I see it all the time. Someone posts a picture of one of their front wheels all laid back with the front fender dented in from it. It usually has a caption that reads something like “What a POS, I was just driving along and my ball joint broke.”
To be completely truthful, the way I read that is “I forgot to do some basic maintenance and inspections on my car, I want someone to feel bad for me.”
Ok, so, ball joints. Pretty amazing little piece. They are responsible for supporting the steering knuckle (that the wheel bearing and ultimately the wheel itself) are bolted to, while it is turning, accelerating, braking. It is undergoing all sorts of vertical, lateral and twisting loads. Add to that, the suspension is designed for it to have one specific angle at rest, and then we lower our cars, which changes that angle. This puts even more stress on the part.
Owners manuals. Who reads those things? Who on Earth would care to read the maintenance suggestions? I’m here to tell you that there is some great information in there. As much as I know about cars and I still sat down to read mine cover to cover for the GS I just bought. The best part, I think, is where it says the car should be inspected, like, really inspected from time to time. Every 30k miles or more frequently, actually. Ball joints (and the rest of the steering/suspension components are listed, as well as pretty much every other mechanical item on the car.)
The good news is that these parts are relatively easy to change and even easier to test properly. I will run down how to check the front end of a vehicle that anyone with a prybar and a jack can do. That’s the next installment though, for now, here are some pictures of other cars that have had some ball joint issues.