What Are the Ball Joints On a Car?

Ball joints are suspension components responsible for connecting various steering system parts. Here’s what to know.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Ball joints are suspension components that allow your front wheels to move independently while still turning as a unit. Your car’s ball joints also help to minimize tire wear, maximize contact with the road, and extend the lifespan of your front tires. 
Ball joints are an integral part of your vehicle's suspension and steering system. If you have worn-out ball joints, or if a ball joint fails, you could experience loss of control and excessive play in the steering wheel—which could be a potentially serious hazard, especially on rough roads. 
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What are ball joints?

In a general sense, a ball joint or “ball-and-socket joint” is a pivot point created from a rounded end that fits and rotates within a socket. You have ball joints in your own skeletal system—your shoulders, for example. 
Automotive ball joints are a type of suspension system component used to help connect the steering knuckle to the control arms. 
What does that actually mean? It means that ball joints help connect the various components in your front suspension system to ensure that you have optimal control over your vehicle. 

What do ball joints do?

The ball bearings or ball joints in your car’s suspension system are placed at key pivot points to allow the front tires to move up, down, and side-to-side while remaining attached to the vehicle. 
This allows your car to traverse a variety of road conditions and helps prevent uneven tire wear. 

When to replace ball joints

With any luck, your ball joints will last you the entire lifespan of your car, but they may need replacing every 5-10 years or every 70,000-150,000 miles
For the most part, you shouldn’t need to replace your ball joints unless you notice any of the common warning signs of worn ball joints, discussed below.

Symptoms of bad ball joints

Ball joints tend to have a pretty long lifespan. Like any automotive component, though, they do wear down eventually. It’s important to notice the warning signs of excessive ball joint wear early and get them repaired or replaced.
Over time, the ball bearing will become loose in the socket. This will lead to excessive play in the pivot point. If the problem is not addressed, it can lead to ball joint failure, a collapse of the car’s suspension system, and a total loss of control over the vehicle. 
To avoid ball joint failure, keep an eye out for these symptoms of worn-out ball joints: 
  • Uneven tire wear
  • Improper wheel alignment
  • New or excessive vibration in the steering wheel
  • Creaking or clunking noises coming from the front tires
  • Car veers suddenly—especially on rough roads
MORE: How to change ball joints

How much does a ball joint replacement cost?

If you do notice any of the ball joint wear indicators listed above, it may be time to get new ball joints. For the joints themselves, you’ll have to pay between $25 and $100, depending on the quality of the replacement joints. 
It’s generally not a good idea to go with the cheapest ball joints that you find—quality makes a huge difference, and it’s best not to take any chances when dealing with suspension parts or your car’s steering system.
Also keep in mind that the figure above only refers to the cost of the new ball joints. It doesn’t include the cost of labor for having the new joints installed—which will vary widely depending on the make/model of your vehicle. 

Find hassle-free car insurance

Keeping your car running smoothly is an endless battle. The steering/suspension system alone has dozens of working parts (the tie rod, rubber boot, lower control arm, upper ball joint, grease fittings, etc.) that need to be kept in tip-top shape—and all that maintenance isn’t cheap. 
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The purpose of a ball joint is to improve vehicle control, maximize tire-to-road contract, and prevent uneven tire wear.
The most obvious sign of a failing ball joint is that your car’s handling will decline and you’ll have trouble maintaining control of your vehicle on rough roads. 
Beyond that, you may notice a clunking sound coming from your front suspension system.
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