Ball joints are a critical part of your car’s front suspension. They allow your wheels to turn together and tend to last around 100,000 miles, although load-bearing lower ball joints can wear faster.
The good news is most extended warranty plans cover ball joints as part of coverage for the suspension, which is typically covered by mid-tier plans and above.
So, if you’re trying to find a company or a plan that covers ball joints, I’ve put together a comprehensive list for you.
To be covered here, each company had to meet the following criteria:
- Be in business for more than 5 years
- Be a reputable extended warranty company with a composite rating of 3+
- Cover cars in more than 40/50 US states.
- Have a transparent sales process where coverage information was readily available. Companies that refused to answer my questions will not be covered here.
As you can see, all 10 companies that met my criteria cover your ball joints.
Okay, So What Are Ball Joints Exactly?
The ball joint is a ball and socket joint. If you took anatomy in high school, you might recognize it as the same type of joint as your shoulder or your hip.
The ball joints on your car have a job that’s as important as your arm or hip as well considering they quite literally hold the wheels on your car!
As you’re driving down the road, you’re going to hit bumps and your wheels need to be able to move up and down no matter if you’re driving straight or if you’re turning.
The “ball” in your ball joint is a knuckle that floats inside a metal/plastic housing and allows your car to move up and down while turning at the same time.
In other words, they’re a critical piece of your front suspension and without them, you’re in for a bumpy ride!
Typically there’s an upper and lower ball joint on each side of your front suspension, so you can have as many as 4 ball joints at any time, although some vehicles only have 2.
Ball joints are a critical part of your front suspension, and as they wear and age can damage your alignment, which can cause your tires to wear unevenly, in addition to a number of other issues which I’ll talk about in a second.
Typically, your ball joints will need to be replaced after 100,000 miles, although this depends on your local driving conditions.
In most cars, the lower ball joints tend to wear out first because they’re the load-bearing joint.
As you can see in the diagram above, the lower ball joint is actually “holding” the weight while the upper ball joint acts as a “follower” joint which is just another pivot point for the steering knuckle.
Are My Ball Joints Bad? How Do I Know If They Need To Be Replaced?
Over time, 1 of 2 things will eventually do your ball joints in.
Either the knuckle itself will wear in the housing and start to get loose, or the housing itself can crack and then grime can get into the knuckle which will cause it to seize up and no longer rotate freely.
While it’s fairly easy for a mechanic to diagnose bad ball joints on a front end lift with a turntable, it can be somewhat of a pain in the ass at home.
However, there are some notable signs to look for.
- Clunking or popping sounds coming from your tires when you go over uneven roads. The knuckle on your ball joint is loose and is contacting the housing.
- The car pulls to the left or to the right when you’re trying to drive straight. Your ball joint is likely frozen because of grime in the knuckle and can no longer turn freely.
- Your tires wear unevenly because they are slanted at an angle due to a frozen or lose ball joint.
If you’re handy and have a jack laying around the house you can quickly test for yourself. Put the car on the jack, and then when your hands at 12 and 6 on the tire, attempt to wiggle the tire back and forth.
If you notice the upper or lower portion of the tire has any play, that ball joint could be bad. To actually see though, you’ll need to go a bit further and actually remove the steering knuckle completely, so unless you’re feeling adventurous I’d take your car to a mechanic.
In case you are, YouTuber ChrisFix has you covered.
Having your ball joints looked at regularly is recommended by many large mechanics. Driving with bad ball joints is bad. Not just for your wallet, but for your car overall.
The Dangers Of Bad Ball Joints
Once the boot on your ball joint breaks, grit and grime can start to get in the and cause it to seize up. Over time this can lead to the ball joints actually breaking to the point where your freaking tire falls off.
You obviously don’t want that. More likely than not though, that probably won’t happen. I hope.
If you do hear the trademark clunking sound of your ball joint going out, your car can go out of alignment which obviously can be dangerous. Your tires also can end up wearing unevenly and cost you for a set of new ones.
Because at the end of the day, getting your ball joints replaced is less expensive then getting them replaced, and getting new tires.
How Much Does A Ball Joint Replacement Cost?
Just getting your ball joints replaced shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. You can get ball joints on Amazon for between $20-$80 dollars each, and the repair doesn’t take more than 2 hours. The national labor rate is around $100 an hour on average.
Doing the math, even if you had to replace 4 ball joints, the most you’d run is about $600 dollars. Repairpal is a bit on the higher end of this, with an estimate of between $361 – $422 for a lower ball joint service.
With older cars like ChrisFix’s 2001 Mazda B3000, it can be as simple as that. However, some newer models require other repairs in conjunction with the ball joints.
While you probably won’t need to replace the entire steering knuckle, sometimes it can be easier to replace the control arm as well. If the control arm bushings are loose or cracked, your mechanic may recommend replacing it in conjunction with your ball joints which can add several hundred dollars to your repair cost.
You’ll also need to get an alignment after your car is serviced. This normally runs anywhere between $50-$100 bucks. Sometimes you can get a Groupon to drive it a bit lower.
Bottom line, you could be looking at anywhere from as low as $30 bucks if you do it yourself and only change out a single joint, to over $1,000 if it’s the joints plus the arm, plus the alignment.
So we’ll assume somewhere in the middle. Most likely your ball joint replacement will be somewhere between $200-400.
However, if you have an extended warranty that covers your ball joints you’ll only have to pay the deductible, which is typically only $100 bucks.