Ball joint and steering rack boots - is it worth it?


#1

Our 2000 Subaru Outback has just over 200k. We want a vehicle that is safe, but do not want to put a lot of money into this. At the last service the dealership said the left ball joint boot and power steering rack boots need to be replaced and the rear differential bushings are broken or loose. All of this would be > $1000 to repair. They said that the ball joint could get dirty and fail catastrophically and be a safety issue. Is that right or will the steering start to feel rough beforehand? Can we drive it safely?


#2

I’ve driven for many years with torn or cracked ball joint boots and power steering boots. I’m curious about the rear differential bushings though. Do you have leaf springs, struts or coil springs and shocks? Which bushings? I suspect that bushings are solid rubber that has "checked’ around the edges and will not be a safety issue either.


#3

There’s no need to bring an out-of-warranty car to the dealership for this kind of routine repair.
Find a good independent, non-chain shop.
They’ll do the work for much less, if it’s even necessary.
Look here:


#4

It’s terrible advice to imply that it’s okay to drive with defective (torn or cracked) ball joint boots. If the boots are ripped, it will leak grease and expose the innards of the ball joint to dirt, debris, etc. If the ball joint fails, the steering knuckle and control arm(s) will separate. If that occurs, the driver will have no control over the vehicle.


#5

If the boots are ripped, it will leak grease and expose the innards of the ball joint to dirt, debris, etc

Thats true for CV joints. There are a lot of cars out there on the road that are 10 years old or older and I’ll bet almost all of them have one or more ball joint or tie rod end boots that are torn, yet I don’t see a lot of 10 year old ball joints separating.


#6

Both are true.


#7

I’ll address the steering rack boot problem first. This often leads to worn inner tie rods (common on Subarus anyway) and it’s not cost effective to replace the boots and tie rods on both sides. In a case like this the entire steering rack should be replaced as it will be available with new boots and inner tie rods already on it.

If a ball joint boot is torn you should consider replacing the joint because a ball joint is the one item on the suspension that can kill you very quickly. When a ball joint fails it usually fails catastrophically and instantly.

I could relate a story about a ball joint failure that happened in front of me just a couple of years back. I’m don’t believe in psychics but I could see this one coming and hit my brakes just to get clean away from this guy. Five seconds later he was in the right hand ditch and the right front wheel, along with most of the right front suspension, was bouncing down the highway where it veered off into the left hand ditch and came to rest against a barbed wire fence.
This guy was lucky. His truck stopped while still upright.


#8

Both are true

Both are not true. Unlike a Cv joint, the boot on a ball joint is not the primary seal. Most cars today have sealed for life ball joints. The primary seal is a polymer bushing inside the ball joint, and there is only thin film of lubricant, unlike the older type greaseable joints.

I am sticking by my original statement. Unless the ball joint shows some type of wear, I would not replace it just for a torn boot. I also would also not replace the boots on the rack and pinion assembly. It is simply not cost effective on a vehicle with over 200k miles.

Neither the inner tie rod ends nor the ball joints are going to fail catastrophically without some warning first. It will take time before they wear out, it will be a gradual process. If they are not close to their wear limits, I would leave them alone.


#9

I have to respectfully disagree about the ball joint boots. A few years back my daughter owned a Mitsubishi Galant which was under a Recall for ball joints. This problem was supposedly due to improper boot installation during the assembly process when the car was being built.

The Recall was they were to be inspected and replaced only if the ball joint boot was loose and the joint showed wear. The Mitsu dealer signed off on them as being fine.
Six months or a year later (forget) as per the usual I went over things for her while changing the oil and whatnot and found no problems.

A month later the left front ball joint snapped clean into and the car had to be towed to me. She was lucky in that she was going very slow and turning into a driveway when it gave up. Up to that point the joint felt tight, there was no rattle or clunk noise in the front end, and it drove fine.

So it got 2 new lower control arms and one new tire as the original tire received a gouged sidewall.


#10

Thanks! I will take it to the highly recommended mechanic from this website who on the phone says you should replace the ball joint and boot if it is worn, but not just the boot. He’ll inspect the rest of the suspension system.


#11

I think you’re doing the right thing. Worn tie rods or split steering rack boots are hardly a safety hazard but can contribute to wandering steering and tire wear.
Ball joints can kill you quickly and if you’ve ever seen a car on the side of the road with a wheel laid down flat a broken ball joint is usually the cause of that.

That guy in the pickup I mentioned previously? That incident happened several years ago and the 150 feet or so of gouge marks he left in the asphalt is still there today.
He was lucky the truck was gouging the asphalt instead of digging in; otherwise he would likely have rolled.


#12

You’re making a wise decision. A torn boot allows water/dirt to get into the ball joint causing extra wear which could lead to a safety issue. That boot is there for a reason not just for looks.

I also agree that a good independent mechanic can do the job as good as the dealer. I do most of my own work, but if I come up on something I can’t do the only reason it would ever go to a dealer would be if the car was still under warranty. Labor rates and parts are both higher from a dealer than from an independent mechanic and independent parts store.