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Ford Explorer Power Steering Concerns

Our 2003 Ford Explorer XLT has less than 62K miles and in the past 8mos we’ve needed to replace 3/4 bearings. Within 300 miles of the last two bearings being replaced, the car started making grunting/thunk noises when tighter turns, left and right, are made. For mild turns, like lane changes, it isn’t really noticeable. The problem showed up all of a sudden when making left hand turns and in less than 10mi, the sound became more pronounced and started w right turns too. By “tighter” turns I mean anything more than 15-20 degrees. Going in reverse I don’t think I hear it. The mechanic who changed the last two bearings looked at it and found “slight play” in the ball joints and thinks, but isn’t sure, that’s the issue. They claim that the fluids and belts were checked and were fine. They also replaced the right outer tie-rod. The noise was mildly better for a few miles, but it’s completely returned. So, if it isn’t the ball joints, what else might it be? If the ball joints need to be replaced, how much money will I likely sink into this? At 62K and 9yrs I’m wondering how much more life can I honestly get out of it and what’s going to break next!?

While I dont know what the problem is, I can tell you the 62K IS VERY LOW MILEAGE… I have seen these Explorers with WELL OVER 150,000 MILEs on the clock. The motor if taken care of is very strong, and the trans while the weak point is ok if maintained properly.

Ball joints can also be defective even with no slop in them at all. The joint becomes dry, starts binding, and then creates various types of noises. Think of it as fingernails on a chalkboard.
Sometimes the only way of really knowing is by disassembling it and physically inspecting the ball joint by rotating it manually while noting any rough spots. Of course that brings up the point about if the thing is apart then why not go ahead and replace them.

The vehicle is not that old and it’s possible that in spite of the low miles that it could need ball joints. The environment and road surfaces play a big part in how long suspension components last.
The roads around here are horrid and not too long ago I replaced the outer tie rod ends in one of my daughter’s cars for the 2nd time; three sets in total over 150k miles. The same goes for my cars too with the latest being yet another stereo replacement due to the ABS rear mount on the stereo vibrating into pieces and leading to the guts being shaken out of the radio.

The Explorer should be good for a quarter million miles easy unless you live in area with a lot of road salt or roadways similar to what they have here.

The Explorer lived about three years in the Cleveland area (hard winter, lots of salt) another couple years on the eastern side of NC, and since 2008 has lived in Columbus. Not nearly as much salt as up in Cleveland, but a lot of the roads around here have not been maintained very well.
The general message I’m getting here is, cough up for the ball joints and if I’m lucky nothing else pricey will go wrong… We’re getting paranoid as this sort of thing happened with our Ford Escort, fix one thing, another breaks, repeat process for mucho $$$. Granted that baby had a lot of miles before we had to part ways.