Fifth Avenue Auto believe regular maintenance is safer, cheaper and a whole lot more convenient.


There are a few parts on your car where failure could be spectacularly dangerous.

Ball joints are among them.

Ball joints are essentially metal spheres that ride in matching cups encased in grease. Many newer joints are sealed, never needing grease for the life of the joint. Some are service items, hit with a shot of lube at every oil change.

They hold your wheel in place, allow the front wheels to steer and work to keep the wheels vertical in reaction to bumps, dips or body roll in curves.

The failure mode is wear, either because moving parts even when well-maintained wear or because something happened to the grease inside.

If a joint breaks while driving it usually results in the wheel of the failed joint flopping out at a steep angle. If you’re lucky, you’ll only screech to a halt. But it could be worse.

If you’ve ever seen a car with one corner resting on a wheel laying flat on the ground, that was a ball-joint failure.

All of which is why today’s noise, clunking on bumps, combined with grinding or binding during turns, should be investigated pronto. Even if you survive a failure while driving, you’ve still done much more damage to your car than necessary.

If, in addition to the clunking, you notice uneven wear on the tires or the car pulling to one side, it’s all further evidence pointing to a bad ball joint.

Sorry to say, it’s not likely to be cheap. If you have to do all the ball joints, it could be in the ballpark of $1,000 or more. You might only have to replace the bad one, but it’s a good idea to check the others. Acorns don’t fall far from the tree. If the control arms are also bad, you can double that amount.

Included in that estimate is the cost of wheel alignment, which is always necessary when tearing down the suspension to this degree.

This is also a good time to check other components in the area of the ball joint, including the tie-rod ends, which connect the steering rack to the wheels and turn the wheels in relation to turning the steering wheel. Also, by the time your ball joint is bad, your shocks might also be leaking.

Clunking, though perhaps not as loudly as with ball joints, and grinding during turns could also point to worn constant-velocity joints, if your car is front- or all-wheel drive. CV joints allow for the wheels to turn during steering while providing the same rotational speed despite the angle difference.

CV joints also appear at the rear axle of rear-drive cars with independent rear suspension, to allow for the wheels to move up and down independently over bumps.

CV joints are covered by boots, which should regularly be checked. A crack that lets in dirt will greatly accelerate failure in a CV joint. CV joints will wear over time regardless, but keeping the boots intact pushes that failure far into the future. Our Honda Civic is 19 years old, and while we’ve replaced the CV joint boots, we’ve never replaced a CV joint.

Having driven my share of beaters, I’m aware there are many sounds drivers just learn to live with. Clunking or grinding from the suspension should not be one of them.

Failure to maintain your vehicle is not an excuse if you get into a crash. If the crash is because something in your car failed, it’s your fault for not keeping your car in good repair.