Ball joints and bushings are the backbone of your vehicle’s suspension system, but since they’re located out of sight underneath your vehicle, it’s easy to forget about them — until you start to notice unusual behavior from your car or truck while driving. How can you tell that something is not right with these crucial components? Here are three telltale signs.
1. Unusual Noises
Bushings are rubber fittings (or occasionally polyurethane) that are used to help insulate your suspension system from bumps in the road; limit the movement of certain vehicle joints; and generally absorb noise and harshness. Over time, friction, heat and corrosion from road salt and other grime can cause them to wear out, crack and decay. Once that happens, they can no longer mask the metallic sounds of your suspension at work. If you hear crashes, bangs, regular tapping or clunks under your car — particularly when driving over rough roads — then it’s likely your bushings need inspection and replacement.
Ball joints are spherical components in a metal socket that allow various suspension components to turn. As with bushings, friction, heat and dirt can wear them out, loosening the connection to the point where you might also start to hear a clunking noise, especially at the front of the car. That looseness can also create a vibration while driving that you can feel through the floor or the steering wheel. It can even pull the car slightly to one side, as the wheels no longer track straight and true. If you notice either of these symptoms, it’s worth having a mechanic look at your ball joints.
3. Uneven Tire Wear
As ball joints and bushings get loose, they are no longer able to keep the suspension aligned while you drive your car. As noted above, this can lead to steering pull and loose handling, but it can also accelerate tire wear by causing the rubber tread to contact the ground in an inconsistent manner. If you notice uneven spots of wear on a tire — also called feathering — you could be seeing evidence that your suspension is in need of attention, particularly if it’s only occurring on a single tire or side of the vehicle.
It’s normal for suspension components like ball joints and bushings to wear out over time, but there’s no need to suffer a bouncy, noisy ride when replacements are simple to find and install. Not to mention the fact that it’s much safer to drive a predictable, well-maintained car than one whose parts you aren’t sure you can rely on during your daily commute.
Check out all the steering and suspension parts
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.