Diagnose my symptoms please (2005 SportTrac)?

I think I know what’s going on here, but I’d like to ask for independent opinions, if you don’t mind.

2005 Ford Explorer Sport-Trac with about a 100,000 miles. About a week ago, I heard a few pops while driving at a low speed. Sounded like I ran over 3 or 4 empty bottles. A few days later, something similar. In both cases, I was driving straight at a fairly slow speed. Figured I had an axel issue developing and would have to have it looked at soon. Yesterday, it suddenly escalated. Now, I can actually feel the wheel grab when starting from a stand-still and then release with a significantly loud pop sound and a lurch in movement. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m turning or not, and once I get the speed up above 10-15 mph, the sound stops, and the truck seems to drive fine. I took the wheel off and did a visual inspection. Other than dirt and a little rust, I didn’t see anything out of place – nothing torn, leaking, etc. I did notice that the tire seems to maybe have a little play in it when it’s jacked up – can wobble it up and down maybe 1/2 inch by hand.

So, my questions: (1) ball joint? and (2) DIY job for someone who is handy and has tools but no experience doing this previously, or is that crazy talk?

Many thanks.

Sounds like a bad CV joint to me, not a ball joint.

Quick check of the ball joint is to jack up the wheel until it barley clears the ground, 1/2" at the most. Slide a shovel under the tire and have someone work the shovel handle up and down, moving the tire vertically. Watch the ball joint, if you see compression and expansion in the ball joint, you need a new one.

Grab the axle and move it in and out. If you can see any compression at the outer CV joint, it needs to be replaced. You can do this with the vehicle on the ground if there is enough clearance for you to reach under there. with everything just sitting still, the axle should not move in and out (laterally) at all. It should not rotate any either.

Be sure to carefully inspect all the CV rubber boots, inners and outers, for breaks or tears. CV joint noises tend to be heard more when turning. Do you notice more noises when turning? Could be a problem w/suspension components too, as mentioned above. On caution, this could be a safety problem so good idea to get a pro to look at it asap for a diagnosis at least, if you still aren’t sure. Meanwhile keep to low speed driving maybe.

Thanks for the guidance.