Is there really any good way to test a ball joint in situ?

How-to's and repair secrets for your 4WD can be found here. Have a question? Ask it in here!
Post Reply
User avatar
dlb
Highest Ranking Member
Posts: 6480
Joined: Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:03 pm
My tercel:: none currently, 7 previous
Location: shawnigan lake, bc, canada

Is there really any good way to test a ball joint in situ?

Post by dlb » Sun Jul 07, 2019 5:24 pm

My wife's 2003 Hyundai Accent starting making a clunking on the front right corner when going over bumps recently. I figured it was the ball joint but thought I'd jack it up and do the 12-to-6 push/pull test first. I did that and found no play. So I thought may it's the tie rod, so I tried the 9-to-3 push/pull test. Still no play. I grabbed and shook everything I could and found nothing amiss.

So I took everything apart and what do you know, the ball joint is loose and sloppy. I've run into this before on T4's and various other vehicles, where the only way to definitively tell if a ball joint is bad is to disconnect it from the steering knuckle so I can try wiggling the post around with my hands. Am I missing something? Is there a way to test this with everything still bolted together? It seems like a ball joint would have to be on the verge of a catastrophic failure for the play to be visible with the 12-to-6 push/pull test.

User avatar
marlinh
Highest Ranking Member
Posts: 1506
Joined: Sun Apr 08, 2012 9:15 am
My tercel:: 'Everett' Blue mint 4WD wagon and 'Rocky' 86 4WD Wagon
Location: Kootenays

Re: Is there really any good way to test a ball joint in situ?

Post by marlinh » Mon Jul 08, 2019 9:23 am

Sometimes you need a pry bar to determine a bad ball joint. The push pull test doesn't always find them. It depends on the type of suspension you have. Here's a link to a video that describes it better than I can write it out. What you need to do is figure out which direction to pry that takes up the play. Harder for me to describe than do.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzwvijyQpdU

User avatar
Petros
Highest Ranking Member
Posts: 11038
Joined: Sun Jan 28, 2007 6:31 pm
My tercel:: '84 Tercel4wd w/extensive mods
Location: Arlington WA USA

Re: Is there really any good way to test a ball joint in situ?

Post by Petros » Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:23 pm

that video shows how I learned to check ball joints on cars in 1975. it is more simple than the video implies, and you do not need a dial indicator. you jack up the wheel from the lower arm so the tire is just about an inch off the pavement. you put a large pry bar under the tire and lever up on it. It is easier with two people, you can place your fingers right across the ball joint, if you feel ANY movement between the upper and lower part of the ball joint while someone levers the tire up and down, it needs to be replaced. there should be zero play between the parts.
'87 Tercel 4wd SR5 (current engine swap project)
'84 Tercel 4wd (daily driver, with on going mods)
'92 Mazda MPV 4wd (wife's daily driver)
'85 Tercel 4wd DLX auto(daughter's daily driver)
'01 Honda Civic (other daughter's daily driver)

User avatar
dlb
Highest Ranking Member
Posts: 6480
Joined: Mon Jul 06, 2009 9:03 pm
My tercel:: none currently, 7 previous
Location: shawnigan lake, bc, canada

Re: Is there really any good way to test a ball joint in situ?

Post by dlb » Mon Jul 08, 2019 9:32 pm

Ok, good to know about that testing method.

But what about when a ball joint appears to have no play but is no longer snug? What I just found on my wife's Accent (and on numerous previous cars too) is that often a ball joint will have no play but the post can be easily moved around, or even flops around freely. I suppose in those cases, such easy movement would indicate that the joint is worn and there is actually some play that I just can't feel it, but it seems odd that I can't feel it even with the ball joint out and manipulating it by hand.

Post Reply