Ball Joint Replacement Cost Guide

Author: Daniel Rey

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When you are driving a car, on its front suspension, the front knuckles pivot between two points at each front wheel. For an independent front suspension vehicle, those two pivot points are the upper and lower ball joints. Solid axle four-wheel drive vehicles also use upper and lower ball joints on each front corner as pivot points for steering. On a Macpherson strut suspension, the two points are an upper strut bearing and a lower ball joint. On some newer design multi-link independent suspensions, there are two upper and two lower ball joints per corner, though this style is generally only replaceable with the whole control arms.

A ball joint is just what it sounds like — a stud with a ball-end that’s trapped in a socket, so it can rotate and pivot and move relatively freely. On the stud side, there’s a tapered pin with a threaded end, so it locks into a machined tapered hole in the knuckle or in a control arm (depending on how it’s oriented) and is then locked down with a nut. The ball end sits in a carrier that is either pressed into or bolted onto a control arm or knuckle. Many ball joints are non-serviceable, having no grease fittings. Others have fittings that are traditionally greased during an oil change service. Most of the time nowadays, it’s necessary to ask to have the chassis lube-points greased during an oil change if that’s applicable.

Replacing ball joints isn’t usually too difficult, given a few special tools. To break the taper loose, there’s a tool called a “pickle fork”. Then, if the ball joint is a press-fit, a special ball joint press is used, with various adapters to fit various models. After ball joint replacement, the alignment does need to be re-done.

Costs of Ball Joint Replacement

On average, it costs about £250 to replace a ball joint on a passenger vehicle. It costs about £425 on average to replace a pair of upper and lower ball joints (one side) on a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

For some more specific estimates of the cost to replace ball joints on common vehicles, using £70 (independent workshops) to £100 (factory dealerships) an hour as a labour rate, and adding in an average amount for a wheel alignment:

  • For a 2007 Subaru Forester, the labour to replace the front lower ball joint is 0.8 of an hour. Like most Subarus, it’s pinned at the control arm and held at the knuckle with a pinch bolt, so it separates out pretty easily. A factory part costs about £35 and an aftermarket part costs about £25. This makes the job about £90 using factory parts, or about £80 using aftermarket parts.
  • For a 2003 Honda Civic, the labour time to replace the front lower ball joint is 2 hours. It’s pressed into the knuckle, which is usually removed for the service. A factory part costs about £55, and a non-OEM component costs about £30. This makes the job about £195 using factory parts, or about £170 using aftermarket parts.
  • For a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee four-wheel-drive that uses a solid front axle, the labour time to replace the upper and lower ball joints on one front corner is 1.9 hours. A factory pair costs about £130, and a pair of non-OE ball joints costs about £55. This makes the job about £265 using OE parts, or about £190 using aftermarket parts.
  • For a 1997 Chevrolet K1500 four-wheel-drive with torsion bar suspension, the labour time to replace the front ball joints on one corner is 4 hours. This car has independent suspension but has the disadvantage of the original ball joints being held in by heavy rivets, which must be cut and driven out. A factory upper and lower ball joint set costs about £140, and a non-OE heavy duty set costs about £60. This makes the job about £420 using original parts, or about £340 using aftermarket parts. There are also a variety of different suspensions and sub-model options for that truck, so often visual inspection and measurement are needed to get the correct parts and labour times.

Inspecting Ball Joints, and What Can Go Wrong

Ball joint near the plates

Ball joints are typically inspected for play. In most cases, there should be no side play and no up and down play; technically, that’s radial and axial play, respectively. In principle, the ball joints should be inspected and the amount of play measured, and then that should be compared to the amount of allowable play. All ball joints are considered safety items, so all that is published and commonly available information. But in practice, in most cases, a good ball joint is “tight”, and a ball joint with any amount of play is recommended for replacement. This can lead to some mistakes in diagnosis. It is always fair to ask questions like “How much play is allowed?” and “How much play does it have?” A mechanic who does an inspection correctly generally appreciates being able to inform a customer.

In some cases, ball joints are sold for “leaking”, which is not an actual cause for replacement. Whether they are sealed or have grease fittings, they will use a flexible boot to hold grease in the socket. Frequently, these will leak, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. Older ball joint designs were engineered to leak, and the general rule was that you knew there was grease inside if you could see the grease outside. A newer non-grease ball joint will likely have a shorter lifespan if the boot protecting the socket is torn, but there’s still no great reason to replace a ball joint that hasn’t failed yet. Unless, perhaps, it has to be removed for other reasons.

When using the cheapest parts available, which at the moment are certain Chinese-manufactured ball joints sold under various names, one problem that comes up sometimes is that the tapers aren’t ground correctly. When the bolt or castle nut is tightened down to lock the taper, the stud can be pulled too far up through the machined opening to effectively install a cotter pin. It can also be dragged up to the point that the ball binds in the socket. In either case, the best solution is to utilise the parts warranty and try another ball joint; a safety item that doesn’t fit right shouldn’t be installed.


Is it safe to drive with a bad ball joint?

Generally not. The ball joints are an important part of the vehicle’s steering and suspension, and if a ball joint is worn past allowed limits, that means it is unsafe. Ball joint failure can mean the suspension coming apart and loss of vehicle control.

What is the first indication of a bad ball joint?

Quite often, there are no indications, but noises going over bumps can be one. There are many other more common causes, though.

When are ball joints inspected?

If a vehicle is in for a wheel alignment, the ball joints are usually inspected. Also, if a safety inspection is requested, the ball joints should be checked. In most cases, they are pretty durable and reliable; it’s not a common problem at lower mileages.

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