Ball joints are an important suspension component found on virtually all modern vehicles. They are a spherical bearing in a socket, which function similarly to the ball and socket design of a human hip, and serve as one of the main suspension pivot points connecting the control arms of the vehicle to the steering knuckles. The front ball joints allow the front wheels and suspension to move back and forth as well as up and down when the steering wheel is turned and the vehicle is traveling over the road. Usually, when front ball joints start to fail, the vehicle will display a few symptoms that alert the driver a problem has occurred.
1. Clunking noises coming from the front suspension
One of the most common symptoms of a problem with suspension ball joints is clunking noises coming from the vehicle’s front suspension. As ball joints wear out they become loose in the socket and rattle and knock as the suspension travels up and down over the road. Worn ball joints may knock or clunk when traveling on rough roads, speed bumps, or when turning. Usually, the clunking will get continuously louder as the ball joints wear, or until they eventually completely fail and break.
2. Excessive vibration from the front of the vehicle
Another symptom of problematic ball joints is excessive vibration coming from the vehicle’s suspension. Worn ball joints will be loose in their sockets and vibrate excessively as the vehicle is in motion. The vibration will usually stem from the affected ball joint, either from the right or left sides of the vehicle. In some cases, the vibration may be felt through the steering wheel as well.
3. Steering wandering to the left or right
Another symptom of worn ball joints is wandering steering. Wandering steering is when the vehicle steering drifts from left to right on its own. When the ball joints are in good condition, and the wheels are in proper alignment the steering wheel should stay mostly straight and direct in response. Worn ball joints will cause the vehicle steering to wander to the left or right, which will require the driver to compensate for the issue.
Because ball joints are an important component of any vehicle’s suspension, when they begin to have problems or fail, the overall handling and ride characteristics of the vehicle are likely to become compromised. For this reason, if you suspect that your vehicle’s ball joints have become severely worn or need to be replaced, have the vehicle’s suspension inspected by a professional technician, such as one from YourMechanic, to determine what the best course of action may be. If necessary, they will be able to replace any failing ball joints for you.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Ball Joint (Front) and was authored by Ed Ruelas.