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Faulty ball joint installation - what would you do?

I had the lower ball joints on my '96 Olds Ciera replaced four weeks ago. Two weeks later, while taking a slow left turn on a city road, the ball joint failed, separating the axle from the tire and spilling transmission fluid all over the road.

The mechanic who towed me said there was a bad (de-threaded) bolt holding the ball joint in place, causing the failure. I had the ball joint replaced (again) at the nearest shop, and the shop whose ball joint failed agreed to cover the cost of the repair and subsequent alignment.

Now two more weeks passed, and I hear a creaking noise coming from the same area of the car. One shop says the lower ball joint is still loose; the other (the guys who did the newer ball joint) says the ball joint is fine, but I have a small crack in my axle that’s causing the creak.

Two questions:

- Should the shop whose improperly-installed ball joint caused my near-accident be responsible for the cost of repairing the axle?

- Is there any way that the frame of a car could be dysfunctional such that it drastically shortens the lifetime of a ball joint? If the ball joint is bad again, this will be the 4th lower ball joint on the passenger side of my car in 1 month.

You need to take it to a good front end shop. Something is wrong. If the cone shaped socket that the ball joint fits into is elongated or worn, the joint will work loose. Also, if it is the type that uses three bolts for the service joint instead of the old rivets, it is specified which way the bolt points. You need to take the old part though and have it looked at to determine where it specifically failed.

Thanks for your advice. I have the old ball joint that failed in a box along with the bolts, so hopefully I can find someone who can piece together the situation behind my passenger-side front wheel!

Just my opinion, but the original shop should be responsible for whatever it takes to make this car right. Odds are the threads were missing because someone either failed to tighten the pinch bolt or overtightened it.
They should consider themselves lucky that you’re not dead and your next of kin suing the beejeezus out of them.

The math is a bit fuzzy. The ball joint has only been replaced twice and allegedly is bad for the 3rd time according to one source.
My feeling is that if the axle was chucked onto the roadway when the first ball joint replacement failed the axle could certainly have been damaged and it may not even be apparent to the naked eye.

Try this. Go out and push down hard and repeatedly on top of each front fender and note if you hear a creaking noise. If you do, there’s a good possibility anyway this could be caused by dry sway bar bushings instead of a ball joint or halfshaft.
Irritating but not dangerous. Some lube should shut them right up if this is the case.

Thanks for the tip. I am able to reproduce the creaking in the way you suggested, so hopefully it does just need a little lube. I appreciate the second opinions regarding whether it’s appropriate to expect the original shop to cover the cost of axle repair.

(as for the fuzzy math, i was counting the original ball joint; the faulty ball joint that replaced it; the substitute for the faulty ball joint; and the possibility of another ball joint if in fact the (second) new one was loose. That’s where I got “four”, though the last one was speculative. Thanks for keeping me honest though!)

The reason why the original shop should be very thankful is because ball joints are the one item in the suspension that can kill you very quickly if they break. In your case you were lucky.
Here in OK just a couple of years ago it was reported on the local news that a woman was killed when a lower ball joint snapped as her car was traveling through a sweeping curve at highway speeds.

Several years ago a ball joint snapped on my daughter’s Mitsubishi but thankfully this happened as she was turning into a driveway at low speed. And this happened just a couple of months after the ball joints were pronounced “good” during a Recall inspection.

Wouldn’t it be great if the man in the pit at the McLube stores was qualified to do his job. It isn’t too difficult to recognize a worn out ball joint or tie rod end or tire or brakes, etc. They seem to be trained only in selling air filters and synthetic oil.