The lower ball joint is a crucial part of your steering and suspension. Here, it connects the lower control arm to the wheel.
This allows you to turn smoothly, because the ball joint rotates and pushes the wheel in the direction you want it to go.
If you’re hearing knocking noises, experiencing jolts, or are otherwise having steering issues, it might be time to replace the lower ball joint.
The average cost of replacing a lower ball joint is $250-$350. In most cases, lower ball joints cost between $80 and $150. Labor usually ranges from $150-$250. In addition, you can buy performance parts well in excess of $350. However, labor is usually the largest part of the cost.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of lower ball joint replacement cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||Labor||Lower Ball Joint Cost|
Lower Ball Joint Replacement Costs*
Replacing a lower ball joint normally costs between $150 and $350. If you have a luxury vehicle, you can expect costs to go up to well over $1000.
In addition, replacing one ball joint isn’t always enough. You might have to replace all four. That’s because the problems that cause issues with one ball joint are likely to impact all of them.
However, you can always use your best judgement based on the condition of the other ball joints. Otherwise, the largest factors impacting the cost of replacement are make and model of vehicle and the cost of labor.
The following chart covers the normal cost of replacing a lower ball joint across 10 popular vehicle models.
|Vehicle||Lower Ball Joint Cost||Labor Cost|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
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Lower Ball Joint Replacement Price Factors
The most influential cost for replacing your lower ball joints is labor. That’s because you have to remove the front wheel, the axle nut, brake calipers, and control arm. Afterwards, you can access and remove the lower ball joint.
This means removing your lower ball joint is time consuming, and your mechanic may spend 3 or more hours on the job.
You’ll also have to consider the vehicle make and manufacture, whether you’re getting performance or budget ball joints, etc.
Make and Model
The make and model of your car can dramatically influence the cost of replacing ball joints. For example, you can get Toyota ball joints for as little as $35 each.
On the other hand, if you want OEM jaguar ball joints, you’re usually looking at $600 or more per ball joint.
Of course, you can always save money by choosing to go for aftermarket rather than Original Equipment Manufacturer. For example, you can get MOOG ball joints for most popular cars, usually for around $30-$60 each.
That can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re replacing more than one ball joint.
Mechanic Rates and Labor
Replacing the lower ball joint can be time intensive. After all, you have to take off the full wheel assembly.
Loosening the axle nut often requires significant effort. In addition, you’ll have to remove and replace the brake calipers and the control arm.
Finally, you’ll have to use a ball joint splitter or pull to get the ball joints off. That means your mechanic might spend as long as 3-4 hours per wheel.
That adds the price up, especially if your mechanic charges rates of $200 or more per hour.
Because mechanic’s rates vary from about $15 to well over $210, it’s difficult to predict exactly what labor costs will be.
However, with a national average cost of $60 per hour, you can usually expect $180 in labor, per wheel, at minimum.
You can always call around to request hourly rates before choosing a mechanic. However, most areas have fairly static rates per area.
Number of Bad Ball Joints
Often, when a ball joint goes out, it’s because of age, driving in harsh conditions, or because of an accident. Often, this kind of damage impacts all or several of the ball joints.
In every case, your car has at least two ball joints. If you have a MacPherson strut, you have two ball joints. If you have another type of steering, you might have four. This can greatly increase costs.
In addition, that same damage often causes issues with other parts of the suspension. It’s not uncommon to have to replace the tie rod ends at the same time. This means you may have to account for multiple parts all at once.
The good news is the bulk of the labor is not replicated across each part. So, you’ll pay less for replacing your tie rod and your lower ball joint together than for each individually.
4 Signs of a Bad Ball Joint
If the ball joints are going out in your car, you’ll notice. However, it can be difficult to tell what’s going wrong.
For example, the symptoms of a bad ball joint are almost exactly the same as the symptoms of any other part of the front suspension going out.
This means that the signs of a bad ball joint overlap with bad tie rod ends, a bad steering rack, and even failing tension rods.
Therefore, you’ll need to have a mechanic assess the issue to get a diagnosis.
Alternatively, if you know your way around the car, you can inspect the parts manually to see how they look and if they are in good condition.
1. Clunking Noises
If your car is clunking, especially when you steer, you probably have a steering system or suspension problem.
Here, you might notice clunking when you turn in just one direction or in both. If it’s the ball joints, it’s usually because the lubricant in the ball joint has worn off.
Then, the ball joint rattles around. It will clunk when you turn. It might also clunk when you drive on rough roads.
The latter sign is almost always a sign of a bad ball joint rather than other parts of the suspension. Why? The ball joint is the only part that’s actually loose.
However, if you do hear clunking, it’s always a good sign to take your car to the mechanic. Why? Steering and suspension issues that result in clunking can result in your car pulling, in uneven steering, and even in your steering breaking entirely.
This could cause your vehicle to be a hazard to yourself and to others on the road.
2. Excessive Vibration
Some vibration is a normal part of driving, especially on gravel or unpaved roads.
However, if one side of your vehicle is vibrating or if your steering wheel is vibrating, it means something is wrong with the suspension.
Here, if just one side of the car is vibrating, it’s a good sign that the suspension is out on that side of vehicle.
In addition, the ball joint is a very likely culprit, because the ball joint rattles around and vibrates inside of the casing. This normally happens when the lubricant has worn off and is no longer cushioning the ball joint.
3. Uneven Tire Wear
If your car tires are wearing unevenly, it’s always a sign that you have something wrong with the front suspension.
Here, you can look at your tires to see if the tread is the same on the inside and outside of the tires. Then, you also want to look at the other side. If the other side has the opposite pattern, you have an issue with the steering system on one side of the car.
Why? Because that side of the car is pulling in that direction, causing excess pressure on the tires on one side of the tire. If you see uneven wear, you should always take your car in for an alignment or to have the suspension system assessed.
4. Your Car Pulls
If your car is wandering or pulling to the left or right, it’s always an issue with the steering or suspension system. You can check to see if your front end is aligned, which might solve the issue.
However, the problem might also relate to tie rod ends, ball joints, the tension rods, or even the steering rack. Therefore, you should check the full steering system before making assumptions.
Replacement Steps & Process
If you want to replace the lower ball joints in your car, doing the work yourself can save you over half. However, the process is labor intensive.
You’ll also have an easier time if you have a ball joint press or separator. This tool is a Y-clamp with a vise, which allows you to use force to pressure the ball joint off.
You can also use a ball joint puller, which allows you to do the same thing with a hammer.
And, if you don’t have either, you’ll have to rely on a hammer and screwdrivers to get the ball joint off.
Things you’ll need:
- Ball Joint Press – you can often rent this, sometimes for free, from local auto parts shops.
- Replacement ball joint
- Breaker bar
- Lug wrench
- Pliers / Needle Nose Pliers
- Wrench set (30,32mm, 6mm, and 18mm at minimum)
- Optional: Ratchet and socket set. This will save you a lot of time.
- Penetrating fluid
- Brake Cleaner
- Floor Jack + Jack Stand
- Rubber Mallet or ballpeen hammer
- Torque Wrench (recommended)
Once you have these, you can get started taking your vehicle apart to remove the old lower ball joint.
- Park the car on a flat surface.
- Jack the car up and use jack stands to ensure it’s stable.
- Remove the wheels. You may prefer to loosen the lugs while the car is on the ground.
- Remove the axle nut. Most cars use a 30mm or a 32mm bolt.
- Spray the brake caliper bracket bolts, the control arm nuts and bolts, and the ball joint with penetrating fluid. Then, allow this to sit based on instructions on the can.
- Remove the caliper bracket bolts and remove the brake calipers.
- Take the cotter pin off of the lower control arm. Then remove the upper control arm nut. Remove the lower control arm nut. You can disconnect it from the upper ball joint. However, this might require using a small rubber mallet to knock it loose. Be careful, as you likely want to re-use this part.
- Remove the steering knuckle.
- Remove the snap ring. Here, you might want to clean the ball joint first. Brake cleaner is a great option for this.
- Use a ball joint press or separator to remove the ball joint. If you don’t have a press, you can use a rubber mallet or a hammer. However, you might also have to use a wrench or a Y tool to leverage the ball joint out. It’s highly recommended that you use a press.
- Clean the ball joint area. Here, brake cleaner is the easiest option.
- Insert the new ball joint. Press it into place from below and use the presser to push it into place. If you don’t have a presser, you can use a rubber mallet. However, you have to exercise caution to avoid damaging the part. Again, it’s strongly recommended to have a ball joint press.
- Reconnect the steering knuckle to the control arm. Put the screws back on and tighten everything.
- Slide the control arm into the steering knuckle. You might need assistance or to use a jack to do this. Use a rubber mallet to hammer it back into place.
- Tighten the bolts. Ideally, you should use a torque wrench and tighten to the pressure recommended in your owner’s manual. Then replace the cotter pin.
- Reinstall the brake calipers. Then replace the caliper brackets.
- Grease the lower ball joint.
- Reinstall the axle nut.
- Replace the wheels.
- Check your manual to see if you have to have the front-end aligned before it’s save to drive your vehicle. In addition, you should always check to see if your vehicle handles well in a parking lot or yard before taking it on the road.
Lower ball joints are not parts you come into contact with often. Hopefully this FAQ helps.
Can you drive a car with a bad ball joint?
You can drive short distances. However, if your steering is pulling, it could make you unsafe on the road.
Therefore, it’s always best to change your ball joints as quickly as possible. In addition, if ball joints are out, they could damage further, causing worse issues.
Do you need an alignment after replacing ball joints?
Some cars need an alignment after replacing ball joints, others do not. You can check your vehicle’s manual for manufacturer’s recommendations. If you don’t have it, it’s always safest to get the alignment.
How many miles should a ball joint last?
Ball joints should last between 70,000 and 150,000 miles. In most cases, you’re recommended to replace them every 70,000 miles.
What wears out first, upper or lower ball joints?
Lower ball joints almost always wear out faster than upper ball joints. This is because more of the weight of the car rests on the lower joint.
Replacing your lower ball joint can cost anywhere between $150 and $1000+. However, the average cost is around $360 with labor.
If you do the work yourself, you’ll pay the cost of the ball joints and nothing else. However, because you often have to replace more than one ball joint at once, the actual costs can be much higher.
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