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How To: Replace Front Lower Ball Joint

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The lower ball joint replacement is a fairly simple procedure and doesn't really require a high level of auto repair experience. On a 10 point scale, with 10 being the hardest, I would rate this about a 4.

Here's a suggested tool list:

3/8” drive ratchet

1/2” drive breaker bar

15mm, 17mm and 24mm sockets (note: my experience has shown that 24mm sockets are generally only available for 1/2” drive ratchets/breaker bars)

3/8” to 1/2” adapter socket (unless you already have a 1/2” ratchet)

14mm and 19mm open-end wrenches (for the tie rod ends, completely optional)

Ball joint separator (also called tuning forks, though there are also separator that look like a U-shaped bracket with a bolt through one end of the “U”)

Lug wrench (included with the car)

Mechanics rolling seat (also called breakdown chair, another optional piece of equipment, but makes a big difference when you're working on the suspension/wheels)

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Some notes about this process:

I've photoshopped out the marks for right and left side of the vehicle shown on the suspension parts. This is because I changed both ball joints at the same time and I was too lazy to make sure I was taking pictures of only one side.

You may need to get an alignment after this is complete. You may not. See if the car pulls or feels like it’s pushing out of / pulling into turns abnormally. As noted, most ball joint separators will ruin the seal on the tie rod end, so you might want to replace those with new equipment anyway. If you take off the tie rod ends, you will definitely want to get an alignment.

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First, take off the cover on the wheel to expose the lug nuts. Loosen each of the lug nuts while the car is still on the ground. Breaking a lug nut loose with the wheels off the ground will require someone to sit in the cabin and hold the brake pedal down in order to break the nuts loose.

Raise the car. Use caution if you're using a floor jack, make sure you're using the frame rails and always use jackstands. Take off the wheel , making sure to note which side it came from if you're taking both wheels off at the same time, and set it aside.


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You’ll need to remove the brake caliper next. If you’ve never done this before, the pictures below should prove helpful. The caliper is held on by two 17mm bolts, one top and one bottom. The bottom bolt is hard to see, and the picture may not make it much easier to visualize. The caliper bolts may be torqued down quite tightly, so you might want to use the 1/2” breaker bar and the 1/2” drive to 3/8” drive adapter with a 17mm socket.

Loosen both bolts, but remove the bottom bolt first. You’ll need something to set the caliper on, or a strong piece of wire or rope to tie it to the upper control arm. Calipers aren’t that heavy (around 10-15 lbs, I’d estimate) but that rubber brake line won’t be able to hold it up without tearing. Set your platform under the caliper (or get your wire/rope set up) and then loosen the top bolt. Your caliper shouldn’t slide off, but just in case, you already have your support set up. In fact, you’ll probably have to pull decently hard to slide the caliper off the rotor, but it will come (use a rocking motion if you feel like you can’t get it off).


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Remove the rotor from the wheel. While I’ve never had this problem with my Lexus, rotors may seize on the wheel (they rust together, essentially). There are 3 ways to get the rotor off:

1) Using a brass hammer or heavy rubber mallet (brass is softer than the rotor and will dent before the rotor will) hit the back of the rotor firmly, but not extremely hard. Rotate the wheel as you hit the rotor, and check to see if it’s coming loose periodically.

2) Failing that, get a block of wood (2x4 pieces work great) and lay it flat against the rotor. Using a regular hammer, swing hard at the wood, rotating the wheel as before.

3) If you can’t get it off at this point, your last resort should be a 2 or 3-arm puller. Put the arms around the edge of the rotor (they should lock in the middle of the rotor where the vent vanes are) and the main shaft of the puller will rest on the hub nut. Be gentle, move slowly, and you may not bend the rotor trying to get it off.

Some people recommend using heat (a propane torch or otherwise to gently heat the rotor – the expansion of the metal should break the bond). I don’t recommend against it, but it’s never worked for me.

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Provided you don’t need an act of God to get the rotor off, you should now be looking at the hub and steering knuckle assembly. The steering knuckle is the long shaft behind the hub that connects at the top to a ball joint in the upper control arm and at the bottom to the lower ball joint (which is connected to the lower control arm).

On the bottom of the ball joint, there are two bolts that connect to the steering knuckle (see picture below). You’ll want to loosen, but not remove, these bolts while the tie rod end is still attached to the lower ball joint. If you don’t, you may have an incredibly frustrating time breaking the bolts loose while the ball joint is spinning around.


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With the lower ball joint bolts loose, you can pull the cotter pin out from the tie rod end bolt and remove the nut. Once the nut is off, go ahead and use a ball joint separator to break the tie rod end loose from the lower ball joint.

A note about this part: The rubber seal on the tie rod end is going to get destroyed by this process. The ball joint separator (or tuning fork, because of its shape) that most people have easy access to will tear apart the seal. Some people don’t think this is a livable thing, so they take the extra time to find the ball joint separators that are screw-driven and don’t tear the seal. In regards to tie rod ends, I have never suffered any ill effects from the seal being torn. Yes, there is an increased chance that dirt and contaminants will enter the joint and degrade its mobility. But the tie-rod end sees so little use and load relative to the lower ball joint that you’re replacing that I have no real concerns.

Is it ugly? Yes (see below). Is it a problem? That’s up to you. A lot of people replace them because they’re relatively inexpensive at $45 a pop and should periodically be replaced to reduce stress on your steering rack.


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Now that the tie rod is loose, go ahead and remove the two bolts that attach to the steering knuckle. You can now lift the steering knuckle off the ball joint and either let it droop (gives me the heebie-jeebies, but theoretically doesn’t wear the top ball joint) or support it with another platform such as a bucket. In the pictures below, you can see the knuckle hang – that’s because I was replacing the upper control arm at the same time, so I didn’t feel any concern about the wear and tear.

The nut that you didn’t loosen on the bottom of the lower ball joint in step 4 is what holds the lower ball joint on the lower control arm. This has a cotter pin a well (that you can’t see through all the grime) that you can remove if you’d like. I didn’t – I just use the 24mm socket and the 1/2” drive breaker bar and sheared right through it. The bolt comes off, the pin is ruined, and it may cause problems with the threads on the ball joint, but you’re going to replace all of those with new stuff anyway.

Whatever you do, remove the nut (which is REALLY going to be on there) and use your ball joint separator to separate the lower ball joint. Tip: Can’t get the ball joint nut off? Try worrying it –loosen it then tighten it (or vice-versa). The tightening then loosening action will break it loose and make the job much easier. (Plus, you don’t round any nuts or strip any threads)


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Make a quick visual comparison of the old ball joint with the new. Someone might have made a mistake and sent you the wrong part, and if you end up installing a right-side ball joint on the left side of the vehicle, who knows what kind of horrible oddities may occur. Probably none, but since I’ve never done it, I can’t tell you what would happen.


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Line up the ball joint in the bracket on the lower control arm. You should use a new nut (provided with the ball joint) and a new cotter pin. Note that the lower ball joint bolt has a hole in it, just big enough for the cotter pin to slip though. You’ll need to line the slots up on the nut so that the cotter pin can slip through that hole while the bolt is tight.

Torque the nut down to 112 ft lbs / 152 Nm. For those without torque wrenches that go that far – make it tight. TIGHT. You should take the 1/2” breaker bar by the very end and push it as far as you can without making an undue struggle to tighten it any further (like standing up and kicking it or putting your back against the bar to push with your legs). MAKE SURE to take a look at the positioning of the nut relative to the hole through the lower ball joint bolt. You don’t want to over-tighten just to get the slots in the nut to line up. Back it off if it’s as tight as you can make it but not lined up yet.

Insert the new cotter pin and bend the prong back to safely secure the nut.


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Align the steering knuckle on top of the ball joint. It’s heavy, but there are flanges on the bolt holes in the ball joint that will help you settle the steering knuckle on it properly. You should start to thread these bolts, but don’t tighten them down.

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Attach the old (or new, if you feel like getting an alignment anyway) tie rod ends to the lower ball joint in the proper bracket and tighten the nut down to 48 ft lbs / 65 Nm – pay attention again to the hole in the ball joint bolt coming from the tie rod end relative to the slots in the tie rod end ball joint nut.

Insert a new cotter pin (never, ever reuse a cotter pin, which should go without saying) and bend the prong back.

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Tighten the bolts that connect the lower ball joint and the steering knuckle to 83 ft lbs / 113 Nm. Again, for those without a torque wrench of sufficient magnitude – tight. But not as tight as the ball joint nut. This isn’t rocket science, and you’re not going to fracture anything if you’re a bit tighter than you need to be.

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Re-mount the caliper. If you’re having trouble slipping the caliper back onto the rotor, try using a rocking motion to slip the pads onto the rotor. You really don’t want to have to compress the pistons, just because of the hassle of having to take your brake pads out and then re-inserting them, so give it a few good tries before you resort to that.

Should you need to compress the piston, use a caliper compression tool (available at any discount auto parts store) or a piece of wood and a c-clamp. The objective is to force the two pistons back into their chambers. The caliper compression tool may need a flat surface to push against, such as a block of wood (don’t use a brake pad you’re going to reinstall) or piece of metal. Some come with a broad, flat surface to push against multiple pistons.

If you’re using a c-clamp, position the fixed end of the clamp on the wood and use the screw end to push against the back of the caliper to collapse the pistons.

Insert the top bolt of the caliper first (which will support the caliper) and then thread the bottom. Tighten both bolts to 87 ft lbs / 118 Nm (again, tight).

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Re-mount the wheel on the hub. Tighten the lug nuts on the wheel in a star pattern (to evenly tighten the flat surface of the wheel) to the extent you’re able with the wheel in the air. Lower the car slowly and finish tightening the lug nuts in a star pattern with the wheel on the ground.

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You're finished with the process. Take it for a test drive. If the ball joint was relatively worn, you should feel a new difference in steering response immediately.

Don't hesitate to let me know if you have questions, need further pictures posted or noticed something that I omitted.

I can be reached at 2456depew@comcast.net


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