Installing New Ball Joints in 2003 Dodge Ram Truck

Nov. 11, 2010 By James Urquhart
If you own a 2003 or newer Dodge 2500 or 3500 truck youíve probably had the unfortunate pleasure of having the service writer at the dealership tell you your truck needs new ball joints. Depending on how you use your truck, they can go out as early as 40,000 miles. The result is a sloppy front end, a wandering truck and worn-out tires.

You can either pay the dealer to put new ball joints in and pay $60/hr plus parts or, if you have some basic mechanical skills, the right tools and a weekend to set aside, you can do it yourself. I was told the ball joints in my 2005 Dodge 2500 needed to be replaced when the truck had just over 50,000 miles. I do a lot of highway driving and rarely tow anything big, so that will tell you how easy these things wear out. Tightwad that I am, I shunned the dealer and decided to do it myself. Follow along as I walk you through how to do it yourself and avoid the pitfalls. Oh yeah, and find out what blew my plans right out of the water.

First off, in addition to a general set of hand tools Ė including standard and metric socket sets, standard and metric wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers Ė here are some specific tools youíll need that you wonít normally find in the typical toolbox:

Ball Joint Press with 4x4 adapters (auto parts stores usually rent these out)
1 11/16 socket
30mm wrench/socket
Pickle fork
½-inch impact (you donít need air tools, but itís a huge help)
Jack stands
Penetrating oil such as PB Blaster or Liquid Wrench
Service manuals for torque specs

Letís Get Dirty!
First, bust all the lug nuts loose on the wheel on the side you want to do first. Then, jack the truck up and place it on jackstands. Make sure the side you want to work on is always slightly higher just to make sure the fluid in the differential stays put. Remove the front wheel.

Hereís our truck, just a run-of-the-mill 2005 Dodge 2500. Notice we already popped off the lug nut covers with a big screwdriver.

Unbolt the caliper and lift it off the mount. You may need to pry it up with a screwdriver. Hang the caliper from the suspension with a bungee cord or you can do like we did and zip tie it to the suspension. You donít want the caliper to hang by the brake line because it can damage the hose.

With an 18mm socket or wrench, unbolt the caliper mount.

You can remove the axle nut either before or after you remove the rotor, I got a little excited and went after it with the rotor still in place. Make sure you remove the cotter pin before you try to remove the nut. An impact and some penetrating oil help it come loose. If you donít have an impact youíll have to bust the nut loose while the tires are still on the ground.

The factory uses these things to hold the rotors on while the vehicle is moving down the assembly line. I gave up trying to save them during disassembly years ago. Pry them up with a screwdriver until you can grab them with a pliers, then break them off by twisting them. The rotors on both sides were a battle; they can get pretty tight after five years due to rust and whatever else. Again, penetrating oil is your friend.

Use a 5mm Allen socket to remove the retainer for the anti-lock brake sensor. The sensor is in pretty snug, so I used a small screwdriver to lightly pry up on the mounting flange while pulling up on the sensor with my fingers. Set it carefully out of the way with the brake caliper.

Use an 18mm socket and ratchet to loosen the four hub bolts. Donít remove them; just back them out about a quarter inch because youíll need them to press the hub out of the knuckle.

Place a socket with a short extension on one of the hub bolts and turn the hub/knuckle assembly until the end of the extension butts up against the axle housing end. Start the truck and slowly turn the steering wheel so the socket/extension push the hub out of the knuckle. Be sure to rotate around and push with each of the four bolts, bumping it out just a little at a time. Donít try to push the hub out all at once with one bolt. Once the hub breaks loose, back the bolts out some more and push the hub out again. Like the rotor, the hub will be in pretty tight because of rust and time. Soaking in penetrating oil helps.

With the hub removed the axle shaft is ready to come out. Use a screwdriver to slowly pry the axle free, then grab it with your hands and pull slowly, supporting the axle as much as possible as you go. The axle seal is inside the housing near the differential and you need to go slow and easy so you donít damage it. 

The axle fits almost perfectly through the knuckle. Funny how that works.

Remove the nut for the tie rod. Itís a nyloc nut so it comes off pretty hard. Once the nut is off give the tie rod stud a couple taps with a hammer to break the tie rod loose. Like the caliper, donít let the tie rod hang Ė I used a bungee cord to bungee it to the sway bar. Notice the tip is shaped like a hex Ė when you put it back together youíll have to put a 10mm wrench on it to keep it from spinning.

Hereís another spot where I jumped ahead a little. I used a 15/16 wrench to loosen the upper ball joint nut and, as you can see, the driveshaft is still in place. You wonít be able to get the nut off the ball joint with the driveshaft in place.

Use a 30mm socket to loosen the nut on the lower ball joint.

Put the pickle fork in between the knuckle and the axle housing and give it a few whacks with a large hammer. It should bust loose pretty easy.

Itís apart just about as far as it can go. Now, to get the ball joints out.

This is why weíre replacing the ball joints. When you can wiggle the ball joint stud around with your fingers itís not a good sign. These things had definitely seen better days.

The lower ball joint has a snap ring that retains it. A big snap ring pliers will get it off or you can do what I did and pry it off with a couple of screwdrivers (not recommended).

You have to press out the upper ball joint first. Thatís a 1-inch pipe coupler being used to help press it out. Not all ball joint presses have all the adapters you need so sometimes you have to get creative. The upper joint comes out through the top fairly easy.

Pressing out the lower ball joint - notice how the screw on the ball joint press runs through the upper ball joint hole? Thatís why you need to press the upper one out first. The lower ball joint gets pressed out through the bottom.

 Here are the new ball joints. Nothing fancy here, the bottom one (left) is a MevoTech and the top one (right) is a Moog. They were sourced through rockauto.com. These should do the job because this truck really isnít worked that hard.

Smear some grease on the joint and around the hole before you start pressing the new ball joint in. Youíll get a workout putting the bottom one in.

Same deal with the top ball joint Ė smear some grease on everything and go to town. The top one goes in much easier than the bottom one.

With the two new ball joints in youíre over halfway there. The hard work of removing and installing the ball joints is done. Now is the time to grease the ball joints. Shoot in grease until you see the dust boots move then stop.

Now youíre ready to put it all back together. Install the knuckle on the ball joint studs and tighten them finger tight, make sure you put the bracket for the anti-lock brake sensor cord on the upper stud. Smear some grease on the end of the axle shaft and slide it in, being careful not to damage the seal inside the axle. Install the hub and brake disc dust shield and tighten it down good, being careful to align the end of the axle shaft so it doesnít get pinched. Install the axle bit and tighten it down by hand, youíll torque it later. Install the anti-lock brake sensor and re-route the cable in its original routing. Bolt on the caliper mount and brake pads and tighten it down then install the caliper. You might have to compress the caliper pistons with a big c-clamp to get it back on. Connect the tire rod and tighten it to 40 ft-lbs and then tighten it another 90-degrees.

Stick a floor jack under the hub part of the rotor (not the braking part) and jack it up enough so there is some weight on the suspension. Torque the upper ball joint to 40 ft-lbs and the lower to 100 ft-lbs. Iím not sure how youíre supposed to get a torque wrench on the upper ball joint so I just tightened it down and called it good. Install the cotter pins.

Now you can put the wheel back on and tighten the lugs. Set the truck down on the ground and torque the lugs to 145 ft-lbs. Torque the axle nut to 263 ft-lbs. Most torque wrenches wonít go that high so I just put a pipe on a half-inch ratchet and stood on the end of it. Install the cotter pin.

Take the truck for a short drive, like around the block or something, listening and feeling for anything out of the ordinary. After the short drive, re-torque the lug nuts and give everything a once-over. You should feel a huge difference in how the front end feels, especially if your ball joints were as worn-out as mine. Be sure the got the front end aligned as soon as possible.

A few notes on the write-up and my experiences:

ē I listed torque values for a few fasteners, the rest (like the hub and caliper mount) I just tightened down really good.

ē The driver side hub would not come out with the steering on my truck. The knuckle wonít come off without first taking out the driveshaft and the driveshaft wonít come out unless the hub is off. Faced with this problem, I figured I could do one of two things: a. put it back together and pay someone to fix it, or b. cut it apart. I decided to dive in and cut the studs off the ball joints with an angle grinder then I broke the knuckle loose with a pickle fork. With no studs on the ball joints I was able to slide the whole knuckle/hub assembly off the axle shaft. To get the hub out I ended up putting the whole thing in a 10-ton press. The press wouldnít budge it so I heated the knuckle with a torch and it finally popped loose. I talked to a long-time service tech and he said heís never seen one that wouldnít come loose with the steering trick, but a search on the Web brought up other guyís who had the same problem I did.

ē Snap-on makes a tool for pushing the hub out (instead of using the socket/extension); it costs around $70-80.

ē I consider myself a fairly experienced shade tree mechanic and it took me almost seven hours to do the side where the hub came loose. But I also put new u-joints in the axle shafts.

Thereís nothing like the satisfaction of doing a job yourself. And thereís nothing like saving $1,000 or so in labor costs by doing a job yourself. Plus, itís a feather in your cap to be able to tell your buddies you tore your front end down and rebuilt it yourself.

 

 


 

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