Introduction: 1986 Ford F-150: How to Change the Ball Joint
Let me start off by stating that I'm no auto mechanic. Oh, I've swapped an engine before, I've done a rebuild and I've done a few other repairs to cars I've owned in the past but I lack the ingrained knowledge of how things "should" be.
Anyway, I picked up a VERY used 1986 F-150 6 cylinder 1/2 ton pickup from my Sister's neighbor. It was supposed to only need a clutch but has been sitting for a year in his yard. WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! Yeah, I couldn't hear that either. I only heard, "Pickup - cheap!". Let's just say after a clutch, flywheel, break booster, partial wiring harness (squirrels), filters, plugs, distributor, front breaks, front discs, etc, etc, etc, it also needed new ball joints.
New ball joints, both upper and lower. How hard could that be? Piffle! Two hard copy manuals, an online manual, and a ex-mechanic brother-in-law later I had them replaced. Why is it that every manual is extraordinarily vague? Could be this or might be that is the best I got. Not even mentioning the part or process that I needed. Very frustrating on all counts.
Anyway, in case anyone else is faced with this problem I figured I'd document what I could and try to let my experience be a warning, I mean a guide, to others...
Step 1: TAKE IT ALL OFF!
I've always been good at taking things apart. At least that's what my Parent's have always said. After I took apart the vacuum cleaner, after I took apart the drill, after I took apart the old b/w TV, on and on and on. It was the "putting back together" part that's taken me years to hone.
I started off by jacking up the truck with a small hydraulic bottle jack with some wooden pad supports since it was too short. I also jacked the truck from the frame, right behind the wheel well instead of the front arm as the manual suggests.
1. Six bolts and the tire came off.
2. A single bolt and a retainer clip and the break caliper and pads came off. I hung the caliper up and out of the way with some string so I didn't have to unhook any of the hydraulic lines.
3. I popped the hub cap with the small flat-blade, pulled out the cotter pin and removed the rotor bolt. Off comes the rotor. I would suggest replacing both front and rear bearings. At least clean and repack with new grease. They're not very expensive. Also, I couldn't remove the rear seal bearing without damage so I dropped another $2 each for those.
** I did learn one thing through the years. Seals are CHEAP! Always replace them when you can.
3. Three small bolts and off with the dust shield.
5. Off came the 1-1/4" nut on the steering tie-rod joint. I next used a standard pickle fork with a mini-sledge and a quick WACK popped the joint free.
I'm now looking at a naked steering knuckle being held on only by the upper and lower ball joints.
6. Getting the upper and lower joint nuts off wasn't too easy. Some penetrating grease and some persuasion with a hammer and off they came.
7. With the standard pickle fork and the mini-sledge again, WACK! Off comes the knuckle.
Here is where I'll probably deviate from your project. I could NOT get the bottom ball-joint off no matter what I tried. I couldn't get an answer on which way it was supposed to come out. Oh sure, it looked like it could only come one way out but because of how rusted everything was, I just couldn't be sure and the manual (all of them) were less than helpful. Actually, they were useless and didn't explain squat.
My deviation from the plan came in the form of me removing the springs and arms so I could get at the bottom ball-joint. It would also be necessary if I needed to, gulp, take it to someone to get out for me.
I'll document these change in step #2 and then we'll be back on schedule on step #3.
Step 2: REMOVING FRONT SUSPENSION ARM - Even If You Shouldn't Have To
Ok, so I pulled the front suspension arm out of the truck because I was sure I couldn't get the bottom ball joint out. Of course it would have helped if A) I knew what I was doing and B) I had the right tools..
Speaking of right tools. USE THE RIGHT TOOLS! Here's a hint. AuthoZone will let you use a ball-joint remover / installer tool for free. Free? They'll hit your card for a $99 charge but will credit you in full whenever you return it. Even, a-hem, weeks later like some unreliable people....
To remove the front suspension arm I had to.....
1. I put a stand on the truck and then used the bottle jack to push the arm up and compress the spring.
2. This was fun. I used two chains with a long bolt, nut and some washers to further compress the spring and hold it in place as I lowered the jack. It was juuuuuuuust enough to get it out. Trust me on this, you REALLY don't want the chains to snap and you'd probably be better of to use a real spring compression tool.
3. I removed a couple of nuts to take off the spring clamp on top and the large spring connector on the bottom. Out comes the spring.
4. Once the spring was out I had a MAJOR problem getting a 12" bolt out. The bolt went through the bottom spring housing, through the suspension arm and connects the support arm. There's a large exposed section of bolt in the center of the arm that was rusted and prevented ANY movement until I sanded and oiled and beat the living daylights out of it with a sledge. Then it moved enough for me to pull out. Whew...
5. Removed the end bold of the arm and the whole thing just kind of falls out. WARNING! Yes, it's REALLY VERY HEAVY so don't let it fall on you. No, really...
Step 3: OUT DAMN JOINTS, OUT!!!
Finally, removing the ball-joints!
The top ball joint wasn't too bad and I was able to get it out while everything was still in the truck.
Before I found the ball-joint tool at AutoZone I used a tool that was "similar" enough that it allowed me to cup the bottom bolt and apply enough pressure with a screw down clamp and I was able to push the top joint out of the arm.
As you can see from the picture below, the bottom bolt was a bit more stubborn and I tried everything (except the right tool and proper persuasion) to get it out. These guys were very rusted.
Even though I now had the right tool and had the arm out of the truck, no matter how much pressure I used I couldn't get the bottom joint to move. What did I have to do to get this SOB out???
Yep, with full pressure applied to the joint, a swift HARD smack of the arm shoulder near the joint with a mini-sledge and POP!!!!! Out it came. TADA!!
While I had it out I sanded down the arm, treated the rust, primed it and painted it with some auto enamel.
Step 4: YOU WANT IT BACK TOGE-WHAT?
While I had all the parts out I took the opportunity to sand, treat, prime and paint just about everything. Suspension arm, break caliper, steering knuckle, etc. Looked great but I'm not holding my breath that it will last.
NEW BALL JOINTS
I used the new ball joints with grease fitting plugs. This truck already has about 200K miles on it. I doubt the cheapest joints would outlive the frame but I figured, what the heck, it was an extra dime. No, REALLY PEOPLE!!! The difference between cheap and good on a lot of these parts is nothing. Get the better parts. They last longer, work better and usually install / repair easier.
I lightly lubed the inside ball joint sleaves and used the press to push the bottom and then top joint into place. Once I had the joints back in I THEN inserted the lube nipples and attached the top joint's snap ring. DONE! FINISHED! FINE!
No, huh? FINE!
Installation really fell right in step and only took an hour or so from start to finish.
1. I put the suspension arm back into place. Bolt on the end and then the BOLT FROM HELL to connect the arm to the support.
2. On whent the spring and spring hardware. Jacked up the arm, removed the spring compression chains, lowered the arm and then tightened the spring hardware.
3. On when the steering knuckle.
NOTE: I used the ball-joint nuts to pull the steering onto the tapered knuckle bolts.
WARNING: The lower ball joint was difficult to tighten. It would spin easily when I tried to tighten the nut. Sooooooooo, I cheated and used some thread lock. I figured the top ball-joint nut and bolt were tight enough and it had a cotter pin to keep everything together.
5. On went the tie-end joint and I used its nut and bolt to also pull it together tight.
6. Three bolts and on went the dust shield.
7. After replacing all the bearings and seals I installed the completely lubed rotor and lightly bolted it onto the knuckle securing it with its own cotter pint. Pop on the hub cap.
8. Back on went the break caliper with new pads.
9. On went the tire, down went the jack and everything was done!!! TADA!!
On to the next side!
I had the front end aligned but it was surprisingly off very little.