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Lower ball joint failure
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Symptoms seemed innocuous enough: Whenever I stepped on the brakes, the car would dive to the right momentarily, then immediately straighten out again. I figured it had to do with the brakes (me being a brake guru and all, of course), but try as I might, I could not fix it. The brakes were as perfect as I could get them, but the dive persisted. This went on for ONE YEAR. Then one early April afternoon, at 50mph, accelerating from a stoplight, disaster struck!

I was driving along, minding my own business (as you do), and there was a sudden BANG, the right front corner of the car dropped, there was a very loud screeching noise and some smoke. A split second was all it took to guess what had happened, even though I'd never experienced anything like this before. Fairly frightening, actually.

Interestingly, the steering remained totally controllable apart from the slight initial jerk when the joint came apart, and the brakes stayed fully functional. Within what must have been milliseconds I had to make up my mind what was going to be damaged and how to limit it. I ended up deciding the best thing to do was to steer onto the sand/gravel shoulder to prevent suspension parts from being ground to dust by the asphalt. In retrospect, that was probably the best thing to do. By the time the car left the road, the ball joint nut and stud had been ground down to half their thickness. Any further and the lower control arm would likely have been damaged as well.

The actual damage that led to all this was the balljoint tapered stud having cracked off the the ball itself (which could not rotate in its socket due to corrosion). Had I known to think of it at the time, I would have popped the balljoint taper out of the lower control arm and simply wiggled it by hand. This would have made it abundantly clear what the problem was.

The tire was destroyed, having its tread worn away to the steel cords at the point of contact. The inner CV joint had been pulled apart, but miraculously the bearings had got sucked into the boot and did not get lost! A clean up, regreasing and they were fine in spite of all the sand that had been packed into them.

There was a small amount of distortion to the fender lip and some fracturing of the paint, easy enough to fix. And the mudflap's lower bolt had been ripped out of its nylon "nut", necessitating replacement of the "nut".

The moral of this story is that if you're told your lower ball joints need to be replaced, just do it. It's a small price to pay, believe me.

Front View
Quarter view Side view
Closeup

More important info:

This car had been idled for about a month (in the body shop over Christmas) on account of a small fender-bender. Soon after I picked up the car, it began emitting a squeaking/creaking noise over bumps. I subsequently discovered that I could replicate this squeak by kneeling on the right corner of the front bumper and bouncing the right front suspension. Squeak-ee-squeak-ee. The left side was quiet.

Some time later the squeak went away. I dismissed it as having being corrosion on the spring and its seat. That was probably a mistake. The squeaking was almost certainly another warning of the ball joint seizing up good and proper, because only a few months later was when the incident above occurred.

If you start hearing odd squeaks from your suspension, DON' T DELAY! Get it checked out today!

Richard's balljoint failure
Reader Richard recently had the identical same experience as me. At left is the picture he sent me.

Richard puts it this way:
"I had been wondering for the last year or so if the reason for my steering wheel shifting to the right everytime I hit the brakes and come back after releasing the pedal was in fact due to a failing ball joint, but dismissed it until last month, when the right front end of the car just dropped after a loud Bang! was heard and the tire was leaving a black streak on the pavement.
"Instead of panicking I just started laughing as I was slowing down, stopping near the curb. 'Yep, I said to myself, Tegger was right once again'. There's nothing wrong with the brakes, it's the ball joint that was causing the steering wheel to jerk to one o'clock and come back."

Same balljoint as mine, too.

Failed balljoint
Hey, another one! This one is from a '96 Integra, owned by Alastair.  This was NOT an OEM Honda balljoint. Alastair had replaced his OEM ones with aftermarket a mere eight months before this extremely dramatic failure. Imagine. Eight months. Really. Is it worth the few bucks of savings if THIS may happen? OEM all the way, I say.
Failed balljoint, another view
I'm not quite sure what to make of this picture. I suspect the inner joint's tripod simply pulled out of the other end when the balljoint failed, tearing the boot in half as it went, the inner boot band holding fast. Alastair never said.

Use only OEM, and pay close attention to what your balljoints are telling you!

Jake's broken balljoint - front What, again? Yes, a new one!

Jake has had his own horror story: "A loud bang, a quick drop, and lots of sparks...It was a very dismal day for my '95 Civic EX. Steering pulled to the right slightly when braking; squeaking and popping over bumps and while turning. I left some pretty deep scars in the road with a nice black mark from my sideways tire. It happened going through a turn. Luckily, and for some odd reason, when the joint failed, my car followed the same line through the turn and parked me right in the side of the road."


Jake's broken balljoint - rear
Another view of the disaster...

Have you noticed? They're ALL the right-hand lower balljoints?



Last update: Nov20/08