Premature ball joint failures on many 2003-2006 Ram 2500/3500 4WD (and 2006 Ram 1500 with Mega Cab) vehicles are common on units equipped with the 9.25-inch axle. The installation process places significant demands on the upper ball joint design. The upper and lower ball joints on these axles may not be perfectly aligned. The OE ball joints deform to comply with this alignment issue. This leads to premature wear from impact loads even during “normal” driving.
The ball joints should be replaced if any side-to-side or radial play is discovered (vertical-only movement is considered normal).
Beware the ellipse
Press-in ball joints in some upper arm locations are designed with an elliptical stud opening. Failure to properly align the ball joint in the control arm during installation (when replacing with either OE or aftermarket upper ball joint) can easily result in joint binding and failure.
If an elliptical ball joint is pressed into the control arm without regard to orientation, normal suspension movement will cause the ball joint stud to contact the housing. Note that elliptical openings are not visible if the joint features a pre-installed boot. If the boot is already in place, work the stud in various directions until you find the location of the furthest stud travel.
Make a mark at this travel plane. Aftermarket replacement ball joints that feature an elliptical opening may feature an alignment mark. The mark needs to face outboard when installed. Elliptical joints were featured in a variety of vehicles (starting in around 1995 and through 2008) including brands such as GM, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Honda vehicles.
When installing a ball joint, if you see an alignment dot/punch mark, determine if the stud moves further in one particular direction.
Blue is cool, but...
Some OE dust boots featured on tie rod ends and ball joints feature a blue color. Depending on the formulation of the boot (polychloroprene as an example), the color aspect of the boot may feature a reduction of carbon black strengthening filler. Reducing carbon black can reduce material strength, resulting in shorter life as the boot may degrade quicker (allowing contaminants to enter the joint). An example of prematurely degraded blue boots has been observed on a GM Silverado 2500 with as little as 17,000 miles.
Camber/caster fix for Mopars
Some vehicle suspension designs will drive any alignment tech up the wall, especially when no provision for caster and/or camber adjustment is designed into the OE system. Examples (to cite only a few of just one brand) include 2005-2009 Chrysler 300, 2008-2009 Dodge Challenger, 2006-2008 Dodge Charger and the 2005-2008 Dodge Magnum.
As we all know, even the best suspension designs can be affected over the long haul by a variety of factors, including but not limited to suspension system wear, “tweaking” of the frame or subframe over time, and of course, as the result of collision damage.
As a remedy for the specific vehicles mentioned here, offset lower ball joints are available (MOOG’s P/N K7469 is an example) that allows a +1/-1 degree range of front camber and caster angles.
Honda lower ball joints
The lower ball joints on many Hondas and Acuras are pressed into the steering knuckle and are difficult to remove and install, especially with age. Commonly, technicians beat and hammer the ball joints out and in, which is time consuming and can damage the steering knuckle and the new ball joint.
For removal, separate the ball joint from the lower control arm, remove the snap ring (where applicable) and using a C-clamp style ball joint press and appropriate sockets, push the ball joint out of the steering knuckle.
For installation, use a C-clamp style ball joint press and sockets to push the new ball joint into the steering knuckle. Install a new snap ring if applicable. An example of the sockets for this job is MOOG’s T80541 kit.