Wednesday, July 10, 2013

DIY Fix: How to Remove and Replace Lower Ball Joints and Outer Tie Rods (Lexus GS 300/Toyota Aristo JZS161)

Ball joints and tie rods are critical for maintaining steering control and safety.  A broken ball joint or tie rod can result in a catastrophic accident.
In recent weeks, we've received quite a few questions from people asking if we can help them identify odd noises coming from their vehicles.  While we cannot guarantee we can help them pinpoint the exact cause of the noise, we generally ask them a few questions or ask them to send us a video to help us get an idea of the general location of the noise. 

The most common one thus far has been odd noises coming from the front end of a person's car, and aside from shocks or wheel bearings, we noticed that ball joints and tie rods are the usual culprits.  Follow along as we explain how to check for bad ball joints and tie rod ends, and show a general how to on our very own project car.

Ball joints and tie rods should be inspected at every oil change, and greased periodically if there is a grease fitting present.  Note that some ball joints and tie rods cannot be greased.  We recommend inspecting the rubber cover at least every 6000-7000 miles.  If the rubber grease boot is damaged or ripped, road debris can enter and the part will quickly fail.  A failure of the ball joint or tie rod can result in a complete loss of steering control, and the tire can damage the fender and other parts of the car.

Ball joints and tie rods can give audible warnings when they start to wear, and there are several methods to inspect them.  You can jack up the front wheel into the air, and grasp the wheel at the 9 and 3 o'clock position.  Try to shake the wheel side-to-side on the horizontal axis and see if there is any play.  Next, grab the wheel at the 12 and 6 o'clock position and shake the wheel on its vertical axis.  There should be no play, but if there is, you may also have a bad wheel bearing, but that is for another article.  You can use a large bar to see if you can lift the lower A-arm (control arm) from the ball joint.  If you can, the ball joint is worn. 

Another check can be done while you are driving.  See if you can hear any creaking or knocking sounds while driving up your driveway, or while going through a dip or curve.  Also, with the your car stopped on a level surface such as a parking lot, turn the steering wheel slowly from full lock left to right.  If you hear any creaking or crackling sounds, it may be your ball joints. 

If you notice excessive tire wear on the inner or outer edges, it can be indication of worn ball joints and tie rods.  This assumes your bushings are in good condition as worn out suspension bushings can give the same symptoms. 

Some cars are known for wearing out their ball joints faster than other vehicles, and in our case, the 1998-2005 Lexus GS300 is one of them.  Our project vehicle is a 1999 GS300.  Our car's ball joints did have a little audible sound as we drove up our driveway, and during a recent inspection, we noticed that the ball joint's boot had a very small tear.  We will show you a general guide to replacing the ball joints and outer tie rod ends. 

We do have a disclaimer:  We take no responsibility for any work you do on your vehicle.  You are doing it at your own risk.  Follow all safety precautions, use a factory service manual, and if in doubt, have a professional do the work.  With that said, here's the guide! 

The first step is to securely jack up the front end of the car in the air and remove the wheels.  Then you will need a 17mm socket to remove the 2 bolts holding the brake caliper onto the rotor.  We recommend using a good penetrating oil when removing any bolts or nuts to make the job easier. 
This is upper 17mm bolt holding the caliper onto the brake rotor.

You can see the lower 17mm bolt.  You will be able to slide the caliper off the rotor once these bolts are removed.
Once the bolts are removed, the brake caliper can slide off the rotor.  Hang the caliper out of the way of the tie rod and ball joint.  We hung ours using a wire coat hanger off the upper control arm.  Do not let the caliper hang by the brake line as it will damage the line. 
Hang the caliper out of the way so you can work on the tie rod and ball joint.
Remove the brake rotor and set it aside.  Then remove the cotter pin from the castle nut of the tie rod.  The cotter pin looks like a giant bobby pin, and the castle nut looks like the top of a Rook chess piece.  The cotter pin will probably need to be straightened out before you can take a pair of pliers to pull it free.  If it's stuck, a few light taps from a rubber mallet will help the pin slide out.  The castle nut can be removed with a 19mm socket. 
This is the cotter pin once it is removed from the tie rod.

This is the castle nut securing the tie rod.
With the castle nut removed, take a Pitman puller and attach it to top of tie rod.  You may need to peel back the edges of the rubber boot to allow the puller to attach to the tie rod.  Tighten down the puller, and the tie rod should pop out of the joint.  Clean the mating surface of any grease and debris.
Take the Pitman puller and tighten it down onto the tie rod's end.  The tie rod should pop out after a few turns.
Here is the tie rod end separated from the ball joint.
Next, remove the 2 bolts, cotter pin and castle nut securing the ball joint.  Our Lexus GS300 is lowered and has roll center adjusters (RCAs) which a stock GS300 will not have.  So our bolts were hex bolts, while the stock ball joint has standard bolts.
The 2 bolts, cotter pin and castle need to be removed from the ball joint.  Note, our GS300 has an RCA which is the silver aluminum piece a stock GS300 will not have.
With the hardware removed, the ball joint and hub assembly can be separated from each other.  We moved the hub assembly off to the side to allow us more access to the ball joint and tie rod.
You can see the ball joint with the hub assembly separated and out of the way.

We moved our hub assembly off to the side to allow us more access to the ball joint and tie rod.
As with the tie rod end, take the Pitman puller and attach it to the ball joint's end.  Tighten the puller down and the ball joint should pop out.  Clean the old mating surface of any grease and debris.
Use the Pitman puller to separate the ball joint from the control arm.
Using white out or white paint, mark the tie rod and the threads.  This is so you can keep the alignment as close as possible to original specifications.  Use a 19mm wrench on the nut and tie rod to loosen the nut.  With the nut loosened, the tie rod will twist off.
Mark the thread position of the tie rod nut, and try to keep the nut as still as possible when loosening the tie rod.
Here you can see both the old tie rod end and ball joint.  Note that ours had torn grease boots.
Here are the old ball joint and tie rod end.
Installation is the reverse of removal, and here is a picture of the new MOOG brand ball joint with the supplied grease fitting. 
You can see the removable grease fitting for the MOOG ball joint.

A close up of our MOOG ball joint.
After bolting everything back together, it should look like this:
Here's the new ball joint and tie rod back on.  Double check all torque settings and don't forget the cotter pins!
Our Lexus has G35 wheels on it, and if you plan to run them, you will need these hub-centric rings to prevent any unwanted vibrations.
Once you finish the installation, get the alignment of your car re-done to minimize tire wear.  To do both sides took us about 2 hours from start to finish.  Always replace your tie rods and ball joints in pairs, so if you do one side, be sure to do the other side too. 

In case you have an automotive question for us, please send them to us at  Happy motoring and keep on driving!

Here's a link to our DIY installation of urethane steering rack bushings

1 comment:

  1. What is the diameter of the aligning rings on the ball joint assembly that the RCA's go on?