How to Check ATV Ball joints (Like a pro!)


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, tools you’ll need and some mechanics hacks.

Ball Joints

Ball joints as you know are fitted to your suspension but also to your steering components. You could argue they are the most important component on your ATV.

And although they are a common repair on ATV’s, total failure of a ball joint is rare. A dangerously worn ball joint will make it’s presents know for quite some time before it lets go. Fitting oversized wheels and tires while adding stability it shortens the life of ball joints. The added weight and stress takes its toll the ball joints.

Testing a steering ball joint is slightly different to 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 which contains grease. It’s designed to lube and protect the metal ball and socket from water and grit.

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.

To actually test the joint we’ll grab the wheel at six o’clock and rock it top to bottom. If you sense free-play or feel a definite knock, you’ve found a worn ball joint.

At this point have a helper rock the wheel as you look at the joints, (top and bottom) if the knock feel is definite, you’ll have no trouble physically seeing joint move. Placing your hand on the joint also works great for feeling free-play movement in the joint.

Testing Steering Ball Joint

Your ATV may have several ball joints on the steering system (more on that later) but it will definitely 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 just replace the worst joints, but the mechanic in me wants to say just 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 house hold tools but it will require removing the A arm from the bike.

The correct tool for the job is a bushing puller, this tool saves removing the A arm and makes the job go like butter.

But for the purpose of this guide I’ll go MacGyver style.

Replacing either upper or lower ball joint goes like this:

  1. Remove wheel
  2. Remove caliper, (but not brake line) set aside and support with bungee cord
  3. Remove tie rod, by removing nut and hitting knuckle sharply until arm falls loose.
  4. Remove lower shock bolt, and set aside using a bungee cord.
  5. Remove upper ball joint (pinch bolt or nut), strike knuckle sharply to release.
  6. Remove inner A arm bolts and remove arm.
  7. Remove the snap from the ball joint using a snap ring pliers.
  8. Spray wd40 on the joint both sides
  9. Support the back of the ball joint, using a suitably large pipe (could use a deep socket).
  10. Hammer on the ball joint pin until it drops into the socket cavity.

Fitting the Ball Joint Into The A Arm

  1. Clean and lube the socket
  2. 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.
  3. Place the ball joint squarely on the A arm socket
  4. Place a suitable size socket (or pipe) on the back of the new ball joint. It needs to sit on the flange.
  5. Strike the socket firmly and check it’s seating squarely before repeating the process until it seats.
  6. 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 a an A arm suspension ball joint.

The procedure goes like this:

  1. Open the tie-rod lock-nut but only back off a half turn
  2. Open and remove the tie-rod ball joint nut, may have split pin
  3. Strike the knuckle sharply to release the ball Joint
  4. 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.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is an certified mechanic and writer on ATVFixed.com. I’ve been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of ATV ownership, from maintenance, repair to troubleshooting.

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