Original Jeep JK Ball Joint Problems… and Solutions
Have you ever been off-roading and heard a clunking noise from your Jeep JK? How about you’re driving down the highway, run over a little pebble and all of a sudden your wheel starts violently shaking? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone; these are all symptoms of ball joint wear or failure, which can affect your Jeep’s steering. OE (Original Equipment) front lower ball joints on Jeep JKs from 2007-2018, are often known to fail prematurely due to design flaws that usually shorten their lifespan, making a replacement practically inevitable.
So, what’s wrong with the OE ball joint and what should you look for in a replacement?
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Why Do JK OE Ball Joints Fail?
Your OE ball joints are known to fail prematurely, for a couple of different reasons. Some of them are internal design flaws that the parts were manufactured with, and others are external modifications that Jeep owners make or rigorous activities that they partake in. Here are some factors that cause premature wear of your ball joints:
Internal Design Flaws
- Plastic Liners – OE ball joints feature a plastic liner that sits in the bottom of the joint. This liner doesn’t agree very well with grease and wears down faster than a metal bearing would.
- Ungreasable Design – Your OE joint is not designed to accept grease. Some people modify it by drilling a hole to attach a zerk fitting, but this is dangerous as you could drill a hole bigger than needed, and create a leak, or damage the inner workings of the ball joint.
- Vulnerable Dust Boot – The Dust boot is what protects your joint from debris, but the OE boot sits high on the joint where it is exposed to mud, rocks, etc. while driving your Jeep. Because of its positioning, every direction the joint moves in puts more and more stress on the boot and too much stress will cause it rip or tear.
- Lift Kits – Lifting your Jeep more than 2 inches will cause premature wear on your ball joints, as you are adding more unsprung weight for the joints to carry. When you add a lift to your jeep, you’re also changing the angle at which the ball joint sits, and the more slanted the angle the more pressure that you are adding.
- Bigger Tires – Adding tires that are bigger than OE size will increase the amount of weight that the joints will have to support, which will cause them to wear down and fail sooner. Bigger tires can also change your suspension angle, in the way that adding a lift will.
- Off-Road Wear – The OE ball joints are very susceptible to getting debris inside because the dust boot sits high on the stud. The fact that at the bottom of the bearing there is a plastic liner doesn’t make matters any better. The liner is not very durable, and when you are off-roading the joint is wearing out sooner, because of the lack of support from the plastic liner.
Redesigning the OE Part
OE ball joint problems on the Jeep JK are very common and have been mentioned so much, so what should you look for in a replacement? Moog’s K3185 Problem Solver ball joints were created to fix the JK’s OE ball joint design flaws. Some of its features are:
- Full Ball Stud – This Problem Solver ball joint, features a metal bearing for the ball stud to sit in, which is more durable than the plastic bearing of your OE part.
- Greasable Design – Unlike your OE joint, Moog offers a greaseable design which allows for easy maintenance. With this feature, you’ll be able to flush out the debris that enters your joint while off-roading and you can easily grease it so that it stays lubricated. That process is now easier, because of an offset zerk fitting and the hard porous metal gusher bearing that allows grease to penetrate the entire bearing.
- Integral Dust Boot – The Moog Jeep JK ball joint features an integral dust boot, with a double fold to secure a tight seal, preventing mud and dirt from entering the joint. It will also ensure that there is less damage done to the boot by debris and because the boot isn’t sitting up high, there is less of a chance of it being ripped or torn because of stress.
Moog Limited Lifetime Warranty
Moog Problem Solver Ball Joints are an OE “replacement” that basically takes the OE design, improves it, and adds some premium upgrades. This means that a stock Jeep JK running these ball joints will very likely outlast the OE parts, and will be covered by a Limited Lifetime Warranty. In fact, the techs at Moog have said that running a 2″ lift and 35″ tires should not be a problem for these ball joints, but their lifetime warranty is only valid for stock suspension setups. Keep in mind that many manufacturers do not carry a lifetime warranty on ball joints at all.
Now, while Moog does have a limited lifetime warranty for their problem solver ball joints, they allow dealers to set the limits of the warranty. So where you buy can be just as important as what you buy, since some dealers will tell you to call Moog directly for warranty claims, who will tell you to call the dealer, and repeat. Suspension.com stands behind Moog’s warranty and deals with customers directly on a case by case basis regarding the details of their warranty, instead of giving you the runaround.
When it’s all said and done the OE ball joints on the JK Wranglers are probably not going to last the life of your Jeep; modified or stock. If you’re looking for a tougher replacement, Moog is a good option for moderate lifts and up to 35” tires, and if you are running stock height and tires they’re backed with a lifetime warranty.
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Symptoms of Failing Ball Joints
There are a number of ways to tell if your ball joints are developing play. You may experience a couple of these symptoms:
- Clunking Noise – An audible clunking sound, made when the stud is loosened rattling around in the housing. Joints become loose with wear, and as they get looser, the sound gets louder.
- Steering Wander – You’ll know when a ball joint has play, because it can cause vibrations in your steering wheel. When your ball joints get worn, they rattle and if one side shakes more than the other, this will cause your Jeep to drift in that direction.
- “Death Wobble” – When your joints have too much play, your wheels become loose, which leads to wobbling from them and the steering wheel. Death wobble can also be a sign that you might want to replace your track bar.