While ball joints may last 70,000 miles or more, they don’t last forever. Their actual lifespan will depend on your driving habits, road conditions and exposure to road splash and salt. As the ball and socket wear together, the normally close tolerance between them will increase and the ball joint will become loose over time.
Sound — Usually the first indication of worn or loose ball joints will be a faint, intermittent clunking noise that seems to be coming from a corner of your vehicle. The sound may be more pronounced when going over a bump or a dip or when going around a corner. While the sound may be faint at first, as time goes on and the wear continues, the sound will become louder and more frequent.
Steering — Worn ball joints can affect your vehicle’s steering, usually making the steering sloppy or stiff depending on how the ball joint is wearing. Feeling a vibration in the steering wheel while driving down a level, straight road, or your vehicle drifting to the right or left when going over bumps may also be signs of ball joint wear.
Tires — Uneven tire wear may be a sign that your ball joints are wearing out. Specifically, if the inner or outer edges of your front tires are wearing out faster than the rest of the tread, there is a good chance that the cause is worn ball joints. However, if both edges are wearing out faster than the middle, the problem is not ball joints, but under-inflation of your tires.
A worn ball joint is not a problem that should be put off—a catastrophic failure of any ball joint will result in your front suspension coming apart and causing loss of control of your vehicle. Should you suspect worn ball joints, you should have your vehicle checked by your trusted mechanic who has experience in diagnosing and fixing suspension issues.