, and sit down. The same relationship exists between the control arms and steering knuckles and spindles in your vehicle’s suspension, and the bushings and ball joints that enable them to move in response to the tires’ contact with bumps, the springs’ corresponding reaction, and your steering input.

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The bushings allow the control arms to pivot up and down at the frame, but the ball joints enable the control arm and knuckle to move vertically and the spindle to move horizontally. A typical ball joint consists of a ball stud enclosed in a socket housing that is attached to the control arm, with the stud attached to the knuckle/spindle. The ball allows the stud to both pivot and rotate as the vehicle is steered and the suspension reacts to the road.

It is common to refer to ball joints as uppers or lowers according to their mounting location, but a more important distinction is whether they are load bearing (loaded) or non-load bearing (unloaded) or “follower” ball joints. Loaded ball joints support weight like the lower ball joints on vehicles with Short & Long Arm (SLA) suspension. Unloaded, or follower joints keep parts in alignment but do not support weight. The upper ball joints on SLA suspension vehicles and the lower ball joints on vehicles with MacPherson struts are follower ball joints.

Ball joints wear from use, lack of lubrication, and boot failure that allows contamination into the joint. Common symptoms of worn ball joints are noise, abnormal tire wear, misalignment and steering problems like pull. To inspect loaded joints like the lowers on an SLA suspension, tension must be relieved by supporting the vehicle by the lower control arm. Then check vertical and axial movement with a dial indicator and compare with specifications. Some load carrying joints have built-in wear indicators. Some follower joints are checked for play while others are checked by measuring the torque needed to rotate the stud.

Ball joints can be a press-fit in the control arm, or retained with bolts or rivets. The stud may be tapered and fit into a tapered hole in the steering knuckle, or straight and be retained with a pinch bolt. Press-fit joints can be removed with a suitable press and fixtures. The rivets on riveted joints must be chiseled or drilled out, and replacement ball joints come with fasteners for retention. Original equipment ball joints on most newer vehicles are sealed for life. Although some applications are serviced with the same type of joint, most of our replacement ball joints are greasable.

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Guides & Articles

  • Auto Repair Parts
    Very often we don't even realize what a crucial role a car's suspension plays in providing a safe and comfortable ride. The system maximizes the friction between the road surface and your vehicle's tires, ensuring steering stability along with responsive handling.
  • Auto Repair Parts
    The very first thing to know about timely suspension system diagnosis is that the stability and steering control of your vehicle and, what is more important, your safety on the road depends on how often you make it. Automotive suspension belongs to one of those car systems that are constantly exposed to high loads and thus are prone to wear and tear. Most specialists recommend inspecting suspension system after every 6,500-7,500 miles or when there are any signs of its breakage.

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5 of 5
2004 Infiniti G35 / Posted by Jeffrey (Glen Cove, NY) /

Looks great, works great and shipping was fast! No problems.

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