There is a saying that goes “Use the right tool for the right job”, and nowhere does that apply more than to the world of automotive mechanics. Using the wrong tool can not only make the job harder, but can create an unsafe condition and ruin your parts. Sometimes there are several tools available for one task, making it hard to figure out which is the better choice. The ball joints on your suspension is certainly one of those areas. We’re going to talk about five common types of ball joint tools that can be used to separate the ball joint from the spindle. Some of these tools are very simple, others are more complicated, and which one you use often depends on the task at hand. There are also a few specialty ball joint tools that are manufacturer specific, but we’ll get into those another time.
You might think it sounds crazy, using a hammer to knock a ball joint out, but it isn’t. This should be the first method you try on any newer vehicle (10 or so years on the road) with steel or cast iron spindles. Test the spindle with a magnet, if it doesn’t stick you have an aluminum spindle so move on to the next method. The trick here is to use the hammer correctly. You DO NOT hit the stud of the joint, rather you tap the side of the spindle (where the stud slides through) with the suspension loose. Emphasis on “tap” as you aren’t trying to drive railroad spikes, just shock it loose. If the joint is reusable, then this will save it. In most cases, the stud will simply pop out of the spindle, saving you some headaches. It depends on the age of the joint, how long it has been installed, and how clean the suspension is. The longer the joint has been in use, the more likely it is for the stud to have seized in the taper.
Please note – If the suspension has pressure from a coil spring, then this is not the preferred method.
The most commonly known tool for separating ball joints is the pickle fork. What is essentially a long two-prong wedge, the pickle fork is also known as a part destroyer. Do not use a pickle fork on a reusable part. If you are removing the joint in order to replace or service something else, the pickle fork will only cost you more money. The reason is that you can’t save the dust boots, a fork will always rip them. If you are replacing the joint, then it really won’t matter. To use a pickle fork, simply slide it between the spindle and the control arm as tight as you can and then hit the free end with a hammer. This drives the wedge between the two points and forces the joint out of the taper.
Simple Claw-Type Press
The next type of ball joint removal tool is a press. This is a one-piece press that has a cast or forged two-prong claw and a threaded stud in the center. More commonly used for tie-rod joints, these can be used on ball joints. They work if the joint is not seized too bad. Cheap versions tend to not fit between the spindle and the ball joint head, and they may spread apart if too much pressure is required. Another potential pitfall is damaging the threads for the castle nut on the joint stud. To avoid this, thread the castle nut on upside down (with the split side towards the joint), and then apply the press. This keeps the head of the stud centered. This can be used in conjunction with the hammer method to put a little pressure on the joint stud as well. Tighten the ball joint press onto the ball joint stud to apply pressure then give a few light taps with the hammer. The ball joint should pop free.
Ball Joint Separator
Sometimes there isn’t enough room to use a one-piece ball joint press. That’s where a scissor-style ball joint separator comes in handy. This design still applies pressure to the ball joint stud, but it grips the spindle in an offset manor to fit in more places. As modern vehicles pack more components into smaller spaces, this is a handy tool to keep around. Simply slip the top finger over the ball joint stud and slide the bottom two fingers onto the spindle above the dust boot, then turn the screw to tighten and pop the joint loose.
Ball Joint Press
The professional tool is the ball joint press. This is a more complicated version of the claw press. This tool uses a clamshell and adapters to ensure a clean and safe removal of the ball joint from the control arm. The joint will also remain reusable. The problem these types of ball joint tools is that they are expensive; they typically cost a couple of hundred or more to get all the adapters. Just keep in mind that you will need to think ahead before you start your project if you need this tool.
As with any suspension work, take great care to ensure the vehicle is safely lifted off the ground, use jack stands and NEVER work under a raised vehicle with just a jack supporting the weight. When it comes to coil springs, safety is paramount, never release the tension on a coil spring without taking the proper safety precautions first. If you have any doubts, contact your local NAPA AutoCare Center and let the pros handle it.
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A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.