Should I replace my ball joints?

I own a 1999 Chevy S10 pickup that I bought new in Sept. 1999. It has about 148,000 miles on it, and those are primarily from daily 20 mile mostly highway trips to work along nice, flat Interstate 4 in Central Florida.

I’ve had very little trouble with the vehicle – replaced my alternator a couple times, water pump, a/c compressor, universal belt tensioner – but no engine, transmission, suspension or front end problems of any kind.

The car drives straight. It had a slight lean to the right that went away when I bought new tires a couple months ago.

In fact, about a year ago, at about 140,000, when I asked my tire dealer to do a front-end alignment, he said there was no need. And he said there was no visible sign of ball-joint deterioration (though he said he’d have to get inside the wheel to know this 100 percent)

Yet, I hear Tom and Ray talk all the time about the dangers of driving on worn-out ball joints, and I’m considering having them all replaced strictly as preventative maintenance.

My question – is this a good idea, absent any visible or audible signs of distress?

Thanks in advance for your answer

Well this vehicle is known for ball joints problems. Actually I’m amazed you haven’t replaced them yet. Friend of mine owned a 98 and had replaced the ball joints 3 times by the time it reached 150k miles.

If you get them replaced…look at aftermarket replacement parts. Some companies like Moog have made some extremely good replacement ball joints that last a LOT longer then OEM…and are cheaper too.

I only have 90k on my 2000 S-10 Blazer, but I make sure the ball joints and front end are lubricated at each oil change. Fortunately the S-10 is one of the few vehicles of this vintage that still uses grease fittings on the front suspension. I haven’t had any problems with them yet.

Ed B.

I’m amazed too. Maybe I’m just lucky, or the assembly line workers had plenty of coffee on the day my truck was built.
Any idea how much I should expect to pay to get all four ball joints replaced?

As an S-10 owner, I’m also amazed you’ve had no front end problems. I’ve had the lowers replaced once on mine, among other things. Any mechanic can check this easily, I personally wouldn’t replace them if they’re not worn. I would also go with MOOG replacements over the GM.

MOOG used to offer lifetime guarantees on their ball joint parts, so that beats GM alone, even if the price is the same. If you ever have to have to work done again, you pay labor, and MOOG pays for the part for you.

Ball joints should not be replaced as a matter of routine maintenance on any vehicle and S10 ball joints are no more prone to failure than any other vehicle out there. Premature ball joint failures can generally be traced back to road surface or environmental conditions rather than a defective part.

FYI. GM ball joints are made by TRW, a reputable company that manufactures quality products. TRW also makes suspension parts for other car makers including and not limited to the ones mentioned in the attached link.

That being said, ball joints are the most serious safety issue in the suspension and they should be inspected on a regular basis.
Symptoms may be rattling or knocking, odd tire wear, a vehicle that wanders and/or pulls, and can affect alignment specs which may be noticeable when the vehicle is on the alignment rack.

That makes sense, thanks
I guess I’m finding it hard to believe the vehicle could have as many miles as it does and I don’t need ball joints or any other suspension work. I plan to drive it until it dies and just want to take every safety precaution possible.

I would certainly say that at 148k miles the ball joints should be inspected for safety’s sake, but high mileage does not mean they’re even noticeably worn.

Several things that can take a ball joint out quick can be a cracked dust boot which will allow dirt to get into the joint and act as an abrasive or muddy water, which can do the same thing.
You’ve no doubt watched the news on TV when they’re doing reports about heavy rains and flooding. You’ve also seen vehicles plowing on through the water. This means filth is getting into a substantial number of places it should not be getting, ball joints, wheel bearings, tie rod ends, steering racks, etc. if any dust books even have minute cracks or holes.

Heat from automotive parts can also draw water inside, much like a window sweating on a cold, damp day. If you’ve seen boat trailers on the side of the road missing a wheel then that is caused by water entering the the wheel bearings past the bearing seals or by heat attraction.
Someone drives to the lake, the wheel bearings are hot from friction, and they back into the cold water immediately upon arriving at the lake and the bearings instantly become a “sweating window” if you want to call it that.

I have to disagree with you about other manufacturers having the same problems GM is with their balljoints. Only GM owners drive rough road conditions and live in harsh environments? There even have been class action lawsuits against GM because of this widespread problem. Do a simple google search for GM balljoint failure and you’ll find HUNDREDS of links.

Go to a different alignment place and have them do it. You never know what motivates people to turn down the work. They have to be checked now and then even if the tires look good.

Hmmmmmm, what about this class action suit? Did you miss this one?

Doing a google search for a complaint means nothing unless the entire story behind that complaint is known, and I mean the entire enchilada. Even on this very forum one very seldom gets the entire story.

TRW meets ISO 9001 standards and has since been updated to the newer QS 9000 standard, which was agreed upon over 10 years ago. Anything TRW makes is good enough to meet those standards and junk suspension parts are not going to be foisted off on the general public by TRW.

So you’re saying that TRW, which builds the infallible ball joints in your Nissans (300-400k, never needs them) is using the scrap residue and inferior leftovers to build the GM ball joints?

You seem to have a lot of friends and relatives who replace ball joints 3 times with alleged inferior factory original ball joints.
This time it’s a friend with an S10 and the last time it was your brother in law with the Explorer.

Mike, you never miss a chance to bash GM do you? Man… you are so predictable.

I did do a google search on ball joint failure. It was quite enlightening. It seems that there are other manufacturers of vehicles that have ball joint failure issues. Widespread failures. Class action lawsuits. HUNDREDS of links.

I’ve been repairing vehicles for 25 years (independent and GM repair shops) and I would say that Ford has had a higher failure rate of ball joints and tie rods in my experience than any other brand.

OK4450 is correct, they no more prone to failure than any other vehicle out there.

JMHO, but class actions suits are filed every stinking day. A few have merit and the majority are nothing more than the members of the Bar Association trying to round up money for their Beemers and country club dues.

Since TRW also makes ball joints for the previously mentioned Toyotas my opinion right off the cuff is that the suit against Toyota is probably without merit.
There is a reason why Toyota will settle this suit and pay for ball joints, even on vehicles that are out of warranty, and it is not because they are guilty of anything. It’s a financial decision in their best interests.

Look at it this way. They’re recalling approx. 550k trucks. Assume for the sake of argument that both lower ball joints are bad on every one of those trucks and TMC is going to pay for every last one. That means 1,100,000 ball joints total.
Figure that TMC is getting those joints from TRW for about 3 bucks a pop. Figure 1 hour of warranty labor per vehicle at the discounted rate of say 60 bucks an hour.

That’s 3.3 million dollars for parts and 33 million in warranty labor reimbursement for a total of 33.6 million dollars.
One lawsuit from an ambulance chaser can result in a much larger judgment than that so it’s cost effective to recall them and eat the alleged damage.

Keep in mind that 33.6 figure only applies if EVERY single ball joint inspected on EVERY single vehicle meets the criteria for replacement and is replaced/covered under the recall. The chance of this happening is just about non-existent and those parts/labor figures will be dramatically lower no doubt.

I think TMC is blameless, just like GM or Ford. In TMC’s case (and I’m not 100% on this) I think the problem they had was not so much inferior joints but a few top execs trying to cover up some complaints.
One of my brothers-in-law has 2 '96 Tahoes. One has 150k with no problems and his other Tahoe did get lower ball joints at the 214k miles mark. Considering the latter sees dirt roads, rough roads, and commercial use it seems to me that 214k is pretty good service out of them.
If GM used (not manufactured) ball joints of inferior quality all of those joints would have disentegrated long ago. I do not believe for one single minute that a reputable company like TRW is providing scrap metal to so many car manufacturers.

(I did overlook one cause of loose ball joints. Many have nylon inserts in them and one good whack from a pothole, railroad track, or an aggressive slamming maneuver against a curb marker at the mall can damage that nylon. Instant “wonr out” ball joint.)