Toyota Camry Ball Joint Replacement
On the Toyota Camry, the front wheels rotate on two pivot points: the upper strut bearing sandwiched between the strut mount and the upper spring mount; and on the bottom, the Lower Ball Joint.
The ball joint is a ball-in-socket steering component that permits the directional movement of the front wheels. Constant impact with rough road surfaces, potholes, speed bumps, curbs, and general road obstructions places considerable stress on this important steering component.
The Camry ball joint is lubricated with grease and is sealed with a rubber boot. Unlike on some other cars, this is a "sealed for Life: component with no grease fittings for lubrication. If the boot dry rots or splits, the ball joint must be replaced since moisture and dirt will accelerate wear and cause eventual failure.
Worn ball joints will exhibit excessive free play that may make wheel alignment difficult and cause uneven tire wear. Ball joints that are very worn will "clunk" when the wheel is at full deflection (completely turned) and hitting bumps.
If a ball joint fails during vehicle operation, it can cause partial loss of vehicle control, which can be catastrophic; therefore any doubt as to its condition should warrant replacement.
I've read about various methods of testing the condition of ball joints when the vehicle is stationary. But in my experience, Camrys with suspected ball joint wear that passed these tests continued to exhibit noise. The noises persisted after replacing the strut mount and sway bar links; they didn't go away until the joints where replaced. After the joints were replaced, there was an improvement in steering response and precision.
Ball Joint Removal
There are several methods that can be used for removing the old ball joint but the method below has worked well for me with a predictable outcome.
1. Remove the wheel and support the vehicle with a reliable jack stand.
2. Remove the axle nut cotter pin and remove the 34 mm axle nut that secures the drive shaft to the wheel hub. If an impact driver is not available, loosen the nut before removing the wheel off the hub. It took a few extra minutes but I choose to remove the brake pads, brake caliper, caliper bracket and rotor so the steering knuckle can be swung away from the axle shaft without a lot of hassle and hardware.
3. Remove the two bolts and one nut that secures the lower ball joint to the lower A-arm (also called wishbone or control arm). Detach or swing the ball joint away from the steering knuckle while pulling the outer end of the axle shaft away from the steering knuckle. This will expose the castle nut and cotter pin that join the ball joint spindle recessed in the steering knuckle. If this proves difficult, a crowbar will help apply downward pressure on the lower A-arm.
5. Fit the spindle of the new ball joint into the steering knuckle and fasten the new castle nut as per the manufacturer's recommended torque. A torque wrench is recommended. After the proper torque has been applied, additional torque may be necessary to align the castle nut with the spindle hole in order to fit the new cotter pin.
6. Reverse the above steps for re-assembly.