Clanking noises, vague steering doesn’t fill you with confidence as you give your ATV the beans on a dirt trail.
To check ATV ball joints, lift and support the chassis. Ball joints are fitted to steering and suspension components. Test procedure differs for both.
- To check steering ball joints, grip the tire a 3.15 and move from side to side. Free-play indicates wear, the ball joint needs to be replaced.
- To check suspension A-arms, grip the tire at six o’clock and rock top to bottom. Free-play indicates ball joint wear.
In this post, you’ll learn how to check the ball joints of your ATV, how to change them, the tools you’ll need, and some mechanics hacks.
Ball joints, as you know, are fitted to your suspension but also your steering components. You could argue they are the most important component of your ATV. And although they are a common repair on ATVs, total failure of a ball joint is rare.
A dangerously worn ball joint will make its presents known for quite some time before it lets go. Fitting oversized wheels and tires while adding stability shortens the life of ball joints. The added weight and stress take their toll on the ball joints.
Testing a steering ball joint is slightly different from testing a suspension, only in so far as they are loaded differently.
Testing Upper & Lower Ball Joints
I like to first ride the bike and listen for any unusual squeaks or clanking noises, and I’ll feel for excessive pulling or vagueness in steering. All ball joints have a rubber boot that contains grease. It’s designed to lube and protect the metal ball and socket from water and grit. Stiff steering is a common symptom of a seized ball joint (usually the lower A-arm).
In the workshop, I’ll jack and support the front of the vehicle. I go ahead and visually inspect the rubber boot for tears or any sign of leaking grease. A torn boot, as you can imagine, allows water and grit in, which does two things, causes corrosion and premature wear. Finding a tear or grease means this ball joint is either already worn or soon will.
A worn wheel bearing is possible too, so you may need to verify a ball joint and you can do that by placing your fingers on the ball joints while a helper rocks the wheel. Movement will be felt in the worn joint.
Testing Steering Ball Joint
Your ATV may have several ball joints on the steering system (more on that later), but it will have a ball joint at the wheel knuckle, and it’s known as a tie rod end. The test drive will usually show some vagueness in the wheel if you have steering ball joint wear.
To test steering ball joints, grab the tire at 3.15 and move it from side to side. If you sense free play or feel a knock, you have a worn ball joint.
You’ll need your helper again, have them move the wheel side to side while you watch and feel each joint.
ATV steering systems will employ several ball joints, and so you will likely have inboard ball joints to check too. It’s not unusual to find all the ball joints worn to some degree. It’s OK to replace the worst joints, but the mechanic in me wants to say change them all out.
Replacing Ball Joints
Ball joints aren’t all the same. You know that. Replacing a suspension control arm (A-arm) will differ from a steering tie rod end ball joint.
Replacing A-Arm Ball Joint
An A-arm ball joint is pressed, fitted into the arm, and secured with a C clip. Removing these guys can be done with basic household tools, but it will require removing the A-arm from the bike. The correct tool for the job is a bushing puller, it saves removing the A-arm and makes the job move like butter. But for the purpose of this guide, we’ll go MacGyver style.
Replacing either upper or lower ball joint goes like this:
- Remove wheel
- Remove the caliper, (but not brake line) set aside and support with bungee cord
- Remove tie rod, by removing the nut and hitting knuckle sharply until arm falls loose
- Remove lower shock bolt, and set aside using a bungee cord.
- Remove upper ball joint (pinch bolt or nut), strike knuckle sharply to release
- Remove inner A-arm bolts and remove the arm
- Remove the snap from the ball joint using snap ring pliers
- Spray WD40 on the joint on both sides
- Support the back of the ball joint, using a suitably large pipe (could use a deep socket)
- Hammer on the ball joint pin until it drops into the socket cavity
Fitting the Ball Joint Into The A-Arm
- Clean and lube the socket
- Support the underside of the A-arm socket using a suitable size deep socket that will accommodate the ball joint pin as it passes through.
- Place the ball joint squarely on the A-arm socket
- Place a suitable size socket (or pipe) on the back of the new ball joint. It needs to sit on the flange.
- Strike the socket firmly and check its seating squarely before repeating the process until it seats.
- Fit new snap ring and be sure it seats, be mindful some snap rings may have an inner and outer face, check your instructions.
If you have access to a shop press, you can eliminate all the hammering.
Note: When refitting the A-arm chassis bolts, don’t tighten until the weight of the bike is resting on the ground.
To Replace a Tie Rod Ball Joint
Replacing the steering a tie-rod ball joint is a lot less work than an A-arm suspension ball joint.
The procedure goes like this:
- Open the tie-rod lock-nut but only back off a half turn
- Open and remove the tie-rod ball joint nut, may have split pin
- Strike the knuckle sharply to release the ball Joint
- Turn the tie-rod anticlockwise to remove
When fitting the new tie rod, use the witness mark of the old to position the new. Ideally, the bike should be aligned after fitting steering components.
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