In many ways, the ball joints in cars are similar to those in a human body. Without them, there will be no pivoting movement and the control arms won’t be able to balance the suspension. That, in turn, will affect the ride quality. Sadly, just like any other mechanical part, ball joints don’t last forever. So, if you feel like the arms have lost their flexibility, that means a joint replacement is in order.
But how do you remove the factory ball joints? You can’t just do that with basic tools, can you? Won’t you have to purchase a ball joint press for that? The answer is no: if you follow my lead, you’ll see that the stock joints can be removed manually, with basic tools. Let’s go ahead and learn all about that!
Why not Use a Joints Press?
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this guide, I want to say that ball joint removal can, indeed, be quickly done with a press. However, that will cost you a lot. The same is true for auto shops and mechanics. This is one of the most expensive services and you might be better off buying a brand-new set of control arms instead of messing around with the joints. Thankfully, there is a (relatively) easy and reliable technique that doesn’t involve a press.
That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. The list of required tools is pretty simple and straightforward: no need for any expensive, pro-grade equipment. This procedure can take a lot of time and effort, though, so, I’d suggest you do this on the weekends, and, preferably when the sun is still up and the skies are clear. And pay attention! Otherwise, you’ll end up damaging your vehicle.
First things first, put on your safety gear. I’m talking about protective gloves and eye goggles. You can make do without eye protection, but it’s still highly recommended to cover them. Plus, it would be best to invest in a mechanic’s toolbox that includes a set of wrenches, screwdrivers, spare bolts, nuts, and a hammer. Or, just grab whatever you’ve got in the garage. We’ll talk about the required tools as we move through this guide.
Step #1: Lifting the Vehicle with a Jack
With safety and the toolset out of the way, it’s time to lift the car. The vehicle needs to be parked on an even, smooth surface. As for the lifting, it can be done with a jack and a couple of jack stands. Once you’ve lifted the car to the desired height, install the stands to support it. Set the jack at a hard/strong point in your car; otherwise, you might damage its “underbelly” if you install the jack at a soft point.
The stands, in turn, should be evenly placed so that they can adequately hold the vehicle’s weight. A brand-new jack with a set of reliable stands won’t cost you a pretty penny. You can get an excellent jack for 50-70 US dollars; the stands are available for an even lower price. That’s pretty much it for the getting ready part.
Step #2: Removing the Lug and Axle Nuts
The next step would be to remove the lug nuts and the axle nuts on the wheels. Now, it shouldn’t take much effort to “handle” the lug nuts. However, if you’ve been driving around with the same wheels for a while now, chances are, they are all rusty and grimy. So, don’t go too hard on the nuts – be gentle and make sure you don’t damage them. A quarter turn should do: there’s no need in “unbolting” the nuts completely.
As for the axle nuts, on some newer car models, they come with a protective cover. If that’s the case with your vehicle, use something long, durable, and metallic to pry that cover open. A regular screwdriver should do the trick. A quick note: some folks prefer to loosen the lug and axle nuts before installing the jack stands. Others prefer to mount the stands, and then remove the nuts completely.
I always choose the first approach, because that way, it will be easier to place the jack and the stands. In any case, for us to move on to the next phase, the lug nuts and axle nuts have to be taken off completely.
Step #3: Lower Control Arm Joint Removal
Most experts recommend removing the ball joints starting with the lower control arm, and I totally agree. The jack will be of assistance to us once again. I want you to position it directly below the car’s axle hub, exactly where the ball joint goes down. It might be a wise idea to put a sturdy piece of wood or metal right between the jack and the hub. Next, raise the axle hub, but be very careful not to overdo this; or, you’ll damage the vehicle’s suspension system.
This is done to get easy access to the joint. The idea here is to equip yourself with something heavy, like a hammer, and, well, hit the joint until it’s completely loose. This requires a lot of patience and “strategic planning”: don’t just hit it as hard as you can. Instead, attack the joint from different angles to free it – you’ll hear a distinctive noise when that happens.
Step #4: Upper Control Arm Joint Removal
Moving on to the ball joint inside of the upper control arm, you’ll need to find it first. In most cases, it’s hidden at the forefront of the suspension system. Can you see a thread that’s running from the suspension to the arm? Well, look for a cap right next to it, because the cap serves as a protection layer for the upper ball joint. Now, the joint is secured by a bunch of rivets. Our goal is to drill right through them.
Then, grab that trusty hammer that we used earlier and deal with the tiny fragment of the rivets that way. If you’ve got nose pliers in your garage, they will be the ideal tool to unwrap the cotton pin around the stud. Once that’s done, the rest of the process will be pretty much identical to what we did with the lower arm ball joint.
Step #5: Finishing Up
And that’s how you get it done, dear friends! Now, before saying goodbye, I want you to do one more thing. While you’re lying underneath the vehicle with the jack stands holding the car and all the suspension parts at your disposal, double-check everything. Clean up the grime, debris, and dust. If some components are rusty, think about replacing them or getting rid of the corrosion using a rust remover/converter.
Also, inspect the bolts, nuts, washers, screws, and other hardware. Chances are, some of those bolts and screws are loose. Last, but not least, the tie rods, wheel hubs, and other parts might be low on grease, and lubricating them will be a very good idea.
Alright, now you know how to get rid of faulty/worn-out control arm ball joints without an expensive press. As we’ve learned today, this is a rather simple and intuitive process. All you’ll need to successfully complete this job is patience and a basic set of tools. A screwdriver, hammer, and pliers should be more than enough. Oh, and don’t forget about a jack and a set of jack stands, of course.
Also, be very gentle and make sure you don’t damage anything with the hammer. That’s pretty much all there is to it! To learn more about the control arms and the entire suspension system, make sure to check out my other reviews on this website. And if you’ve still got some questions, let me hear your thoughts in the comments!