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Ball joint

This article is about automobile joints. For the anatomi- seismic motion, and torsional motions, and forces are
cal structure, see ball and socket joint. present.[3]
In an automobile, ball joints are spherical bearings that

1 Theory

A typical ball joint with cutaway view (right) Ball joints allow a limited range of smooth movement in all di-

A ball joint is used for allowing free movement in two

planes at the same time,[1] including rotating in those
planes. Combining two such joints with control arms en-
ables motion in all three planes, allowing the front end
of an automobile to be steered and a spring and shock
(damper) suspension to make the ride comfortable.
A simple kingpin suspension requires that the upper and
lower control arms (wishbones) have pivot axes that are
parallel, and in strict geometric relationship to the king-
pin, or the top and bottom trunnions, which connect the
kingpin to the control arms, would be severely stressed
and the bearings would suffer severe wear. In practice,
An inner tie rod end cut open to expose the ball joint.
many vehicles had elastomeric bearings in the horizon-
tal pivots of the trunnions, which allowed some small
connect the control arms to the steering knuckles. They
amount of flexibility, however this was insufficient to al-
are used on virtually every automobile made [1] and work low much adjustment of caster to be made, and also intro-
similarly to the ball-and-socket design of the human hip duced compliance where the suspension designer may not
joint.[2] have desired it in his quest for optimum handling. camber
A ball joint consists of a bearing stud and socket enclosed angle could generally be adjusted by moving both inner
in a casing; all these parts are made of steel. The bearing pivots of either the upper or lower control arm inwards
stud is tapered and threaded, and fits into a tapered hole or outwards by an exactly equal amount. But compliance
in the steering knuckle. A protective encasing prevents of the control arm inner pivots, typically due to the use
dirt from getting into the joint assembly. Usually, this is of elastomeric bearings, would again cause the trunnions
a rubber-like boot that allows movement and expansion of to be stressed. The suspension designer’s freedom was
lubricant. Motion-control ball joints tend to be retained severely limited, it was necessary to have some compli-
with an internal spring, which helps to prevent vibration ance where it might not be wanted, and very little where
problems in the linkage. more would have been useful in absorbing the fore and
The “offset” ball joint provides means of movement in aft impact loading from bumps.
systems where thermal expansion and contraction, shock, The introduction of ball joints top and bottom allowed 3-


axis articulation and so removed all the constraints on thewheels and the suspension of an automobile. They are to-
control arm axes being exactly parallel, so caster could day almost universally used in the front suspension, hav-
be freely adjusted, typically by asymmetric adjustment of ing replaced the kingpin/linkpin or kingpin/trunnion ar-
the position of the control arm inner pivots, while camber rangement, but can also be found in the rear suspension of
was adjusted by the symmetric adjustment of these same a few higher-performance autos.[4] Ball joints play a crit-
pivots. ical role in the safe operation of an automobile’s steering
The arrangements for adjusting the toe angle are not and suspension.
changed by introducing ball joints in the suspension, al- Many currently manufactured automobiles worldwide use
though it should be noted that the steering linkage itself MacPherson strut suspension, which utilises one ball joint
must use 4 or more pivots, also usually ball joints, and per side, between the lower end of the strut and the con-
in almost every vehicle ever made, some of these have trol arm, with the necessary small amount of articulation
been adjustable by having a threaded end and locknut, to at the top of the strut being usually provided by an elas-
enable the toe to be set precisely. tomeric bearing, within which is a ball bearing to allow
This ability to fine-tune ball-jointed suspension allows free rotation about the steering axis. So, there are com-
manufacturers to make the automobile more stable and monly only two ball joints in the suspension, however
easier to steer, compared to the older kingpin style sus- there will be at least four (track rod ends and rack ends)
pension. It may also be quieter and more comfortable, in the steering linkage.
because lateral and fore and aft compliance in the suspen- In non-MacPherson strut automobile suspension, the two
sion can be introduced in controlled amounts at the con- ball joints are called the “upper ball joint” and “lower ball
trol arm inner pivots without compromising the integrity joint”. Lower ball joints are sometimes larger and may
of the steering axis pivots, which are now ball joints in- wear out faster, because the fore and aft loads, primar-
stead of a king pin and trunnions. The smoother ride may ily due to braking, are higher at the bottom ball joint.
also increases tire tread life, since the ball-joint suspen- (Torque reaction and drag add at the bottom joint, and
sion allows better control of suspension geometry and so partly cancel at the top joint.) Also, lateral cornering
can provide better tyre to road contact. loads are higher at the bottom joint. Depending on the
suspension design, the vertical load from the suspension
spring may be handled entirely by the top ball joint, or en-
tirely by the bottom ball joint. The damper load, (which
2 Purpose is low in normal conditions, zero when stationary, but in
peak bump or rebound rate may be almost as large as the
spring load) is usually, but not always, taken on the same
ball joint as the spring load. The anti-roll bar loading is
often, but not always, taken on the bottom ball joint. It
may be taken by the top ball joint, or directly from the
steering knuckle by ball-jointed drop links.
If one of the ball joints does not carry spring load, it may
be fitted with an internal anti-rattle spring to keep the
ball preferentially in contact with one seat. This was the
case in the BMC Mini of 1959 and its many derivatives,
where the lower control arm carried no vertical loading,
so the joint needed and anti-rattle spring, while the top
joint, comprising identical parts, was always in compres-
sion due to spring (rubber cone) and damper loads, and
so was not fitted with a spring.
Other vehicles of the 1960s era, including some Vaux-
halls, had lower ball joints with considerable end float,
because the joint was always in tension as the spring and
damper loads were applied via the lower control arm and
were always non-zero.
Another example is the Ford Focus, which uses MacPher-
son struts, and the anti-roll bar is connected directly to the
strut, so the lower ball joint is only carrying fore and aft
traction/braking and lateral cornering loads.
Rear wheel drive vehicle, front suspension with upper and lower
ball joints and tie rod end shown.

On modern vehicles, ball joints are the pivot between the


3 Front-wheel drive
Unlike a kingpin, which requires an assembly in the cen-
ter of the wheel in order to pivot, joints connect to the
upper and lower end of the spindle (steering knuckle), to
the control arms. This leaves the center section open to
allow the use of front-wheel drive. Older kingpin designs
can only be used in a rear-wheel-drive configuration.

4 Lubrication
Sealed ball joints do not require lubrication as they are
“lubed for life”. Formerly most ball joints had grease fit-
ting (sometimes called a grease zerk) and were designed
for periodic addition of a lubricant, however almost all
modern cars use sealed ball joints to minimise mainte-
nance requirements. The lubricant was usually a very
high-viscosity lubricant. It is commonly believed that
standard ball joints will outlive sealed ones because even-
tually the seal will break, causing the joint to dry out
and rust.[4] Additionally, the act of adding new lubricant
pushes out old and dry lubricant, extending the life of
the joint. This was supposed to be done at intervals of
1000 to 2000 miles on many vehicles, which is incom-
patible with the service interval on modern cars, often
12000 miles or more, and in any case was rarely attended
to by owners, resulting in severe wear and possible ball
joint failure, which can result in serious accidents. For A SRJ024C-P Spherical Rolling Joint
this reason, almost all ball joints on modern European or
Far Eastern cars are the sealed for life type.
preload the joint further.

5 Spherical rolling joint

A spherical rolling joint is a high-precision ball joint con-
sisting of a spherical outer and inner race separated by
ball bearings. The ball bearings are housed in a spherical
retainer and roll along both the inner and outer surfaces.
This design allows the joint to have very low friction while
maintaining a large range of motion and backlash as low
as 1 µm. SRJs are often used in parallel robotics applica-
tions like a Stewart platform, where high rigidity and low
backlash are essential.
Most SRJs are designed with an offset housing, allowing A micro hexapod
for higher compressive loads in a smaller space. Alterna-
tively, the joint can be assembled backwards for higher SRJs are often used in parallel robotics applications such
tensile load capability but less range of motion. as Stewart platforms, where low backlash and high rigid-
ity are essential.[7][8]
An alternative to the SRJ is the universal joint, which con-
sists of two revolute joints.[5] By using spherical rolling
joints instead of universal, designers can reduce the num-
ber of joints to achieve the same result. Using a spher- 6 Failure
ical joint as opposed to a universal joint also eliminates
the problematic possibility of a kinematic singularity.[6] While there is no exact lifespan that can be put on sealed
Plain spherical bearings can be used in place of SRJs at ball joints, they can fail as early as 80,000 miles (130,000
the cost of increased friction, but offer an opportunity to km) in modern vehicles, and much sooner in older vehi-

cles. Signs of a failing ball joint start with a clicking, T. Takashima, H.O. Lim, and A. Takanishi (May 6–
popping or snapping sound when the wheel is turned and 10, 2013). “New Shank Mechanism for Humanoid
eventually turn into a squeaking sound at the end of a Robot Mimicking Human-like Walking in Horizontal and
stop, when the gas pedal is used and/or also when hitting Frontal Plane”. 2013 IEE International Conference on
bumps. Another symptom could be 'thud' noises coming Robotics and Automation (ICRA).
from front suspension when going over bumps. Dry ball [6] Sciliano, Khatib (2008). Springer Handbook of Robotics.
joints have dramatically increased friction and can cause Springer. p. 22. ISBN 9783540239574.
the steering to stick or be more difficult.
[7] Merlet, J-P. “Still a long way to go on the road for parallel
If a ball joint fails, the results can be dangerous as the mechanisms”. ASME 2002 DETC Conference, Montréal.
wheel’s angle becomes unconstrained, causing loss of Retrieved 10 June 2013.
control. Because the tire will be at an unintended an-
gle, the vehicle will come to an abrupt halt, damaging the [8] Gorse, Joe. gear-steps-up-rotopod-robot-motion/#_
tires. Also, during failure, debris can damage other parts “Roller Pinion Gear Steps Up Rotopod Robot Motion”
Check |url= value (help). Design World. Retrieved 10
of the vehicle.[4]
June 2013.

7 Other uses
Main article: Ball and socket joint

While in automotive parlance the term “ball joint” usually

refers to the primary ball joint connections at the ends of
the control arms, this type of joint is used in other parts as
well, including tie rod ends. In these other applications,
they are typically called tie rod ends or, when they are an
inner tie rod end on a rack-and-pinion steering system,
they are called inner socket assemblies. These joints are
also used in a number of other non-automotive applica-
tions, from the joints of dolls to other mechanical link-
ages for a variety of devices, or any place where a degree
of rotation in movement is desired.

8 See also
• Rod end bearing (heim joint)

• Shaker tilting chair for one of the earliest patented

applications of the technology

9 References
[1] Bumbeck, Mike. “Ball Joints - How to Keep Your Front
Suspension Together”. Mobile Oil. Retrieved October 10,

[2] “Your Car’s Ball Joints - The Pivotal Part of the System”.
California Dept. of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Auto-
motive Repair. 2010. Retrieved October 10, 2012.


[4] Allen, Mike (March 29, 2006). “Ball Joint Replacement”.

Popular Mechanics. Retrieved October 10, 2012.

[5] T. Otani, A. Iizuka, D. Takamoto, H. Motohashi, T.

Kishi, P. Kryczka, N. Endo, L. Jamone, K. Hashimoto,

10 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

10.1 Text
• Ball joint Source: Contributors: Bdesham, Greglocock, Alan Liefting, Wolf-
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Erik9bot, Baothai98, Pinethicket, Jonesey95, Kgrad, Orenburg1, Trappist the monk, Vrenator, Suffusion of Yellow, GoingBatty, ClueBot
NG, Sasakubo1717, Writ Keeper, Lemonnn, CsDix, Mdankowych, RonaldHenningsen and Anonymous: 58

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