This post was last updated on September 18th, 2020 at 12:13 am
Just by reading the title of this page, I am certain that the majority would know what to expect. well, this post will take a different approach than what you have been reading elsewhere. For one, I am also a honda fan(although I have only used their luxurious version which is Acura) and I have had my fair share of at least 1 ball joint failure. I vowed never to experience it but it happened avoidably though because it was all my fault. The majority who experienced lower ball joint failure on honda or Acura did that due to negligence or carelessness. Secondly, this happens mostly on honda or Acura produced before the year 2003-2007. Post-2011 honda and post-2008 Acura hardly have these issues. I was negligent with my case and I paid dearly. Without further delay, let me share with you the secret on how to manage older Honda and Acura Ball Joints in order to avoid or prevent failure.
See the image below for how horrifying a ball joint failure could be. It is indeed very dangerous especially when it occurs at top speed. While the ball joint itself is pretty cheap, the damage a failure in the lower ball joint can cause could be expensive. for example, it will break or pull out your shaft, destroy your fender and it could also damage your tire and wheel.
What is a Ball Joint and What Are Its Functions?
Just like universal joints, A ball joint is a joint that connects the lower or the upper control arms to the steering knuckle on vehicle suspension. See the image below for an example of a typical lower ball joint.
Basically, you can compare A ball joint to the kind you have in your hip bone and shoulders. One half is shaped like a ball at the end of a stick, the other like a bowl that the ball fits in. Apparently, your arms and legs have a ball and socket joint, only attached to bone, ligaments, and muscle. The ball in the human hips is known as the head” of the femur”
Functions of the Ball Joints
Since it’s a ball in a bowl(socket/joint), the joint can bend in any direction. Like sticking a pen in a glass and moving the top end around. It should be noted that the ball joint has a kind of movement that is dissimilar to hinge joints that only go front-and-back along with one set line.
Ball joints are found in your front suspension and they provide pivoting movement between the steering knuckles and control arms to provide a safe, smooth ride. Without a functioning ball joint(especially the lower one), you won’t be able to steer your vehicle straight.
Components of a Ball Joint Assembly
- The ball Joint
- The collar of the ball joint(this must not be pulled out when the ball joint is removed)
- Rubber boot for lubrication the ball joint
- Spring clamps for fastening the rubber to the joint
- cotter pin to secure the nut
- castle nut/locker nut
Facts About Ball Joints
- An off-road SUV or truck has a more durable and more reliable ball joint than the types of vehicles. For the record, not all SUVs are built for offroad.
- Some vehicle manufacturers know how to design very durable ball joints. E.g Benz, fords, and the likes.
- OEM Ball joints are the best overall
- There are more inferior brand new ball joints than the original ones, especially in developing countries.
- Your ball joint can last several weeks from when it starts showing symptoms up until when it totally fails.
- A Ball Joint that fails at top speed will cause more damages to the vehicle than the one that fails when you are about to take-off. In rare cases, the resulting accidents can lead to fatalities.
- Once your failed ball joint causes your tires to come off, your inner shaft is already separated from the outer one.
- Not all cases of failed ball joints are caused by a broken or separated ball joint.
Myths and Fallacies Surrounding Ball Joints
There are a couple of fallacies surrounding the ball joint across various vehicles. let me share some of them with you.
- It is wrong to say that only honda ball joints fail. I have seen Toyota and even Benz that halted on the road abruptly due to ball joint failure.
- Secondly, it is also wrong to say that some vehicle’s ball joints simply last forever. The truth is, ball joints degrade over time but there are various levels of tolerance with various car brands. Also, your ball joint will only last as long as you want it based on your driving habit and maintenance culture. Therefore, while I agree that some vehicle makers built stronger ball joints, I will disagree that some ball joints are immune to failure.
Maintenance Schedule for Ball Joints to Enable Them Last Longer
This maintenance tip is applicable to every ball joint regardless of the car brand
- Firstly, Check and clean the ball joints regularly and let it be free from dust and debris. It is very important that the rubber boot that is wrapped around your ball joint is not busted. If you see grease coming out from the rubber boot, fix it by changing the rubber or by changing the ball joint if it has gone bad
- Secondly, immediately you here any funny noise coming from the ball joint region, inspect it and apply grease if you find out that there is no grease left inside the joint. It must be properly lubricated at all times
- Thirdly, ensure that your vehicle is not parked on a flooded road or garage. flood has the tendency to erode the grease gradually.
- Furthermore, always use only the recommended grease to lubricate it and don’t ever use motor oil. Using non-recommended oil could degrade this vital part rapidly.
- Make it a habit to personally inspect your vehicle’s suspension regularly. Don’t underplay this as doing so can be dangerous. As little as the ball joint is, it can result in a fatal accident.
Manage older Honda and Acura Ball Joints
Away from the general concept and now to the specifics. In this section, I will critically analyze the causes of some honda and Acura lower ball joint failure. Personally, I love honda/Acura among all Japanese cars and it is because of the reliability of its engine and the aesthetic of the exterior and interior design.
Sadly, you can’t win it all. I admit that some honda models lack durable lowe ball joints. This menace has been dutifully fixed in newer models especially the post-2010 ones. Be that as it may, you can always avoid a ball joint failure because it will surely give you signs long enough before it fails.
The only exception to this rule is if you are unfortunate to give your vehicle to a mechanic who installs your ball joint incorrectly. This is what happened to me. I did a shaft replacement which will require the removal of the nut on the ball joint. When the mechanic was assembling it, he mistakenly stripped the treads and he replaced it with a non-OEM one. two weeks later, the ball joint failed on me as a result of the nut coming off. i had to replace my inner shaft’s rubber boots and buy a new OEM nut. I paid more in labor cost but I learned the hard way.
Don’t be like me, learn from this experience, and follow the instruction below and I can assure you that your honda or Acura’s ball joints will never fail on you unexpectedly.
Differences Between Honda Upper ball joint and lower ball joint
First off, bother are linked to the steering knuckle. At the same time, they are installed differently, the upper BJ as the name implied is installed inside the upper control arm which is above your shock absorbers. The lower ball joint, on the other hand, is installed in the lower control arm which is in turn connected to the steering knuckle.
In plain language, one is installed at the top while the other is installed beneath. However, the failure of the lower ball joint is more devastating than that of the upper one. See the image below for more clarification.
Why Are Honda/Acura Lower Ball Joints Know Famous?
Honda ball joint failure issue is highly exaggerated. I have friends who used their honda cars for more than 6 years without failure. Although they had to replace the ball joint at some point.
List of some honda and Acura vehicles with the most Ball joint failures
- Some 3G Acura Tl especially 2004 Acura TL can be prone to ball joint failure is not properly installed
- 2003, 2004, 2005 honda accord and honda civic are also among this list
- 2007 Honda accord(known as EOD in Nigeria)
- To be honest, most hondas manufactured before 2010 are likely to face this issue if maintenance is not carried out or you neglect the warning signs.
Causes of Ball Joints Failure in Older Honda and Acura
Lack of inspection and Preventive Repair
This can occur in two ways, either you assign the care and maintenance of your vehicle to someone and you never inspect it yourself, or you don’t pay attention to signs until things get out of control, then your ball joint will surely fail sooner than later.
Design and Installation flaw in Older Hondas and Acuras
Unlike some of their Japanese counterparts who started installing lower ball joint with the stud and nut facing up, honda didn’t change their design until very late. secondly, the castle nuts played a major role in securing the ball joint something much neglects. These two are flaws. I believe is the but is heavily distinguishable and huge as that of the shaft, we will experience lesser failure.
Act immediately you notice excessive play in your front suspension
Any excessive vibration or wobbling or clunking in the suspension is not healthy. even if it is not caused by your ball joint, just try and inspect it. in the cause of doing so, you may notice a deterioration in your joint. I already attached images and a video of how you can check the condition of your ball joint and outer tierod without visiting the mechanic. Those who are victims of these failure S deliberately ignore the warning signs and blame the manufacturer while they re are at fault.
Make sure your Ball Joint is Torque to Spec/ properly
Whenever you d a repair or maintenance on your suspension that requires you to remove the ball joint or the ball joint nuts, make sure whoever is handling this tighten the nut to spec. now, the nut can sometimes spin freely in the knuckle. You must ensure it is tight otherwise, you are seeing at a failure. This is exactly what happened to me. The guy who handled mine only tighten the nut all the way up. he undermines the fact that the ball joint was spinning within the knuckle. the result was a failure that snapped my shaft and made my wheel to come loose.
Potholes and Bumps
Speed bumps can damage any suspension components including the shock absorbers and ball joints. The impact felt when you suddenly run into a bump leave lasting effects on your components. please, don’t make it a habit of running into bumps for the health of your cars.
Similarly, potholes are the greatest havoc wreckers of components. In fact, the pothole I ran into preceded the failure of my already loose ball joint. Avoid potholes as much as you can and immediately you unavoidably hit a major pothole, make sure you inspect your ball joint as soon as practicable.
Using Inferior or Aftermarket Replacement Ball Joints
With some owners, immediately the factory-fitted components of their vehicle fail, they will opt for the Chinese knock-off replacement parts. This could be a very costly mistake, especially with your vehicle’s suspension. Always try and get the original lower ball joint recommended for your vehicle for you to avoid untimely failure. If you have a Hinda or an Acura, I have good news for you, just go to the Oyingbo market in Lagos Nigeria and you can get original of used spare parts. they sell only honda products. If you are rich, you can order the original brand new from Amazon or eBay. I can help you with that.
Always Replace your Ball Joints In Pairs
I know money can be a constrain, but, it is better to rp=epace both if one is showing signs of failure except the failure is caused by an impact like a collision.
How to Inspect/Test If Your Car’s Ball Joints Are Failing
It is pretty easy to test a failing or weak ball joint on any vehicle. I have even made this test easier by reproducing it in a video and images
- Step 1: Jack up your vehicle so that the tire(you want to inspect are off the ground)
- Secondly, hold the tires at 12.o clock and 6.o clock and shake violently. If there is easy play, your ball joint I gradually going out.
However, if there is excessive play, it is time to start thinking of replacing it. failure to do so, it will start making noise and causing excessive vibration, once it gets to the stage it can come apart at any time.
- Holding the ball joint in 3 and 9oclick will test for a failing tie rod joint. see the video below:
Test a Ball Joint that has already been Remove or Before Installing One
You can also test a ball joint that you are about to install before installing it. All you need to do is to check that your hand can’t turn it freely in all directions. If you can do this, it means there is already excessive play in that ball joint.
Secondly, don’t install a ball joint that is stiff and locked to an angle and that will not turn at all by hand. if you require a hammer to move the ball inside the joint, it simply means you have a ball joint with a dent at the top just like the one below. This is a temporary practice by some mechanics all in the name of delaying the inevitable. sadly, what happens next is going to be worse as it will simply come apart. see the image below:
Symptoms of a Failing Ball Joint on an Acura or Honda
Basically, these symptoms are true for any car brand. All ball joints regardless of the vehicle behaving in a similar way when they are about failing. Therefore, pay attention to the following as they are the major telltale signs of failing ball joints.
1. Vibration, Wobbling, or Excessive Playing in Your Front Suspension Especially the Steering wheel
This is the very first sign that your ball joint is going out. When you speed or run over a minor bump you will feel the harsh vibration through the steering wheel. While this can be a result of a couple of other things, your ball joint is among the culprit. Also, worn ball joints can cause your steering to jump up and down when you travel across an uneven road.
2. Reactive When Your Ball Joint Rubber boot is Smeared with Grease
This stage is the safest stage to act. At this stage, damage may not have been done but a vital part of your ball joint(the boot) is damaged and you need to fix it. If you refuse to change the boot, sand and debris will mix with the grease and cause corrosion. the next thing you will notice is that your ball joint will start making noise because it is starved of lubricant
As a matter of fact, your ball joint must be totally sealed saltwater, and heat is not really friendly with great.
3. Clunks, Rattling, or Creaking Sound
Clunk sounds, creaking sounds, and rattling when you drive across an uneven road are all signs of a failing ball joint. To be honest, at this point to replace is the best solution. You will notice it as your steering wheel will be sloppy. Also, ball joints can also bind like the one I above and cause some tight spots in your steering wheel(This can also be caused by your steering pump or rack). You can also notice creaking noise if you turned the wheel left to right while stopped.It isn’t safe to drive with a failing ball joint for too long
4. Uneven tire wears of bumps on tires can also be Related to ball joints that are loose
They can cause premature tire wear and alignment issues. Since your tires are no longer making perfect contact with the road as a result of the loose ball joints, you may start seeing uneven wear on your tires and the handling will be erratic.
5. Poor Steering Response
You may notice that it takes greater efforts than usual to recenter your steering when you turn. This is often referred to as hard steering.
Prevent You Can Prevent You Honda or Acura Ball Joints From Coming Apart/Failing
Before we proceed, a failed ball joint will definitely leave you stranded. Therefore you need to avoid this at all costs because you don’t know where the failure can occur. Secondly, as stated earlier, it can damage other suspension bodies or even deface your fender thereby ruining your paint job.
As a rule of thumb, the opposite of causes is prevention. If you can do the opposite of all that I listed explained earlier in this article, you have a 100% chance of not having a ball joint that will snap, severe or separate thereby causing your vehicle wheel to come out loose. Let us go through the major preventive measures for this avoidable event one after the other.
Always Inspect Your Suspension Components Regularly
Even if you are driving a brand new vehicle, or you are not having any suspension issues, make sure you inspect your entire suspension at least once a year. Let this be a habit. If you can’t do this yourself, take it to the dealership.
You may consider buying Newer models of your favorite Brand
Vehicle makers not only add features when they release a new model of this same vehicle, they also fix issues from the previous model. Let’s take honda as our example, the notorious ball joint failure is minimal with honda accord and civic manufactured after 2011. Similarly, it is minimal with Acura TL manufactured after 2007. So, if you want a relatively longer ball joint and you want a Honda, you may upgrade your vehicle to a later year.
Check out for the Design of the Ball Joint
Research has shown that all other things being equal, it is better to get a car with an upward-facing ball joint is better than a downward-facing one. One of the precursors to the honda ball joint failure is the fact that honda designed the ball joint in such a way that all the weight of the vehicle is on the castle nut. The weight ought to be shared by the knuckle and the nut. see the difference below:
When Buy the OEM When You Need To Replace Your Ball Joints
Honda and Acura are very selective when it comes to spare parts. For the sake of your vehicle or even life, stop buying the aftermarket ball joints. They fail prematurely. These habits account for 90% of the Honda ball joints explosion. Make sure you get the original even if it is preowned/remanufactured just test them to see that it is good. You will thank me later
Re-Lube Your Ball Joint With Recommended Grease if You Notice that it is making noise
Occasionally, there may be no play in your frontend suspension. However, your ball joint may still be making noise. This could be caused by the grease inside the rubber boot getting dry. if you can’t take it apart and apply grease, you can get a needle tip, and inject Mobil-1 Synthetic chassis grease into the ball joint, and the noise will away.
Don’t Let Anyone Convince You into Welding Your Ball Joint
The Ball in the Joint is built to move freely without restriction. If you weld it, you can only cause once inevitable occurrence and that is “coming apart” of the ball from the joint due to the binding.
Avoid Those Who Hit The Ball Joint With A Mallet to Minimize Play
When there is a paly big enough for your driving safety the best thing is for you to change the problem part. If it is a ball joint, change it. Sadly, some mechanics are of the habit of hitting the top of the ball joint until it binds and stops moving freely. While this might help in the short run, the long-run effect is always catastrophic because it will most likely snap.
If at all you go this route, just use it for a while until you are able to afford a replacement. don’t wait for it to fail. Left to me, I will never allow such again.
Tighten The Castle Nut Carefully So that You Won’t Strip Te Nut or Cross -Thread The Stud
Always tell your mechanic to tighten the nut carefully and accurately so as to prevent the nut from stripping of the stud from cross-threading. When cross-threading occurs, it is just a matter of time before it leads to a ball joint explosion.
Use Only The Manufacturer’s Recommended Nut
Failure to pay heed to this warning can also be costly. If the nut you use it too small, it will slip through the knuckle when you hit a heavy pothole suddenly and cause your tires to pul out. If it is too big or not fitting properly, it will surely result in the same consequence. Therefore, always use only the recommended original nut. Honda always uses castle nuts don’t swap this for a non-castle nut.
Don’t Replace Your Cotter Pin With Other Material
On my failed ball joint, the negligent mechanic lost the cotter pin and replaced it with a nail. The nail fell off after a couple of drive cycles and nothing could attempt to stop the nut from coming loose. I was ignorantly guilty of two offenses. I allowed a non-castle nut, I did not ensure that they tighten to spec and lastly I allow them to use a nail instead of a cotter pin for me.
Take Your Suspension Work to A Shop That specializes in Suspension Not to Your Mechanic
There is a division of labor in most occupations. Gone are the days when mechanics do it all. Nowadays, I won’t allow my mechanic to do certain jobs like Transmission, power steering, and suspension. It is very unlikely that a good suspension shop would not know how to tighten the ball joint properly. I learned this later after the failure occurred. so, learn from this.
Some mechanics, try to separate the ball joints with a hammer thereby damaging the bolts thread which will subsequently result in a failure of the ball joint. Prevent this by visiting suspension shops instead. The above picture is that of a typical ball joint separator that can be used to separate any car’s ball joint easily.
Ensures that Your Ball Joint Is Properly Tighten and Not Spinning
It is one thing to actually tighten the nut on a ball joint. It is another thing to tighten the nut on a ball joint that the collar is spinning freely inside the steering knuckle. If your mechanic is faced with this problem, please don’t drive that vehicle until he figures it out. better still drive the vehicle conservatively to an expert who can help you tighten it properly.
However, if you want to be of help, the following tips will help you to solve ball joint that is spinning when you are trying to tighten it.
How to Solve Ball joint that is Spinning Freely When Tightening it
The case study here is Honda and Acura. However, you may apply the same trick to other vehicle brands. From the picture below, I labeled the path that tends to spin when you are trying to tighten the nut. However, some believe that if your ball joint spins, then it is damaged. I don’t believe this as a tested and working ball joint might spin due to the fact that you attempt to remove it without the appropriate tool.
Analysis of the picture above the ‘collar’ is the part highlighted in yellow. I circled my entire ball joint in red. The ball joint also contains a fastener shaft. The collar (yellow) is not supposed to be on the shaft of the balljoint. Therefore, if you have a ball joint that is pulled out with the collar after separation, you have separated it wrongly and it is likely to spin when you try to tighten it. Ideally, The collar is supposed to remain, in the lower control arm. Vise grips on the tie rod arm. Bend to the side as hard as possible to somewhat jam the ball joint shank against the inside of the knuckle hole.. and tighten it. It is kind of hard.. but possible
Tricks to Help you Stop Your Ball Joint From Spinning Freely When Tightening it
- Trock one: Tighten a spinning ball joint with an Air gun. Some call this an impact wrench. This is the easiest way to solve the problem. However, if you don’t have access to one, continue reading.
- Trick 2: Get yourself a very large pair of channel locks and a friend to grip the ball joint down on the control arm. If you get it right, you can torque the ball joint down to spec and put in the cotter pin
- Trick 3: By default, some ball joints are designed to spin freely without load….that is how they press them into the knuckle. the trick to get them to not to spin is to apply a load on them. this means you jack up the suspension a little bit until they no longer spin. Make sure you jack it up on the Lower control arm and not on the ball joint itself. This is the cheapest workaround so far. it and it works 100 percent of the time.
- Trick 4: You can also use a mobile vice grip to hold the ball joint along with the control arm. This is difficult to pull through though.