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Bad wheel bearing confused with bad ball joint?

When I bought my '98 Contour December '07, I borught it to a chain store (let’s call it “Stirephone”) for inspection. Among other things, they told me it needed ball joints (both sides). I replaced the left; they did the right.

9k miles later, they said it needed new balljoints AGAIN! (They mentioned, “especially the right side.”) I figured I was being ripped off, and resolved never to return.

Fast forward ANOTHER 20K mi, and the right wheel bearing is making noise and needed replacing. After replacing the W.B., the (new) auto repair place said both balljoints were O.K.

Waht I’m wondering is if the “need new balljoints” opinion could have been an honest mistake? Would a wearing wheel bearing (not yet making noise, though) be confused with a bad ball joint by a not-too-terribly-careful mechanic?

If you would have said “show me” when you were told you needed new balljoints we could have ended all speculation as we would have seen what kind of test was performed.

Yeah, but I already knew that I wasn’t going to get the work done, so I figured I’d just let it slide, rather than get into a confrontation.

I would like to know, though, so that I won’t just tell people “Don’t go there–they’re a buncha crooks” if it’s possible it was some rookie mistake.

On a quick wheel shake, it is hard to differentiate a loose wheel bearing from a worn ball joint. Sometimes you can feel where the motion is but sometime you have to put a dial indicator on to be sure. It takes a little more time and effort to be right but time is money. JMHO

The affirmative diagnostic drill is simple enough.

If you have wheel play and can’t determine if it’s wheel bearing or ball joint just get someone to step on the brakes or use a pedal pusher.

If the wheel play disappears with the brakes on, it’s wheel bearing.

If it’s still there it’s a steering /suspension joint or bush.

This test won’t identify if you have play in both the suspension and wheel bearing of course.

Honest mistake caused by lack of training or skill. It happens to customers all the time.

“Stirephone” has had a bit of a reputation for this kind of thing. A local franchise here (now defunct) was notorious for telling the owner of any car that came into the shop they needed ball joints.

A guy I knew many years ago worked for one of these franchises for a short time and the mechanics there were paid by the hour. They were also expected to “upsell” a certain amount of work each week or wind up unemployed.

Did your car need ball joints originally? Possibly, depending on the mileage, etc.
Did it need them 9k miles later? No way.

It is possible to confuse a loose wheel bearing with a loose ball joint but an experienced tech should not do this. An inexperienced or careless tech might but considering “Stirephone’s” history I would think you were the victim of upselling more than anything else.

Maybe you should told them fine replace the ball joints 9k latter under the 1yr/12k labor warranty and lifetime parts warranty. I wonder if they would have been as eager?

I had a very bad experience at Firestone also while buying new tires(great price). They attempted $600 in maintenance when the dealer had performed everything need 2k earlier with a $300 30k mile service.