Synthetic Auto Lube
"From Coast-to-Coast, We Go the Extra Mile"
July 17, 2021 (updated July 25, 2021, 7:05pm)
For the most part, I was able to remove and replace the upper and lower ball joints, both u-joints, and the hub assembly with readily available tools, minus the application specific tools annotated with an * in the tools section. The lower ball joint on the right side wouldn't budge despite my best efforts, so I applied heat and it eventually broke loose (metal expansion). Zero problem with the rest of the ball joints, just a bit of grunt work, breaker bar, and extension pipe was all that was needed to get them out (no heat). After the lower right ball joint was removed, it was evident there was a manufacturing defect either on the original ball joint or the axle when the original ball joint was pressed in (you'll see in the pictures).
Also, when considering quotes from multiple places, this job would have been about $3K and it seems like I would have had limited control on ball joint selection. Most shops use Moog and knurled ball joints - Please stay away from Knurled Ball Joints - only use as a last resort as most applications don't require them, but the use of them will permanently alter the machined surface that the ball joints are pressed into.
1. Remove hub cap from wheel, if present.
2. Spray PB B'Laster on the axle nuts and let sit for a while (this may be something to consider doing a day or two before)
3. Using a 1/2-Inch Drive, 1-11/16-inch Dodge Spindle Nut Socket, breaker bar, and if needed, a pipe for additional leverage, break both axle nuts loose before raising the vehicle off the ground. These nuts are torqued to 263 ft/lbs., add any rust, it may take quite a bit to break them loose. I stood on the breaker bar and gently bounced on it until the nut broke loose. No impact gun required. Sorry, no pics for this one. Be careful when doing this!
4. Raise the front end off the ground
5. Remove the wheels
6. Commence tear down on side of your choosing...pics will follow from this point forward.
Old Ball Joints
Here is a comparison of the old ball joints that was the culprit of the loose feeling on the road and the presence of a rattle of sorts in the brake pedal when going down a bumpy road or simply bumps in the road.
The upper right ball joint should not extend out or rotate freely. While it is not evident in the picture, the lower left ball joint also should not be as loose as it is, moving freely, as shown in the video below...
Check out the short video below comparing the old ball joints. There isn't any audio. Feel free to pause it afterwards as it just continues to an non-associated video - can't figure out how to stop that.
Remove Brake Caliper/Adapter from Spindle, and using a rigid wire, hang it from the upper control arm
Tool: 15/16 or 24mm socket and ratchet or wrench:
Remove Brake Rotor from Hub assembly. These can sometimes be seized to the hub, so it may need to be hit from the back side with a rubber mallet while rotating the rotor. Alternatively, if you have a very large screwdriver, you can use it to push from the back side, again, as you rotate the rotor.
Feel free to ignore the gloved finger as it looks like it got in the way as I was trying to take a photo with one hand.
Using a 5mm hex bit socket or allen wrench, remove the Wheel Speed Sensor from the hub and set it aside. This sensor will be replaced with a new sensor, if the new hubs came with one (the hub used for this project do!). Best practice is to set it aside so when it comes time to install the new hub, you can route the new harness in the same place as the old sensor harness is removed.
Description: The ABS brake system uses 3 wheel speed sensors. A sensor is mounted to each front hub/bearings. The third sensor is mounted on top of the rear axle differential housing.
The hub and bearing removal can be a bit of a challenge as you will see in the following images. First, remove the axle nut that you broke loose in the beginning, with the wheels still on the ground. Second, remove the four bolts located behind the spindle. This requires an 18mm socket and extension.
Next, the hub assembly will more than likely be seized to the spindle. You can tap on it to try to break it loose, but I found using a 3-jaw puller was much easier.
Tech Tip: The hub/bearing may not need to be replaced. If you have any grinding or a whine of sorts while going straight at a constant speed, it very well could be the bearings. Other sign of bearing failure is uneven/rapid tire tread wear or if the wheel is off the ground, you can wiggle the entire wheel assembly with subtle movement of the tire.
Personal recommendation is to replace both if one is bad.
At this point, this is almost where the fun begins. The spindle is attached to the ball joints and by design, they are, in a way, pressed into the top and bottom ball joints stem via the attaching nuts. Because of this, a special tool is necessary to break it free.
Required Tools: 5mm & 8mm hex bit sockets, 13/16 (or 21mm) wrench and socket, 10mm wrench, 15/16 (or 24mm) wrench, 1 3/16 socket and wrench, hammer, Mopar Ball Joint Pitman Arm Puller Tool C-4150
First, remove the tie-rod end using 13/16 and 8mm wrenches. A 13/16 deep well socket on an impact gun will probably zip the nut off without using the 8mm wrench, but the intent was to try to do most of the tear down with common tools to minimize expenses. The purpose of the 8mm is to hold the stem once the nut is loose as it is a lock-nut and will otherwise just spin the stem. Once the nut is loosened, but still attached by 4-5 threads, place a socket on the top of the nut and smack it with a hammer. This will break the tie rod free from the spindle.
Next, remove the lower ball joint nut using a 1 3/16 socket or wrench and loosen the upper ball joint nut with a 15/16 wrench. The upper ball joint needs to be loosened enough to allow the spindle to break free, but not drop uncontrolled. When loosening the nuts, you may need to use an 8mm hex bit socket and wrench, just as you had to do for the tie-rod end.
Once the ball joint nuts are loosened and removed (bottom), use the Mopar Ball Joint Removal tool on the lower ball joint, as indicated in the picture to the right. You will need to tap it with a hammer to get it in the right position. and use a wrench or socket to tighten the tool stem against the ball joint until it breaks free.
Lastly, remove the axle - sorry no pics for this one, but to make it easy, use a large flat head screwdriver or crowbar to pry at the back of the axle backing plate and axle tube. This doesn't require much. Once it moves out a bit, the axle will slide right out. The axle can also be removed before working on the spindle.
The fun begins! Removing the ball joints can be an extremely frustrating task, especially if there might have been some sort of a defect from the factory (as was the case on the right-lower ball joint-see pics in next section). First things, first, is to clean the top of the ball joints to remove any dirt/debris.
Next, remove the c-clip retaining ring from the lower ball joint
Required Tools: retaining ring pliers, heavy duty C-Frame Press - do note, the AAM axles are a special breed and require a much larger press than what is found at Harbor Freight or even offered for rent from one of the local part stores. The presses from Harbor Freight have also been known to expand and even break, let alone you have to get creative to get it to fit and work.
Application specific ball joint installation and removal cups
Large breaker bar and possibly a pipe to use as an extension
***You might need a way to heat the axle ear that the ball joint is pressed into in order to expand the metal. Butane torch will work, but will also take a long while to heat up. I have an Oxy-Acetylene tank setup, but have used a butane torch in other applications so it will work. I had to do this on the lower right ball joint because of a defect when the original was pressed in.
Following the pictures to the right, setup the forcing screw assembly as pictured, and begin the grunt work of slowly pressing the balljoint out. If you have an impact gun, you can use that to work the screw down, but, the intent of doing this the old school way was to show that it can be done in your garage, minimizing the expense to the max extent possible.
The bottom cup is the receiving cup and the ball joints presses out towards the bottom.
The pictures to the right show where the defect was at for the right lower ball joint. Asking around, there are various thoughts on it from galling, to the ball joint, to something got in there. The original ball joint did not have any physical damage at the top prior to removal, but the whole length of the body was marred upon removal.
From the looks of it, whatever happened, was during install of the original ball joint because of the way the raised portion is pressed up, versus down. I'm guess the ball joint might have gotten tweaked slightly on the install, but it's all a guess at this point.
This deformation is what prevented me from removing the ball joint with hand tools only and required heat to expand the metal around the ball joint. After heat was applied, I was able to go back to using the hand tools only to press the joint out.
This can be cleaned up with a file or even a dremel, just be careful and only knock it down enough to be somewhat smooth with the machined surface.
Below is a picture of the marred ball joint.
Removing the upper ball joints are performed in a similar fashion as the lower ball joints. Take a look at the picture to the right and proceed to pressing it out. The upper ball joints do not have any c-clips. Also, the top cup is the receiving cup. The ball joint presses out from the bottom to the top.
This completes the removal of the upper and lower ball joints. Both sides are done in the same fashion. Don't be afraid to overuse PB B'Laster fluid on everything that requires removal. It acts as a lubricant and does help break down any rust that may have seized any parts together.
Click here to continue on to the next page for installing the ball joints.