Paranoid after ball joint failure

Hi all,

The other day in our 2001 Honda Accord sedan, 4cyl, 140k miles, we were driving and the wheel became, how do you say, less attached to the car than it used to be? The wheel and the car had a nasty break-up and we were caught right in the middle of it. (see pictures) We were driving down a straight road, going straight, and boom, the wheel fell off and the car landed on one of the suspension bits . We were doing 30 and did fine. But we had literally just exited the freeway, where we were doing 70, a minute or two before this happened. Further, there was no noise, no vibration before this happened. The car was acting quite normally.

We had it fixed at a Honda dealership. We were on the road and it set us back $1070 and a full day. But there you are. So the problem is fixed, and I asked the dealership people to please inspect the other ball joints.

But…now I’m paranoid every time I drive the car. And I want to check them for myself. I read about the jack the car up and try and shake the tire trick. Is that foolproof? Is there more I can do to make certain that all the remaining bits that are supposed to be holding the wheel on are not, in fact, about to break?

Much appreciated.

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I should add, you can see the wear on the inside of the tire. The repair bill included a new Michelin tire.

The shaking the tire method is not foolproof although it could be considered a means. It’s possible to jack the car up to where the tire is a few inches off of the ground, place a prybar underneath the tire, and then attempt to raise the wheel assembly. A badly worn ball joint may provide enough of a noticeable feel to detect.
With the wheel off of the ground it’s also possible to detect a worn ball joint by grasping the tire at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions and attempting to move it in and out. There should be no movement.

Just my humble opinion, but I believe that ball joints should be replaced is pairs with both sides being done at the same time. If one was worn bad enough to snap then the other is not likely to be in great shape either.

You do have a good reason to be concerned about ball joints. Worn ball joints are the most lethal suspension component on any car.

+1 @ok4450 - time to have the same repair done to the other side, and have the rear suspension inspected. This is just part of keeping an older car on the road, safely.

You mentioned that “The car was acting quite normally.”

What a lot of people don’t realize is that as a car ages and components start to slowly wear out, most subconciously “adjust” to it, and their car feels “normal” to them.

As I was driving my Regal through a tight parking area some time back with the window rolled down, I heard a “clicking” noise as I was making a tight turn. Turned out to be a CV joint going bad. My son and I replaced that half axle along with the hub bearing while we were at it. Man oh man, what a difference. That was at 215,000 miles on a car that I’d purchased with a little less than 20,000 on the clock. (And yes, the other hub bearing has since been replaced as well.)

What state do you live in?

In my home state/commonwealth (PA), we have annual inspections. Stuff like brakes, exhaust leaks, and suspension are checked–all the safety-critical items.

IMO, any car capable of passing inspection won’t have a ball joint fail totally within 10k miles hence.

So go online and search “annual safety inspection.” Pick a srate that you like, print off the procedure, and give it to your mechanic, and say, “test my car AS IF it had to pass this.”

Then, 1yr/15k miles later, do it again.

The check in our state is an OBD diagnostic, my wife who usually uses quickie lube, needed an oil change, I offered to use my regular shop. She was concerned about the brakes, as they groan on damp mornings backing out of the drive. Brakes had some surface fust but the belts were breaking away from the tires so bad he was worried about a ten mile round trip, as the tires came in too late to meet m schedule. If they had seen that tire wear they would let me now, and as my wife was making a 250 mile road tip that weekend they could well of saved her life. Sure the oil change was $27 instead of $19, but if there was a ball joint problem causing tire wear like that I am confident they would have let us know. My 2 cents

Looking at the image, it looks like the ball joint stud sheared off. This would explain the sudden failure without an indication of a problem. If the ball joint had worn out and had become sloppy you have noticed a problem before the failure.

If this ball joint failed in this manner, I’d make sure the other ball joint was replaced.


Thanks for the replies. I live in Arkansas, no inspections, and, well, I do most of the routine maintenance myself. Missed this, though. Makes me think.

I’ll get the other joint replaced. I’ll definitely feel better about it.

My assessment of the failure falls in line with @Tester. The ball joint stud appears to have broken. That type of failure seems quite rare and I would question whether that ball joint was the original or a replacement that had been over torqued when installed or possibly it was an off brand import part. I strongly suggest you have the other ball joint and all suspension parts inspected. You were lucky that no one was injured.

When a front ball joint started squeaking on my '88 Accord started squeaking at around 150K miles I had all 6 replaced (four front, two rear).
The rears had a little free play and would have eventually let go of the wheel.

Rod Knox,

It think it’s an original. My dad bought this car at 10k miles, sold it to me a few years ago, and I’m fairly confident the ball joints haven’t been replaced.

I went ahead and just checked our other Accord. No movement on the wheels but the rubber seal is broken on one of the joints. Looks like more replacements are in order.

I’m with Tester and Rod Knox. Its hard to tell for me from the picture but I don’t think it just wore out but broke due to a fault in the joint or something. I’ve had pretty loose ball joints before but still held up. When I took one apart, it is really a very substantial bolt and would not easily come out of its socket. But a batch of bad joints with with stress fractures in them or poor tempering is more likely. I would suspect they are original which would mean the other one is probably from the same batch. There has been a problem in the past with Japanese and Chinese fasteners not being hardened properly because they wear the machine tools out quicker. So when you go over a bridge with foreign fasteners, you never know if they are going to hold or not. Can’t tell by looking at them either. So replace the other side minus the tire maybe.

One way to avoid future ball joint or tie rod end failure is to have a front end alignment every two years. That will usually be all the inspection you need. With the problem you had, a replacement ball joint probably will never fail that way again. You won’t have to worry about it.

Was the axle shaft replaced on the wheel that broke loose, @Mike? That ball joint is disconnected to remove the axle and the nut may have been over torqued when it was re-installed.

You found a pretty ugly failure mode. Fortunately no one was hurt. Tension-type ball joints usually give some warning before failure. If the car has had a curb hit it may have weakened the stud. The worn tire gives some evidence that you hit something that knocked the car out of alignment. Over torquing a new ball joint, as some suggest could cause a break but that is pretty rare because the joints are designed with lots of safety factor to be tolerant of gorilla mechanics. I’d guess a curb hit was the cause.

Yep, they replaced the axle shaft. The joint definitely broke after the ball joint when the axle hit the ground while the car was going.

Literally the SAME EXACT thing happened to me. I have a 2006 Pontiac G6. 6 days after I bought it from a used car lot the lower ball joint snapped. My 5 year old son and I were in the car. I had been traveling 70 mph down the interstate for a little over an hr and a half. It seemed to have a slight pull to one side but I had just purchased it so I didn’t know, I figured it just needed an alignment. Well I get off the interstate and I’m going 25 mph. Literally 2-3 mins later, BOOM! A very loud noise then I guess it fully snapped and we came to a dead stop. Thank God no one got hurt. My 5 year old was in the car with me…I was beyond upset. Thankfully the dealership paid for towing, seeing as I was almost 2 hrs away from home, and paid for the parts and had my car fixed within 18 hrs. Ever since though, I’m pretty scared to drive it any further than like 5 mins from home…does anyone know if the other front lower ball joint should have been replaced and is there anything it could’ve damaged that the dealership wouldn’t have told me about?

I had both of the control arms replaced at the same time on my G6. So I guess I would have the other side replaced and a general inspection of the other front end parts. Maybe a different shop though. I’m not saying the dealer is not honest but just may not be looking at the car in the same way a private shop would look at it.


The ball joint in the picture is intact, the pinch bolt seems to have fallen out.

A dealership paid for towing on a vehicle you bought from a used car lot? I would wonder what sort of repair was performed that resulted in the loose ball joint pinch bolt.