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Cherokee Ball Joints

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

For a while know I've had a little problem with death wobble. As it turns out, the ball joints on the driver's side were totally worn out and needed to be replaced. I could have paid some shop to do this for me, but it would have cost around $500 and I'm way too cheap for that. I got the parts and tools for around $140. I was putting this job off because I figured it was going to be a total bitch to get 23 year old joints out, but I had something to do in Albany in September and I didn't want to go that far/fast on the bad joints.

I was a little worried going into this project because this car is my daily driver, if something went wrong that I hadn't planned on, I'd be screwed. I knew exactly what I had to do thanks to the many sites online explaining how, but I was worried about getting 23 year old parts that were rusted together apart.

ball joint replacement 1

First I had to take the brake caliper, pads and rotor off. There are just 2 pins holding the caliper on, once they're out you can take it and the pads off. The pads (and the wheel) are the only thing hold the rotor on, so with them off you can just pull the rotor off to access the hub.

The hub was the first thing to slow me down. It wasn't that bad because I replaced it a few years ago, but it still took some serious persuasion to get it out. There are 3 13mm 12 point bots holding the hub to the knuckle. They came out pretty easily. Since I was removing the hub and axle shaft as one piece, I couldn't use a puller to get it out, I had to use a cold-chissle and a big hammer (BFH).

axle shaft and hub

steering knuckle

I was going to take the tie-rod end off the steering knuckle (far left in the above picture), but I couldn't get the cotter pin out, so instead of screwing around wasting time I just left it connected and rested the knuckle on my recycling bin when it finally came off the axle.

I already had all the tools necessary except for a ball joint separator. I found a pivoting type online that allows you to get way more pressure on it. I didn't have time to ship it so I had to hunt it down locally. Nobody had these things. Even the local places that had them listed online didn't have them in stock. I finally found one at a Harbor Freight in Buffalo. Luckily that day we were driving to Buffalo anyway for a family picnic, so we stopped by on the way and got it. Best $17 ever; it made the job so much easier!

ball joint separator

Once the knuckle popped off (with the sound of a shotgun next to my head), I was able to press the old ball joints out. The top has to come out first because to get the bottom one out the press has to go through the hole where the top one was. It took me longer to figure out the orientation of the press and all the adapters than it did to actually press them out. They were really in there though, it took some serious effort to get them out. The only serious injury I sustained was a poke in the thumb. I still don't know when or how I did this, but it REALLY hurt.

pressing out ball joint ball joint replacement injury

old and new ball joints

The second thing I was worried about with this job was pressing the new joints in. With the particular axle in my jeep, a Dana 30, the surfaces you need to press against to get the new joints in weren't perpendicular to the direction the joint had to go; they were angled slightly. There is a set of adapters for my press for this specific purpose, but it was like $75. I made an angled receiving cup at work out of a pipe, but it ended up being too long and wouldn't fit in the press. I had to resort to shimming it with a couple of washers to get the angle right. That worked out fine and the new joints went in perfectly.

The next problem I ran into was finding the right socket for the bottom joint's nut. The old joint took a 32mm. The new joint took a 33mm, which I now know they don't make. I ended up using a 34mm that was a little sloppy, but it only needed to be tightened to 75ft-lbs so it was okay. Later I found out that 33mm is almost the same as a 15/16 which they do make, but I still didn't have. Maybe I'll keep my eyes peeled for a cheap set of monster sockets.

Everything else went back together nicely. I found out that my front rotors need to be replaced; there is a nasty groove on the back side of the one I saw, probably from a rock or something getting stuck and a few pitted spots. When I replace those the brakes should work much better.

All together this was a great experience. I didn't run into any show-stopper problems, I had (almost) all the tools I needed and it only took me most of a Friday afternoon and an hour on Saturday morning. Everything worked perfectly when it was back together; my wheel didn't even fall off during the test drive! I have since gotten up to 70MPH on I490 and the wobble is all but gone. There is some slop somewhere else in the system, but I can only feel it when I hit a big bump while turning and going very fast. Good enough.

More pics at higher resolution:

Comments (4) Subscribe

josh trost
#1 - Jun 6, 2010 at 7:30 AM
I'm tackling this same job, with the addition of replacing the wheel bearings and the U-Joints, today. Thanks for sharing your information; it's helped me prep for the day's work as I'm doing it not in my home garage but at a remote location. For others looking to cheapskate things, the 3 hub bolts torque to 75 ft lbs, the ball joint nuts are 100 ft lbs, and the Hub Nut is 175 ft lbs!
#2 - Jun 6, 2010 at 7:46 AM
My pleasure! Have fun, the hub replacement is a breeze, and you can press the u-joints with the same press used for the balljoints (why I had that press in the first place).
josh trost
#3 - Oct 2, 2010 at 9:52 PM

For others checking out this project, I'd note a few things now that I've done it.

1st, if you examine your photo of the new and old ball joints, the new top joint appears longer than the old top joint. This is true of my parts as well. Even after placing the entire weight of the vehicle on the reinstalled knuckle, it appears that the top ball joint does not fully seat the last 1/2 inch or so.

2nd point, and this one is MAJOR; Advance Auto Parts now has a set of loaner tools that includes the angled cup necessary to remove and install ball joints on XJ Dana 300 axles! This means there's no tools to buy, plop down $159 plus tax to rent it, and get it all back! It's their larger, 23 piece kit.
#4 - Oct 3, 2010 at 6:20 AM
Sounds like your job was successful! Yes the top joint was longer, but that pin slides into the joint. It was too stiff to do it by hand, but when I bolted it all together it slid into place and was completely seated (for me at least).

Too bad AAP didn't have that tool set when I was doing it. Maybe they did but it was already rented. I kind of like buying the tools you need though, that way you know you have them if you need them again. The cup kits are one thing, but I've read a lot online about the loaner presses at Autozone (not sure about AAP) being rather cheap and bending when you put a lot of pressure on them.

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