The 10 Best Ball Joint Tool Sets
10. Alltrade Separator
9. GearWrench Universal
8. ATD Tools 8699
7. Astro Master Set
6. Alltrade Kit #46
5. Astro 7865
4. OTC Master
3. OTC Front End Service Set
2. OTC 8031
1. Astro Pneumatic 7897
Choosing the Right Ball Joint Tool Set
The price tag of a top-of-the-line ball joint tool set may be a bit off-putting to some people at first glance, but it will seem much less daunting when you know a thing or two about the potential costs of professional ball joint repair or replacement. For indeed even a great ball joint tool kit will cost you a fraction of the expense of having your vehicle's ball joints serviced by a mechanic. And if you settle for a midrange ball joint tool kit, you stand to pay ten times less than you would for a repair conducted by a professional.
Unlike many tool kits, such as a set of socket wrenches, for example, tools designed for servicing ball joints are purpose-built and serve few if any other purposes. That's not a limitation, though, but rather a liberation: you don't buy a ball joint tool set for an other purpose than repairing or replacing this specific type of hardware, so you are free to shop based on tool quality and set price without worrying about range of function or versatility.
Any ball joint kit worth your consideration will have a large C-frame press and a thick screw that can be threaded through said frame. Some kits contain larger C-frames than others, and these larger frames may be necessary if you plan to work on certain trucks, Jeeps, or SUVs with larger ball joint components. Most kits will come with a half dozen or so adapters, while others will come with more than a dozen and a half adapters. In other words, while all ball joint kits tend to have similar parts included, some of these parts are specially designed for larger vehicles, and some kits simply include more variations of the same type of component. If you know precisely for which vehicle you are buying a set, then there's no reason to own parts that won't work with it; if you're a mechanic who works on all sorts of vehicles, then by all means opt for the larger, more expansive set.
Also don't overlook the importance of the instructions and charts that come with a given ball joint tool kit. Some sets come with easy-to-use, graphically illustrated guides, while others include tools and a case only. If you're not an experienced DIY car repairman or a trained professional, then do yourself a favor and opt for a kit with a manual.
What Exactly Is a Ball Joint, Anyway?
If you're not quite clear on what a ball joint is, you're probably getting ahead of yourself in terms of considering a tool kit purpose built to service these components. However, anyone dedicated to learning DIY vehicle repairs and maintenance will need to learn all about ball joints at some point, and if you prefer to dive into a hobby with both feet, you might as well learn fast and then acquire the tools you'll need to apply your new knowledge.
Simply put, a ball joint is a ball-shaped (usually called "spherical" by automotive pros) bearing that connects a control arm of your vehicle's steering knuckles (which are connected directly to the wheel assembly) to the automobile's suspension system. Because ball joints allow for a decent range of motion, they can help transfer the input you give by turning the wheel -- also known as steering -- to the wheels themselves even as the car bounces around over potholes, debris, speed bumps, and so forth. Because the ball joint flexes about, the car remains under control even as the suspension system moves up and down while mitigating the jostling caused by road and driving conditions.
Without a ball joint, your car's shock absorbers would be essentially pointless and your car would be as rigid and rickety as a horse-drawn carriage from centuries past. The location and responsibility of the ball joint also sees an exceptional amount of pressure put on this diminutive component, so ensuring that all the ball joints in your vehicle are in good repair and working properly is of immense importance for safe driving. Learn how to inspect and manage these joints yourself, or else have a trusted mechanic inspect your car's ball joints on at least an annual basis.
How to Tell If Your Ball Joints Are Bad
Whether or not you are planning to repair or replace the ball joints in your car, truck, or SUV yourself using your handy ball joint tools, or if you are going to take the vehicle to the mechanic to let the professionals handle the maintenance, if you suspect your car's ball joints are damaged or wearing out, don't delay in servicing these all-important components. A failed ball joint can lead to much more costly repairs involving the wheel, axle, steering knuckles, and more, and can also create an extreme safety hazard should a joint fail while you are driving at speed on a highway or in traffic.
When a ball joint fails, the wheel to which it is attached can fold under the vehicle, causing the driver to lose control and resulting in a catastrophic crash in the worst case scenario. In the best case situation, a failed ball joint will still lead to a pricey repair. So catch the joints before they fail.
One of the telltale signs of a ball joint nearing the end of its operations life is uneven wear on your tires. If you notice "feathering" wear on your tires -- when when the tread ribbing is worn down more and/or worn more smoothly on one side of the tire than on the other -- the ball joint (or joints) connected to that wheel may be failing.
Also listen for clunking noises emanating from your wheels, especially as your drive over uneven roads or over obstacles like train tracks or small speed bumps. The knocking noise may be the spherical bearing of the weakened ball joint colliding with the frame into which it should fit snugly.
A surefire way to tell if a ball joint is failing is to lift the vehicle up -- ideally using a full-sized hydraulic press that can elevate the car off the ground, but a jack and jack stand combination will suffice as well -- and to apply a bit of torque pressure to the ball joint itself. If it can be moved up and down and/or back and further, depending on its orientation, the component is likely worn beyond safe the limit of operation and must be replaced.