Change the Old Ball Joints on Your Truck




Introduction: Change the Old Ball Joints on Your Truck

About: I am a Product Development Engineer for an OEM of Food Production Equipment in Riverside, MO. I have previously ran the 3D Prototyping Laboratory for the National Institute for Aviation Research and still ...

This is an instructable for changing out the ball joints on a 2002 Chevrolet S-10 Extreme.

The principles presented are very similar to many other vehicles.

Ever started to work on a vehicle but didn't know how to do the specific task?

Couldn't find the information needed to complete your work?

My goal is to provide some step by step instructables for various maintenance procedures that may seem daunting to the unknowing automobile owner.

Safe motoring!

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Step 1: Recommended Tools and Supplies

Among the tools needed for this repair, the following are recommended.

Ball Joint Press: Usually borrowed from an auto parts store
Ball Joint Separator: Usually borrowed from an auto parts store but it only costs $20
Hammer: Used to provide the force to drive the Ball Joint Separator
Wrenches/Sockets: The appropriate sizes to fit the lug nuts, ball joint castle nuts, etc.
Needle Nose Pliers: Used to remove the cotter pins in your castle nuts
Grease Gun: After you are done, you must add grease to your ball joints. If you don't have one, you can get one cheap or borrow from a friend, maybe even a shop.
Various Pry bars: AKA big screwdrivers for those who don't know the difference. yes there is one.
Auto jack/Floor Jack: a jack to lift your vehicle so that your tires are free from the ground.
Jack Stands: Used to support your vehicle while you're working
Chisel: Optional: Pneumatic Impact Hammer w/ chisel: Used to removed rivet heads from riveted ball joints, not necessary for bolted assemblies

Shop rags: Help clean up your mess
WD-40 or similar cleaner: gets old grease out of areas that need cleaned
Grease: I recommend a high quality multipurpose grease, but some people have specific greases for specific applications in the car. If this is your daily driver, a multipurpose grease is fine.

Step 2: Getting It to the Point of the Ball Joint

Please understand that this can be a time-consuming procedure if you're not ready, so I recommend reading up on your vehicle specifically and taking a few momemts to check out your components to make sure you have a plan of attack.

I have car ramps, so I drove my truck on the ramps and then lifted one side free so that I had plenty of clearance versus lifting one side extremely high, tweaking my frame.

1: Drive your vehicle on the ramps, chock your rear tires
2: Bring your tools and parts to the side you're starting on.
3: Loosen your lug nuts slightly, i.e. about a quarter turn. Do this before you lift the vhicle, this prevents the tires from spinning while you remove the lug nuts. If you have compressed air available and an impact wrench, step 3 isn't needed.
4: Use your floor jack to lift the vehicle such that the tire is free. Place a jack stand under your frame.

SAFETY NOTE: Relying on a floor jack or any form of hydraulic jack as your sole source of stability is dangerous. A jack stand is a static support that will fail only if the material, joints, welds, etc fail whereas a hydraulic jack can fail if the drain plug comes loose, the seals leak, the cylinder leaks, etc. Keep in mind that slow leak turns into afast leak under high pressure as when lifting a vehicle. If you do not have jack stands, large square blocks of wood can be used to support the frame, etc. Avoid cinder blocks (I've seen it done, and they can break) or a log that can roll, for example.
It's worth buying.

5: Remove the lug nuts. If you're using a tire iron, a 4-way or a ratchet with a socket, crank away. If you have compressed air available and an impact wrench, step 3 isn't needed.
6: Remove the tire.
7: You are now down to your brake rotor and behind it you will find the ball joints!

Step 3: Get Out the HAMMER!

Now that you have access to the ball joints:

1: Use your pliers to remove the cotter pins. You may need to use some WD-40 to loosen them. Worst case scenario you bend the pins back and forth until they break off enough to fit a socket over the castle nut and just put your back into it, the nut will shear off the pin.
2: Loosen the castle nuts. You can remove them all the way but rethread them on the joint just a few turns. The reason you leave the nuts in place is to keep the knuckle assembly from flopping around.
3: Place your Ball Joint Separator between the bottom of the steering knuckle and the ball joint. You will want to make sure you have room to swing and that the separator won't interfere with any components
4: Hammer away! You will have to hammer the separator in until you hear or feel a pop, when the ball joint and the knuckle break free.
5: Remove the separator and place at the upper ball joint.
6: Hammer away!
7: Remove the nuts. They still don't taste good salted so I'd just throw them away.
8: At this point you can remove the knuckle and move it aside. You'll notice that the knuckle is still connected to the Tie Rod and any cables and brake lines are still connected. You don't want any pressure on these lines so use a spare jack stand, bucket, block, etc to support the assembly.
9: You are now ready to remove the ball joints from your suspension arms.

Step 4: Remove the Old Ball...joints

Nothing's better than getting a new set of ball...joints.
Enough with the bad jokes. I had to beat you guys to it.

On my S-10, the upper joint is riveted to the suspension member. The lower joint is pressed in.

On many cars a Macpherson Strut assembly is used, meaning there is only 1 ball joint at the bottom. These are usually held in place to the knuckle with a single cross bolt and to the suspension member with bolts.

1: Remove the rivets/bolts from the upper joint. I used an impact hammer and chisel to make short work of the rivets. A chisel and hammer will work. A torch, plasma cutter, cut off wheel, etc will also work. If using a torch or plasma, place a scrap piece of sheet metal over your lines so any molten metal won't touch the lines.

2: Remove the upper joint: pry the joint pieces apart and punch out the remaining rivets. If your vehicle uses a press fit upper ball joint, you will need to use the ball joint press to remove it.

3: Get out your ball joint press. Though this is not absolutely required, i.e. a normal heavy duty c-clamp, a torch, etc can remove the joint, it does make it cleaner.

4: Place the press such that the large clearance cylinder is on the bottom of the joint, followed by the support cone. The press adaptor is placed on top of the ball joint. The frame is placed on either side of the joint and the threaded rod is installed.

5: Hand turn the shaft until the assembly is seated. Use the appropriately sized wrench or socket to turn the shaft. You will have to generatea great amount of torque to pop the joint loose. Some people recommend heated this are of the arm, though this produces a localized heat treatment that can weaken your suspension arm if you don't know what you're doing, plus you increase the opportunity to damage other components, adding cost and injury to the project.

6: If you have room, use an impact wrench to turn the shaft of the press.

7: Now it's time to install the new joints.

Step 5: Install the New Joints!

Removing the old joint usually takes the bulk of your time in this project, but it's worth it. You're almost done with one side. The best part is, you'll have learned some valuable lessons just in the one side that will translate into a much faster second side.

For example, from here on out, if I run into a cotter pin that is corroded at all, I will immediately resort to shearing it with the nut versus straining to get it out. Cotter Pins are super cheap and I have dozens of them. So even if I'm not replacing the nut, joint, etc. I will replace the pin.

Second, I'm never using a torch again to get the rivets out. I knew it was against my better judgement and the only reason I didn't use the impact hammer in the first place was I was going to have to wait for the compressor to get up and going. In the end, it would've saved me 30 minutes trying to avoid sparks and molten metal.

When installing joints using a press, take the extra time to ensure that you are aligned with the hole. This will result in less torque on the press to get the joint installed. In the end a slight misalignment is corrected because at the end, the joint is pressed flush, bringing it into alignment, and besides, the joint is there to give flexibility.

Step 6: Bolt It Back Together

Your ball joints now officially installed and tightened...

It's now time to get everything back together.
For those who don't have a maintenance manual for their vehicles, do a quick search on the web for torque specs for your vehicle and you should find what you're looking for.
If you don't have a torque wrench, don't sweat it. It's yet another tool you can borrow from Autozone, O'reilly's, Advance Auto, etc. (YAFSP)

Or as generations of shadetree mechanics have put it, "Yep that feels pretty tight." After all, when you can't turn it any further, you're probably already beyond the torque of the spec anyway...But hey, don't call me when you under torque it and it came loose.

Get the cotter pins in, bend the free ends.
Now is a decent opportunity to grease the joints because the compression in the boot won't change much once you mount the tire and set it down.

This is a good time for a break.

Step 7: 50% Done...Time for a Snack

Don't feel bad about taking breaks throughout. Just remember that if you wait until you reach a milestone, the break is now congratulatory.

Have a Twizzler, A coke, a pepsi, a DP, a root beer, etc.

If you're in time crunch, take a sip and Move ON!

If you're not, pat yourself on the back and think of how much $ you've saved and how you'll now invest it in the next technological breakthrough that will translate $100 into $100,000. Oh yes Microsoft investors, I salute you for your success that the rest of us envied...

Step 8: Git R Done...

Did anyone else know that Larry the Cable Guy is a fake? He totally switched to playing ignorant redneck antics just for laughs whereas the rest of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour gang has been redneck their entire lives. It's who they are.

Oh you didn't watch that during your break... Oh well, your loss. maybe next time.

You've got one side done.

It's torqued, greased and ready to go. Take the weight off the jack stand and set the car ramp back under the tire and move on to the other side.

This side should take less time so you're in luck, 'cause Smallville's on in 2 hours, and you're just about going to make it if you hurry.

Repeat the steps from before, just on the other side.

And when you're done, post a happy "after" pic. Let us know that your vehicle is smooth riding from here out.

Step 9: Clean It All Up

No project is complete without clean up.

For the benefit of the rest of us, wipe down all of your tools with WD40, soap and water, Acetone, etc. Whatever you have that will clean them. ESPECIALLY, the tools you borrowed or rented.

It's called common courtesy. There's nothing more agitating when borrowing tools to find out that the previous guy was a slob, and left a blob of grease on the Ball Joint Press so that your hand were a mess before you got started.

As for your own tools, it only makes your next job easier and overall keeps you more interested in the nest job.

Until next time, safe wrenching and happy trails.

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    12 Discussions

    Preparing to tackle this task this week. After reading through all the instructions I feel much better prepared! Just want to say thanks. I'll let you know how it goes.


    2 years ago

    Some bottom ball joints are held in with snap rings. My 2002 does not have them. It does however have what appears to be a cap, possibly threaded. When attempting to press out the old joint, It seperated, leaving the housing and removing the knuckle and threaded bolt. Have you encountered such retaining cap? If so, which way does it turn or does it need to be pressed out also?


    Reply 2 years ago

    What vehicle? An S-10? Is the component that remained part of what will be replaced? Photos are always a plus. I no longer have this truck, but I've changed out ball joints on several vehicles from each manufacturer.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Im sorry. Its a 2002 s-10 extreme. 2wd


    Reply 2 years ago

    And yes. I pushed the threaded knuckle out only. The rest of the ball joint remains in the a-arm.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    How come all the ball joint and control arm bushing replacement how-to's are substantially all S10 related?
    You suppose it is design/engineering or part related?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice instructable. The details were indicated and the pictures were helpful. i guess its time I change the ball joints on my truck too.


    10 years ago on Step 9

    Good Job! Mahalo nui loa Brother. Rocky


    10 years ago on Step 3

    Don't use that pickle fork for pickles now!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    . Very good iBle! . You mention it in the photo notes, but I think you should spell out in the text that depending on a jack (especially a hydraulic one, is dangerous.